Dick Leonard, 14 November 1996
The Dutroux affair, involving a paedophile ring, child-kidnapping and murder, might have surfaced in any country in the world. But would any other advanced, democratic country have been quite as slack as Belgium in taking action to track down the ring, and prevent further crimes? And is there something inherent in the way the Belgian state is organised which made the evident failure of the legal system almost inevitable? These are the questions which thousands of hitherto complacent Belgians are now asking, and they account for the enormous turn-out – around 3 per cent of the national population – for the ‘white march’ in Brussels on 20 October. In 16 years reporting on Belgium, I had never witnessed such a massive demonstration of public feeling. The crowd had come to express solidarity with the victims and their families, and anger at the manner in which their institutions and politicians had failed them. Not before time. For the paedophile crimes, however horrible, are only one of series of recent scandals. The list I have in mind is by no means exhaustive.