Saturday 22 July 2017

Barmaid sacked after writing about 'bawdy' minister in blog

Bruno Waterfield

A NEW YORK barmaid was sacked after writing an internet blog about the Belgian defence minister's alleged antics during an official visit to the city.

Nathalie Lubbe Bakker was fired after Belgian government officials rang the bar owner to complain about the allegations relating to Pieter De Crem.

Miss Lubbe Bakker, also a Belgian, was shocked when she recognised the defence minister among a rowdy party of her countrymen who "stumbled" into the B-Cafe.

Writing on her 'Living in New York' blog the next day, Miss Lubbe Bakker claimed the minister sang "bawdy" songs and made persistent demands to take over the serving of drinks behind the bar.

She said the incident had left her "deeply, deeply, deeply shamed" to be Belgian.

She went on to claim one of Mr De Crem's officials told her he was in the city to attend a United Nations meeting.

She claims that the minister had said: "In Brussels everything is so quiet for the moment, nothing happens there. I've never been here before you know."

Four days later, after her posting had been picked by Belgium's 'De Standaard' newspaper, Miss Lubbe Bakker reported on her blog that she had been sacked after a defence ministry telephone call to her boss.

"I was astonished to learn from a well-informed source that the defence minister's spokesman had telephoned the bar's owner," she wrote.

"What the contents of that conversation were are unknown to me but when my next shift finished, he dismissed me on the spot."

Opposition

Mr De Crem, whose full name is Pieter Frans Norbert Jozef Raymond De Crem, made his name as an opposition politician by attacking his predecessor as defence minister for using an army helicopter to go to watch a film. He has been nicknamed "Crem-bo" because of his penchant for being photographed alongside army helicopters and tanks.

He has now faced questions in the Belgian parliament over the barmaid's sacking.

While admitting a call was made to Miss Lubbe Bakker's boss, the minister insisted there was never any insinuation that she should lose her job.

Mr De Crem went on threaten legal action against bloggers and warned Belgian MPs that "every one of you is a potential victim".

"I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society," he said during a debate.

"We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will, without taking any responsibility.

"This exceeds mud-slinging. I find that it's nearly impossible to defend yourself against this."

Campaign

Belgian bloggers are furious over what they perceive to be a threat to free speech and a Facebook campaign has been set up demanding that Miss Lubbe Bakker is reinstated.

"People, and especially politicians representing them, need to wake up and smell the coffee. The world is changing, and blogging is now a big part of it," wrote Robin Wauters on TechCrunch.

Many people on Belgium's blogosphere have wryly noted that Mr De Crem appears to have changed his mind since he wrote on his own website that "the internet helps close the gap between the citizen and the politician".

His government has been hit by splits between Belgium's Flemish and Walloon communities, which mean that there has not been a stable cabinet since June 2007.

When contacted about the story, a spokesman for the Belgian ministry of defence said: "No comment to anything."

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