Anton Van Dyck from Belgium: “Our principles are nothing if they’re only found on paper”

#GlobalHumanismNow: an update from deMens.nu

  • blog Type / Membership blog
  • Date / 22 April 2020
  • By / Mahalet Tadesse

#GlobalHumanismNow is a series of mini-interviews with our Members and Associates from all around the world where we ask them how they are coping with the global coronavirus emergency, to explain what initiatives they are taking, and to tell us how the global humanist community can support them.

All interviews are available here.

Today we speak with Anton Van Dyck, Director of Legal Affairs and Government Relations at deMens.nu.

Humanists International: Hi Anton, I want to thank you for accepting our invitation. How is the situation in Belgium?

Anton during the 2019 General Assembly of Young Humanists International, held in Reykjavik (Iceland)

Anton: We are under lockdown, however a very light version. People may still leave their houses for walks. Police are watchful but not overtly repressive. Our healthcare system is holding up although the situation in our retirement homes is worrying. We have shortages in medical supplies and supermarkets are struggling to cope with demands. Also, the death toll is quite high.

(UPDATE: as of 21 April, Belgium has over 38 000 confirmed and 5 000 deaths)

How has the government responded to the crisis? 

Relatively well. We receive daily briefings from experts and the majority of political players understand that now is not the time for power politics. We are suspecting that our country has just passed its peak although we are worried about recontamination. The debate is slowly transitioning towards preparation for when our country lifts its lockdown.

How has the crisis affected your organization and the individuals within it?

A new digital initiative from demens.nu to provide humanist ceremonies for kids during the lockdown

Human contact is quite important in our care services so we have faced our fair share of challenges. Under normal circumstances, we operate through a series of locations spread across the country. Unfortunately, we had to close them for the time being. We have had to convert our organization to a digital reality. Luckily our teams were quick to adapt and are full of creative ideas. There are more than a few examples of which we are very proud. One of these is the digital launch of our humanist ceremonies for children called “Feest in je Kot” (translation: “Party in your own Shack”).

What a great response from demens.nu! Tell us more about how your organization is responding to the crisis.

We were able to continue providing a variety of services although the way we provide them has changed for now. Much is done via phone and video chat. We are also actively trying to support our healthcare workers by identifying issues in the field and relaying these back to the appropriate levels of policy and politics. Ironically, social distancing has brought people closer together, which is a good thing. This newfound solidarity is definitely positive and we’re doing our best to activate citizens to take that responsibility.

How do you think we should face this emergency as humanists? Which humanist principles should we value most right now?

Anton (on the left) with the other participants to the 2019 General Assembly of Young Humanists International

Our solidarity comes from the respect we have for each other as human beings. As such, we really need to rally behind the scientific community. Especially when world leaders fail to take the responsibility of their mandate by publicly questioning the origin of the virus or what it can do to our communities. Our movement needs to step up and hold these people accountable.

And what is your message to the global humanist community?

Keep your chin up and lead by example. Our principles are nothing if they’re only found on paper. We need to lead with our hearts, minds and (clean !) hands.

Thanks, Anton! And please stay safe!

Thank you, Giovanni! You too!

If you represent a Member or Associate of Humanists International and you want to participate in the #GlobalHumanismNow series, please contact us at [email protected]

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