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There’s more to Belgium than chocolate and beer

By Laura Beaulne-Stuebing      

Diplomatic Circles tracks changes in the Belgian, Philippine, Slovenian, Polish and Pakistan embassies this week, and then some.

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Chocolate and beer are, arguably, the best things Belgium has given the world.

But the new ambassador to Canada from the small but prominent European country says there's so much more to his home than its most popular exports.

Raoul Delcorde, who spoke to Embassy on Sept. 4, one week after his arrival in Ottawa, says Belgium has a lot to offer: creative types such as musicians and painters, beautiful landscapes like a melancholic seaside and scenic forests for visitors.

One of the things he wants to accomplish while in Canada is to get Canadians to understand this. And one of the ways he believes Canadians will understand this is by getting a very special visit during his tenure.

"I would be very honoured if the King and the Queen of Belgium, who are not planning to make official visits outside of Europe, would consider [coming] to Canada," Mr. Delcorde said.

Some of the most distinguished people from Belgium and some of the country's most lauded products would likely tag along with the royal couple, who ascended to the throne in July 2013 when King Philippe succeeded his father, on such a visit. It would be a delegation of Belgium's best.

"So one can imagine," he continued, "a visit which would really make Belgium kind of better known here, and go beyond the usual cliches."

Mr. Delcorde began his career in the diplomatic service in 1984 and has held postings in New York, Washington and Vienna, and is the former Belgian ambassador to Sweden and Poland.

During his very recent stint in Warsaw, Mr. Delcorde said, he was able to help bring Belgium's new king and Queen Mathilde to the country on their first official visit to Eastern Europe.

"(Ottawa)'s quite different from my previous assignment," Mr. Delcorde said as he sat in his new office with north and west facing windows, the view obstructed by other office towers. The Belgian Embassy in Poland, he noted, is a beautiful re-built castle—so unlike his spot in downtown Ottawa.

"I'm here in a tower, in a geometrical type environment, different indeed from an Eastern Europe capital," he added. "But I like it too."

During his time in Canada, Mr. Delcorde will be occupied with commemorations of 100 years since World War I (the years almost exactly overlap with his posting), whatever happens to be going on with Canada-European Union relations and with trying to form stronger trade ties with western provinces.

On a more personal note, Mr. Delcorde said he'd like to meet Belgian descendants in Canada who may still hold onto their original dialect and explore some of the similarities between Canada and Belgium.

"There is something that puts Canada really close to Belgium and vice versa, the fact that you're a bilingual country, like my country," he said. "Between Quebec and the French speaking community of Belgium there's a really close relationship."

The Philippines and Four Strong Winds

Petronila P. Garcia, the new ambassador from the Philippines, thinks of folk songs and poems when she thinks of Canada.

Like that Ian and Sylvia song—"four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high"—she wants to make the trek to Alberta while in the country to see if the weather's good there in the fall.

"There were songs and poems in my youth that spoke of Canada, of forests primeval," she added, likely in reference to Henry Longfellow's poem Evangeline that recounted lost love and the expulsion of the Acadians from the maritime provinces. "So those are things I want to see.”

It's Ms. Garcia's first time in the great white north, and although very different from her previous diplomatic posting in Egypt, she said in an interview with Embassy on Sept. 5 that she already can't get enough of this place.

"I'm really amazed at how truly friendly, and sincerely friendly the Canadians are. No question about it. And it's consistent wherever I go," she said, after having been in Canada for about a week. "It's not quite like that in other places."

Ms. Garcia—a career diplomat who has served in Philippine embassies in Singapore, Australia, Tel Aviv, South Africa and South Korea—will be pretty busy over the next few years thanks to Canada's increased interest in the Asia-Pacific region.

She also noted the upcoming APEC summit in 2015 hosted in Manila as an important area of discussion.

"We're looking forward to working with the government towards the success of that meeting," she said.

Slovenia: A new top envoy

Marjen Cencen has taken over the post of Slovenia ambassador after more than two years without a top diplomat at the country's Canadian embassy.

The new ambassador likens this move to proof that Slovenia has real interests in bilateral relations between the two countries and that Canada and his home are likeminded in many ways—in terms of values, and international co-operation through organizations such as the UN and NATO.

Mr. Cencen arrived on Aug. 18 and he's put political dialogue and high-level visits, expanding consular services and increasing investment as well as educational ties between the countries on the agenda for his stay in Ottawa.

But aside from the typical diplomatic responsibilities, Mr. Cencen is hoping his family—his wife and two daughters who've come along for the ride—settles in well and enjoys Ottawa. In an interview with Embassy on Sept. 9, Mr. Cencen said he's looking forward to testing out the Rideau Canal, an historic site that he first learned of when posted abroad many years ago.

The newly arrived diplomat served as Slovenia's ambassador to China from 1995 to 2000 and from 2005 to 2009. It seems the Canadians posted there were a friendly bunch.

“My family was invited by Canadian diplomats to [go] skating, because ice skating was not very widely present in Beijing in the nineties. So the Canadian and the Nordic diplomats hired a skating rink," Mr. Cencen explained.

“This was the time when our elder daughter was still very young and we got useful instructions from Canadian friends about how to teach kids to skate with a chair. And we were told about the Rideau Canal at that time.”

Pakistan’s interim high commissioner

Pakistan’s mission in Ottawa is awaiting a new, official high commissioner—and they’re not quite sure when they’ll get one.

In the meantime, Abrar Hashmi, who arrived in Ottawa in on Aug. 14, is filling that role as acting high commissioner. Mr. Hashmi comes by way of Pakistan’s mission in New Delhi.

Changes in Poland

There have been a few switches and swaps at the Polish embassy of late. Andrzej Fąfara has moved up to head the political unit and fill the deputy head of mission role left by the departure of Jarosław Kurek.

Mr. Fąfara has been replaced by Olga Jabłońska, who is now second secretary at the embassy’s political section. In an email to Embassy on Sept. 9, Ms. Jabłońska noted that she had arrived in Ottawa five weeks previously and now deals with political issues and protocol, as well as serves as a spokesperson for the embassy.

A new CEO for B’nai Brith Canada

In press release on Sept. 5, B’nai Brith Canada announced Michael Mostyn’s appointment as the organization’s new CEO, replacing Frank Dimant.

Mr. Mostyn is a graduate of London, Ont.'s Western University and a lawyer who practiced in criminal, family and business law and civil litigation. He served as the national director of public affairs for B’nai Brith in the organization’s Ottawa office from 2006 until 2010.


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