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REVELATIONS BY INSIDER RONALD BERNARD - PART 5

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  1. RONALD BERNARD – THE LOCAL POWERS THAT BE - INTERVIEW PART 5
  2.  
  3. Irma Schiffers: I’ve heard you mention social entrepreneurship a couple of times in previous interviews. You said you were involved in that, maybe still are. Could you explain what it is?
  4.  
  5. Ronald Bernard: Yes, that social entrepreneurship I keep talking about has grown over the past 22 years, so it’s not something I just recently got into. It started off small. After recovering, I first began it from the local setting that I was in, by helping set up a children's farm. Well, let’s say that it just kept developing. I won’t bore you with all the details and chronology; I’ll be writing about it on my website some time. As people have made clear they want to know about my life, I’ll be sharing as much as I can about myself. And now is the time to do that. But I would like to say one thing already, something verifiable, with witnesses, which is important. It is that in Portugal, where I lived and worked for six and a half years, I ended up making someone’s dream come true, a severely handicapped person. He was a major landowner with lots of property, and, well, he came across me and learned my story in outline after we got to know each other. And he asked me if I might like to undertake a project for him, as a freelancer. It had to do with developing the local economy. So I took a look at his land holdings, his properties, and made him a proposal to set up a professional nursery growing sustainable plants. These would be things like fruit trees and border plants, for instance, but not all those pruned plants that end up being thrown away. And that idea appealed to him, so we installed greenhouses on his land. We created irrigation dams in the hills on his property to collect water — his own reservoirs. We set up lots of solar panels and windpower. Basically, everything that makes up the world of sustainability now, we already installed back then on his land. Ultimately, this provided jobs for 25 local families. So it became a flourishing business, and that was my task, as it were: to make a success of it. That nursery ended up supplying garden centres across Portugal. And finally once every other week, they started filling those Danish plant containers, transported by truck to the chillers. Those irrepressible Dutch, eh! And from there, the plants went to resellers, including the auction at Aalsmeer. (NL) This whole process was a steep learning curve, because when I started I knew little about the plant world, so there was lots to study. I had to learn books of rules and conditions as thick as the telephone book, including the Aalsmeer auction’s code of conduct. But this is something I always enjoy: whenever I’m given a commission or set out to create something, I learn plenty about it until I have comprehensive knowledge. You need to have a full picture. Well, after two and a half years, I’d done my job, so I was able to hand over the keys and tell the guy, “Here’s your dream come true.” And by doing that, you’ve developed a local economy. At the very moment that I was handing over the business,
  6. a guy came over on holiday from the Netherlands, from the Province of Utrecht, and I bumped into him. Basically, he thought of me as one of those ‘slightly crazy Dutchmen’.
  7. He saw all that I’d been up to out there, what I’d achieved. And he really said, “We’re actualy looking for a crazy guy just like you.”
  8.  
  9. Irma Schiffers: That’s nice!
  10.  
  11. Ronald Bernard: Yes, but he really meant it in a good way. He saw how intensely involved I was in social entrepreneurship and developing the local economy. And he got telling me
  12. about a problem that had been going on in the Netherlands for so long, and asked me if I’d consider coming back there. Well, well, I thought, the Netherlands…
  13.  
  14. Irma Schiffers: Whew!
  15.  
  16. Ronald Bernard: It wasn’t exactly the country I was keenest to move to. The whole attitude of ‘my small corner’ and the constant bickering… The refusal to see the glass as half-full,
  17. and the inevitable raising of a problem for every solution, and the dismissiveness that anything can really be done, you know… It wasn’t the country where I’d have seen potential. I relish impossible challenges, you see. Anyway, what he told me was that Dutch cities had a decades-old problem with housing young people and students, and indeed newly-divorced people, single people, and the like. He said he’d had an idea about this once and had done a very small-scale pilot test of it. So he told me about his idea. It was about unoccupied buildings, how they could be converted to residential use — in short timescales. And I looked into that whole idea and got more and more captivated by it,
  18. because all he was wanting was someone who could scale it up a bit. Well, ultimately, I said OK to it, and even at that early stage we got in touch with Dutch bodies that might be able to get involved, such as project developers. I could very well see scope for this to work, even at large scale. And that’s how I moved to the Netherlands, in 2003. To be honest, I was really disappointed that I had to come to the Netherlands: I was having a great life in Portugal. But I could see the challenge awaiting me. And so, together with the guy who’d got me on board, I launched a charity: Stiching Tijdelijk Wonen (The Timely Housing Foundation).  We then went looking into how we could start helping all those young people, the students, all the folk who are having a tough time getting hold of a room or a little studio apartment to rent. Pretty quickly, actually, we came across a project developer who’d bought up an old telecoms building. It was mixed occupancy between Blauwhoed Eurowoningen housing association - there I am giving people a plug again -
  19. and Van der Vorm Engineering. I am not getting paid for this. Those partners thought it was workable - although for different reasons than we did - but they did think it was a goer,
  20. because they could see that “if this charity takes over the running of our office,  that’ll save us so much money,” because they were saddled with an empty office. They’d have had to wait ages for it to have been demolished or redeveloped. So if we could take their problem off their hands, they were only too glad! But they also grasped the social entrepreneurship of it. The neighbourhood wouldn’t go downhill with this scheme: value would be added and a good cause served. The social entrepreneurship was really going to fly now. Something else they saw was, “Hey, besides the financial benefit, we’re burnishing our image by doing this, and that’ll help us get permits from local councils. That was another of their aims here. So as time went on, they saw more and more benefits in it,  and to top it all they were going to get rental income. Unexpectedly quickly, we’d struck a deal with them in which we’d be occupying the premises first as a kind of caretaker staff. But, you know, then the financing has to be taken care of. Although I’d put my own money up for this, we needed lots more capital to renovate the lot, adapt the premises. And that’s before you even apply for permits. What we then found was that there was an incredible amount of opposition to us within the council. Our aim, affordable housing for young people and students and others, was actually foundering due to council opposition.
  21.  
  22. Irma Schifers: Really odd, that. You’d expect them to want to encourage it!
  23.  
  24. Ronald Bernard: “Impossible,” they said; and, “You’re not professionals.” I thought, “Well, excuse me, the architects and all the people we’ve assembled are very much professionals; they know exactly what they’re doing.” We’d been poring over all the building permits and before you knew it, we were becoming professionals in this area.
  25. In the end, we knew far more about it than they did at the council. But no, it was “no can do” and “it simply can’t be done” and plenty more besides. We couldn’t assemble the funding. And that left us feeling, “That is truly weird: a council that’s been yelling ‘We must have solutions’ for decades refuses to assist us. And there was more! While we were still amassing more momentum, a swell of support, they even called us up.  I’ll never forget it: I was literally told to “bugger off back to Portugal before you get hurt”. I thought, “Wow, is this Sicily or something? Sounds like the mafia!” I’d never expected that from a government body - local government. And one day, the local paper reported that the county government was going to set up a crack team, with a budget of 80,000 euros, who would be looking into possible “affordable housing” solutions to the decades-old problem of housing shortages for young people and students and so on. We got on to the county government, gave them a guided tour of the premises we already had; we showed them all the architect’s drawings. We rolled out the whole works for them and, over a cup of coffee, we said, “You won’t even need to pay us that 80,000 euros you have. There’s no research needing doing, because the solution is right here in front of you. If you convert those 80,000 euros into a bank guarantee, we can borrow against it, and you get to keep the money, because it’ll get converted back into cash a couple of years down the line.” And their response was, “Oh, you can work magic with money, then?” I said, “Yes, but that doesn’t matter; this is a solution for you.” They promptly called up a councilman on his holiday, and he said “Go for it.” And so we had our first 80,000 euros, but we needed far more. Then we went down to the town council and said, “The county has already backed us.” And the only thing that jarred with me at that stage was that the council, which had been yelling for decades about the need for solutions, affordable solutions for its own population, actually declined to co-operate, even though the county was helping. Now, how was I going to explain this to the media, without maligning the town council? I had no idea, you see, how I was going to be able to explain this. The county was assisting a project that offered solutions, and the town council wasn’t. So we just had to wait. A quarter of an hour later, an appointment was made for us to meet the Head of Accounting, and within a week we’d secured the council funding necessary to amass the total sum to completely renovate the building.
  26.  
  27. Irma Schiffers: Well, well!
  28.  
  29. Ronald Bernard: So in the end, we managed it. It really took some work, but in the end we did it. Something else unprecedented: this was the first time under the Dutch Empty Homes Act - which forbade rent controls - that people in the Netherlands did get strong rent controls, because it was the landlord’s lookout. And that was still an issue back then.
  30. Landlords have to maintain the property somehow. And by dusting down the Empty Homes Act and sharpening its provisions, we were able to offer a total package on the basis of which landlords could let rooms, short-term or longer-term, without rent controls, but still allowing everyone to rent a room affordably. So, after a great deal of opposition, it ended up being a big success. And of course we were then fêted, including by the council, and we didn’t begrudge them that at all, because ultimately they too had grasped that it was better actually to put their money where their mouth had been for twenty years. In hindsight, we realised there had been a monopoly at play. A market had been cornered and thus rents had been kept artificially high: what should have cost €100 to €200 was being charged at €400 to €500. And I have to say, this is nothing short of standard operating procedure everywhere, including here in the Netherlands. Protected cliques.
  31. Up until this point, it was all going swimmingly well. And this was the project that made us realise, because we believed in the do-it-yourself principle that young people and students could get extra rebates if they gave 64 hours of their lives for simple DIY jobs.
  32. This way, we shaved huge amounts off labour costs in the Netherlands. And they got a cheaper rent out of it. But how did these young people and students respond? They went off and asked aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, friends to join in the effort - so they didn’t shoulder all the burden themselves. They came back with whole armies of volunteers,
  33. so we ended up with a thousand-strong renovation force. And that way, we blitzed the transformation of offices into housing. Well, all that was a great success, and I realised,
  34. “Good heavens, I’ve been proved wrong too,” because I’d been so negative about my previous experiences of the Netherlands, where everything seems to be too much bother to get done. This was when I saw, “Hmm, actually, even though there is a lot of resistance
  35. and no shortage of vested interests, we got it done regardless.” I had been so bitten by the enthusiasm bug that I just couldn’t think small-scale any more, because there I was thinking,  “You can transform the whole country the same way that with a thousand people you transformed an office. ”So I got writing blueprints at that time: Transforming the Netherlands. This was because I still couldn’t fail to see that the Netherlands  was still a very sick patient and going from bad to worse;  the country was being ruled by cabals, cliques. That’s why I wrote my Transforming the Netherlands plans. I started out by setting up a Shadow Cabinet: we had an Energy Minister, a Health Minister and the whole gamut,
  36. but shadowing the actual government. And we had some partial successes right away. For instance, we started out with a policy of driving on sunflower oil instead of diesel. A small step, granted, but we actually refuelled our cars in the supermarket instead of at the pump.
  37. And we started using new forms of natural healing. We were making waves in so many aspects of life. And in my enthusiasm... I began to share our successes with some of the best-known people in the country, because when you’re doing a pilot scheme - that’s what we were up to, I was chairing a charity doing a pilot scheme -  then all the elite circles will find out about you sooner or later. It wasn’t just people in housing; we were on the radar of all kinds of groups, and by this stage you don’t get full-frontal opposition any more; they try to co-opt you instead - “We now regard you as one of us.” That oils the doors for you to get inside where it matters. And that happened really quickly, really straightforwardly. So I was beginning to share those blueprints for transforming the country, which I was so fired up about,  with some pretty senior people in the Netherlands. And I’ll never forget this: I saw one of those high and mighty reading through our documents by the window, with glasses on, and suddenly he swivelled around and looked at me like this over his glasses - “This is feasible, fantastic! Very realistic. Well done you!” Well, of course, I thought, this chap’s surely going to help now. You don’t say that if you’re not going to get on board, surely?
  38. But it never came to that. But anyway, as time went on, I shared the plans with numerous people, and then, overnight, things started conspiring against me. Take the success I’d had in housing. We were supposed to be starting work on the second project but we began to meet with resistance.
  39.  
  40. Irma Schiffers: So the attack dogs were unleashed?
  41.  
  42. Ronald Bernard: Opposition started coming my way. And this is the form it took. Initially, we’d made a gentlemen’s agreement on the board: “We’re investing so much time and effort and money in this,  so we’ll keep a log of hours, and once the project’s wrapped
  43. and we’ve settled all the debts, repaid the loans and are beginning to turn a profit,
  44. then we’re entitled to pay, because we’ll have generated that revenue, creating the profit ourselves.” And we agreed that we’d then recompense ourselves - don’t fall off your chair -
  45. the grand hourly rate of 20 euros gross. Just think of it: even a carpenter gets 40 euros an hour.
  46.  
  47. Irma Schiffers: Right.
  48. Ronald Bernard: And this while we were bearing all the risk and responsibility:  the loans, the whole seed capital came from us, and we were asking 20 euros an hour for it. This is just to point out that we weren’t on the make. But even that paltry sum is enough to get people carping in the Netherlands. If you call what you’re doing a good cause, it has to be absolutely unpaid here. You can bleed yourself dry doing it, but woe betide you if you get a cent for it. So this was a hold they had over us. And so we started getting blocked. They insisted we got a Supervisory Board to sign off on it, and there’s where the blockage came.
  49. Tensions began to mount:  “No, no, you have to get your second project done first, and then we might be able to discuss payment.” So, we were blocked.  And there I was thinking, “Well, hello! I smell a rat here. ”I mean, we’d jumped through all the hoops, made it profitable, delivered it debt-free, so it was a success story. I’d now earned my compensation, as we’d agreed in advance. True, there was no written agreement. Only a gentlemen’s agreement… And you know, things began to churn in my mind…
  50.  
  51. Irma Schiffers: Didn’t a light go on in your head - did you think, “I’m back in the Netherlands and here we go again, same old story”? Could you not really lay your finger on who was causing this?
  52.  
  53. Ronald Bernard: No, no, initially I couldn’t identify it. I could see… I didn’t immediately make the connection between what I was sharing with people and the Transforming the Netherlands idea. No, I didn’t see at that stage… I thought it was truly a local issue, just a case of “What’s going on here, then?”. But get this. During the mounting opposition, when things were deteriorating due to the block, due to the stand-off… Remember, I was the public face of it. We’re not talking about that charity per se here; I’m talking about external triggers which began to affect us. So, anyway, here it comes. One day, I was literally snatched off the street. I was on my way to a birthday party and I was arrested, handcuffed, and I should understand why. And they carted me off. And my wife, who didn’t even have a driving licence, was left at the side of the road.
  54.  
  55. Irma Schiffers: What?
  56.  
  57. Ronald Bernard: And away I went. Panic! So she called one of our people from the charity, who was a pretty influential guy himself, and told him what had happened. He came and got her. None of us knew what the score was. In custody, they told me, “You know why we’ve nabbed you.” But no, I knew nothing. Well, it turned out that there was an international warrant out for me - issued by flash or whatever they use - that I was wanted globally as a “criminal kingpin” for “fraudulent banking services”, exchange rate stuff. Actually, the guys who’d arrested me didn’t know the half of it either,  so I’m repeating pretty much the phrases they were using themselves. They didn’t have much idea what it was about, but it was obviously mega-serious. Anyway, given all the people I'd gathered around me, and I didn't know where all this heat was emanating from, I was released again in a couple of days. After all, nobody had the foggiest what it was about. And although I wasn’t allowed to travel abroad, I at least had liberty again, because they had realised that it might have been a case of mistaken identity, or that something was wrong in the system. But it turned out that they really did have the right guy, that there really was a mark against me. And it took six months for me to find that out. But - just a brief excursion here -  while this was ongoing, the people working to frustrate me were gleeful about it. And actually, I lost my active role in the charity at that point. I lost my position of social entrepreneurship. Because…
  58.  
  59. Irma Schiffers: You were no longer squeaky clean?
  60.  
  61. Ronald Bernard: No longer above suspicion. It was, “Oh, oh, we’ll lose our good name. What’s this about Ronald?” With the best will, I can understand why they thought that.
  62. For safety’s sake, I had to step back, and in practice I couldn’t get myself involved in anything.
  63.  
  64. Irma Schiffers: But did you have a clue back then what it was really about?
  65.  
  66. Ronald Bernard: No, but I instructed an attorney, and he looked into what was going on here. Because no end of stuff started coming out. It turned out there was a dossier somewhere.
  67.  
  68. Irma Schiffers: An indictment had been filed?
  69.  
  70. Ronald Bernard: Right. And then we worked out that currency deals had been made at my old office - to the tune of tens of millions, done in my name,  a large share of which I demonstrably couldn’t have done. That became evident from the dossier. So, as per Dutch legal procedure, although I didn’t know this at the time, I had to answer to a court and the judge would decide whether or not I’d be extradicted to the country demanding to try me.
  71. In this case, it was Belgium making the request. So I went to court and we had disclosure: that’s when they run through the supposed timelines. I can’t remember now whether they were talking about 1994 or 1995, or even 1993, but in any case… At the least, they were certainly going on about 1994 and also 1995. So they read out the indictment: “Mr Bernard, you were involved in major illegal currency deals via banks in Belgium. That is what you stand charged with.” So I said, “Just hang on a minute. There might possibly be a case to answer for 1994, but as for 1995, no way. That year, I was a total mess and being treated at hospitals and clinics. So whatever’s going on here, I have no idea, but this can’t be right.” Thanks to my mother, who’d preserved lots of medical documentation from the clinics, we were able to take our case to a Dutch court in short order. We were able to demonstrate to the Ministry of Justice lady and the panel of three judges that “something’s fishy here”. It might have been repercussions from my past, might have been a case of ‘serve me right’, but whatever the matter, it didn’t stack up. At this, the Ministry of Justice lady was supposed to speak on behalf of the requesting party, which is the plaintiff, or in this case the country that’s saying “You must give us that guy”. But the lady said, “Well, in light of the documentation, I am instead going to require that this case be carried on in writing  and that Mr Bernard reach an amicable settlement with a lawyer and the Belgian Government. In writing.” To which the judges said, “Fine, we’ll make pronouncement in two weeks’ time, so be back here in a fortnight.” OK, then. So everyone thought, “Phew, justice isn’t dead yet!” -  because we’d been able to demonstrate our case. Back I went two weeks later. Every single official who’d been there the previous time had been replaced.
  72. The Ministry of Justice official was someone else; the judges were all different; the whole decor of the room was different. And I don’t really have a bad word for the replacement Ministry official,  who basically repeated what his previous colleague had said. But there’s something I’ll never forget: the presiding judge, the lady in the middle of the three, said, “Mr Bernard” -  and she could barely suppress a sneer - “you are going to be a test case again today. A pilot scheme.” She went on, “We are going to... consider the Ministry of Justice’s request. You have a case to answer in Belgium and you’re on your own. You will be going to Belgium to defend yourself.”
  73.  
  74. Irma Schiffers: Wowee…
  75.  
  76. Ronald Bernard: “We are invoking the EU’s new Corpus Juris legislation. We know that the statute of limitations should prevent you being extradited in this case, but the new EU laws dispense with time bars. No matter how much time has elapsed since the alleged crime - you might just as well have done it in 1920 - you now have to go to Belgium to be tried.”
  77. So that was the new-style courtroom. And so, without warning, the handcuffs went back on, and off we went to a criminal remand centre in Belgium. They put me in Category A detention, among the worst psychopaths you can imagine. And it broke me down completely. I was on my own. And I was simply informed that I'd been found guilty in my absence and had no entitlement to a defence, and I was accused of endless transactions hat had been done in my name, some time in the past, by other bankers. And here’s the worst of it - it turns out this is one of the ‘gifts’ I chalked up during my earlier period of setting matters to rights, back in 1994. It transpired that they’d done the dirty on me back then, to get their own back on me later. They arranged it so that if I ever got active in a domain they didn’t approve of - and by ‘they’ here, I mean the real powers that be - then they’d activate my little ‘present’ for me. Now, while detained in Brussels, I went through the whole dossier with a fine-toothed comb to find out who was behind all this. I didn’t get it at all, you see. It turned out that in this whole manhunt for the “criminal kingpin”, the dark lord of currency fraud, they’d paid a grand total of 25 euros worldwide in judicial fees, during all those years. 25 euros! So there was no manhunt for me at all. No, the dossier was simply activated at a time of their own choosing. I still hadn’t pieced it all together, though. There I was, sitting in my cell, when one day there was a bang on the door and the hatch swung open. It was a female prison officer. She grabbed a book from beneath her uniform and shoved it through the hatch. She said, “Ronald, I represent the Rosicrucians.
  78. You need to read this book. It’s time you woke up and understood what you’ve got yourself into.” The book - De Ridders van Nu [Knightly Orders Today], that’s almost unobtainable now. Of course, I read it, and as I did so, everything about my prior treatment suddenly slotted into place. I had entered the playing field of the Netherlands, where I didn’t have licence to operate. I was calling for a transformation of the Netherlands, and that was a big no-no. So in fact, I’d thrown down the gauntlet; I was operating in someone else’s territory.
  79. I was messing with other people’s interests, and that wasn’t appreciated. So the truth of it was, I was now no longer a top-flight operator, as I had been in my old life, when the top flight gave me jobs to do. No, it was local bigwigs I was tangling with now. Council stitch-ups, county conspiracies, national cabals. The old boys’ network. And this book let me see the whole profile of it. You see, it was written by a researcher, André van Bosbeke, who was admitted to look around lots of different knightly orders. The Rosicrucian Order, the Knights of Lucifer, the Renové du Temple [Order of Restorers of the Temple], the Knights Hospitallers or Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the Knights of Malta, the Knights Templars, the Knights of the Golden Fleece. I got a whole… Just imagine my surprise:  even I, who’d worked out so much in my life about power structures, only found out now that, spun out from the pyramidal system we talked about in Part 2, there’s a much more granular power structure of local interests. And I’m not saying that all those power circles are sickening or nasty. They tend to be benign… Something else I now understood better was how those town and county councils worked: ‘if you’re one of us, I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine.’ And this is otherwise an unremarkable phenomenon, much like what you see in other countries. You could call it corruption, but it’s a system of mutual favours.
  80.  
  81. Irma Schiffers: Even so, it’s still an elite club.
  82.  
  83. Ronald Bernard: Yes, they’re all elite clubs, yes. And this book let me understand - because it was very much a Belgium-focused book - it let me understand how the whole of Belgian society operates. And that includes the neighbouring countries, the Netherlands and France, too. In fact, it’s valid for every country in the world. So I’m not launching a crusade against all those knightly orders that have good intentions for humanity and life. This is not that kind of argument. Rather, I’m exposing something here. I’m exposing something that overwhelmed me, which allowed me after long puzzling to begin to understand how the whole world actually… Let’s say it was the last piece of the jigsaw that fell into place, which I hadn’t yet grasped and which now fell into my lap. So I had a trial to face in Belgium. They gave me just one opportunity to explain everything that had occurred. This was when they taught me a lesson - my past catching up with me. ‘This is what you get for dabbling in domains you’re not supposed to.’ I was given a fine. I believe it was nine million.
  84.  
  85. Irma Schiffers: Nine million?
  86.  
  87. Ronald Bernard: Yes. So they’d locked me up in one of Belgium’s worst detention facilities for about eight months, really tough…
  88.  
  89. Irma Schiffers: I’m assuming you didn’t have that kind of money to pay?
  90.  
  91. Ronald Bernard: No.
  92.  
  93. Irma Schiffers: Thought not…
  94.  
  95. Ronald Bernard: But this is the thing: they offered me a deal. After eight months, they released me. That whole process… They just kept me festering in jail as long as they could, and finally they deigned to give me my day in court, but it took ages before I got that. And when my attorney turned up, I was able to prove my position from the documents, as I had in the Netherlands. And the only thing they changed in response - as far as I recall, the total fine was 18 million euros or so - the only thing they did was to say, “OK, you’ve demonstrated that more than half of this is nonsense because you couldn’t possibly have done it, but we’ll retain the other half of it.” That’s a legal nonsense, but it happened. Because this was no longer a case at law; I’d been condemned beforehand.
  96. I did get a ‘discount’, though! And if I remember right, the final settlement was that once I stumped up nine million, I’d be set free.
  97.  
  98. Irma Schiffers: So you had discount justice!
  99.  
  100. Ronald Bernard: Yes, bargain basement stuff. Because half the charge was nonsense. Half of the dossier was nonsense, because I’d disproven it with documents. An impossibility, but these kinds of trials do happen.
  101.  
  102. Irma Schiffers: How could you respond?
  103.  
  104. Ronald Bernard: I think I could give you the whole dossier if I did some real digging.
  105.  
  106. Irma Schiffers: Wow, but how could you respond? How did you pay?
  107.  
  108. Ronald Bernard: Well, here comes the punchline. I’m not out to ridicule Belgium, but you have to laugh. You know what they said? “If you can’t pay up front, you’ll have to pay what you can afford in instalments.” So nine million at four per cent annual interest works out at 360,000 euros a year in interest payments alone, but they let me walk free for a direct debit of 25 euros a month!
  109.  
  110. Irma Schiffers: What?
  111.  
  112. Ronald Bernard: Yes, and I had to sign a vow never to set foot in Belgium again.
  113.  
  114. Irma Schiffers: How many years does your direct debit run for? 10.000 years?
  115.  
  116. Ronald Bernard: For life.  It’s a lifelong debt, and it’s legally heritable by my heirs.
  117.  
  118. Irma Schiffers: Your children will have to keep paying?
  119.  
  120. Ronald Bernard: Yes. So, boom! A fine of nine million, paid off at the rate of 25 euros monthly, and that makes… how much? 300 euros per annum, while annual interest alone is running at 360,000 euros. Well, it seems to me you’ll never ever pay it off, will you?
  121. So you’ve been well and truly done?
  122.  
  123. Irma Schiffers: Yes.
  124.  
  125. Ronald Bernard: So they really had you by the short and curlies?
  126.  
  127. Irma Schiffers: Yes.
  128.  
  129. Ronald Bernard: So I was free to leave Belgium, with my payment plan in place. And then a close friend invited me over, together with my wife. He wanted a chat with us. And I knew him from lots of meetings from the past that we’d had, about social renewal. We’d been in a group of innovative types together. He sat us at his dining table, and he said, “Ronald, it’s time you learned how to play the game, what the rules are, because…” He went on, “You were given that book about the knightly orders, De Ridders van Nu, by that woman in Belgium.”
  130.  
  131. Irma Schiffers: He knew about that?
  132.  
  133. Ronald Bernard: I said - we just looked at each other - “What? What are you telling me here?” And he rattled off the whole story. He said, “You really need to know how the world really works, and now you do know, Ronald. Pay close attention. From now on, you must create your own space, and whatever project you’re involved in, make sure you stay within your own domain. Don’t overlap with anyone else’s. Stay within your own domain.” Yes. He said that the world is subdivided into all kinds of power structures, and that most are really well-meaning, but that there are always elements among them who are out for power, money, status, and what not. And those elements tend to set the tone for the rest of their groups - the knightly orders. And that’s what I’d rubbed up against, he said. After all, it was all described in that book. If you ever manage to get hold of it, it’s a book well worth reading, but it’s almost impossible to obtain now. I don’t even know if the guy’s still alive after he put it all in that book, you know. Don’t go too far with your research, because if you do, you’ll have an ‘accident’, get bumped off. I don’t know.
  134.  
  135. Irma Schiffers: Does he even say that?
  136.  
  137. Ronald Bernard: He even says that, in the book. And he lays it all bare: bare enough for people to grasp how the world works, at national as well as local level. It was published only once, and it sold out pretty quickly, so you can’t get it any more. We finally tracked it down second-hand… I’d been given a copy anyway, so I still had that one, but I bought another one, because I thought, “Who knows, that book might go walkies.” So I smuggled a note out to ask someone to go looking for the book. And we did manage to get our hands on it, in a second-hand bookstore. I paid 65 euros for it. Recently, I searched online for
  138. another one, to share with others. Last time I looked, the book was going for 600 euros!
  139. It’s becoming a rare book.
  140.  
  141. Irma Schiffers: Evidently, it’s a Book You’re Not Supposed To Read.
  142.  
  143. Ronald Bernard: No, it’s not destined to go in the Reader’s Digest. But this guy, this friend of ours, gave us the lowdown: “Ronald, it’s delightful that you’re a social entrepreneur; everything you’re doing is wonderful; but ditch those shadow cabinets. No, lay off!” They gave me chapter and verse, and they said something else besides. Reviewing the past few years up to now, he said: “Your life has been spared this time, but next time, there are only two places you could end up - six feet under, or in mental detention. Those are your two options, so choose. Or you could live.” But he also said, “The time has come” - and that means the time right now - “the time of transition, the threshold of the new age, in which man’s free will will again be sacred, when it will be respected. That means everyone on earth will be able to choose for themselves. So I’ll be able to manifest anew, you’ll be able to manifest anew, but you won’t be able to be in conflict, nor will you be able to enter another field. It will be people, worldwide, who have to decide for themselves what they choose, based on their free will. And nothing will be done to thwart that; it will be respected.” All this was explained to me then. So you can imagine how I felt when he told me this, out of pure concern and friendship. His attitude was, “Look, lad, I want to be certain that you’ve learned this lesson now for the rest of your life; I know what got you into this, you’ve been a social entrepreneur, a project developer, you’ve been in it all, and are you banging your head against that same brick wall again? Won’t you finally learn your lesson?” It was well-meant, because in the end we all die, and I’m not immune. He wanted me to carry on living. So he set it all out for me plainly.
  144.  
  145. Irma Schiffers: And I’d like to say at this point: if a domain is created, or a potential, in which we can exercise our free will, then we’re faced with that choice…
  146.  
  147. Ronald Bernard: Without conflict, and based on inclusiveness. As I explained a moment ago. It goes wrong as soon as we see everyone as a bogeyman - because you asked about that at some stage - imagining everyone is in networks and nasty things lurk everywhere. Who are we to cast that stone? Who are we to judge another? If we dare to connect, in spite of our grief, our pain; if we work inclusively, forgiving everyone and that includes ourselves, because hate and evil are toxic, then we’re doing ourselves a favour.
  148. And of course we should allow everyone to bear their own responsibility, but we should base our work on inclusiveness. In a sense, you could say, “Even the devil is welcome, as long as he’s here to transform.” That’s just a bit… a metaphorical way of putting it. After all, as long as we write everyone off as Satan and give them a black mark, you’re pushing even further away people who are currently on the verge of coming over to us.
  149.  
  150. Irma Schiffers: You’re pushing them into the darkness, yes…
  151.  
  152. Ronald Bernard: I face this every day, because fortunately I’m now in a position to manifest, as nowadays I stick to my own space. I’m independent, because you’ll never get me to join any club of any kind again. If I did that, you see, I’d have a boss. But because I’m so free - and that’s something anyone can achieve, I can now move around at will and engage with anyone. ‘Oh, more conspiracy stuff, do go on!’ No, it’s not that. What I’m saying is different. I just don’t judge any more. I’d like to carry on the Unconditional Love course that my wife and I set up a while ago.
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