19 Sep 2007

Belgium Breaking Up?

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The cover of the 7th edition of Politieke Geschiedenis van Belgie [Political History of Belgium] features an illustration of a merged Lion and Cock. This graphic representation of an animal with two aspects: the head, arms and a leg of the Flemish lion, and the tail, wing, and claw of the Walloon cock symbolizes the Federation of Belgium: a country divided by language.

100 days have gone by since the general election on June 10th and rival French and Flemish-speaking parties have remained unable to form a government.

The Economist has already editorialized in favor of dissolving the Belgian Federation. September 6th:

The prime minister designate thinks Belgians have nothing in common except “the king, the football team, some beers”, and he describes their country as an “accident of history”. In truth, it isn’t. When it was created in 1831, it served more than one purpose. It relieved its people of various discriminatory practices imposed on them by their Dutch rulers. And it suited Britain and France to have a new, neutral state rather than a source of instability that might, so soon after the Napoleonic wars, set off more turbulence in Europe.

The upshot was neither an unmitigated success nor an unmitigated failure. Belgium industrialised fast; grabbed a large part of Africa and ruled it particularly rapaciously; was itself invaded and occupied by Germany, not once but twice; and then cleverly secured the headquarters of what is now the European Union. Along the way it produced Magritte, Simenon, Tintin, the saxophone and a lot of chocolate. Also frites. No doubt more good things can come out of the swathe of territory once occupied by a tribe known to the Romans as the Belgae. For that, though, they do not need Belgium: they can emerge just as readily from two or three new mini-states, or perhaps from an enlarged France and Netherlands.

Brussels can devote itself to becoming the bureaucratic capital of Europe. It no longer enjoys the heady atmosphere of liberty that swirled outside its opera house in 1830, intoxicating the demonstrators whose protests set the Belgians on the road to independence. The air today is more fetid. With freedom now taken for granted, the old animosities are ill suppressed. Rancour is ever-present and the country has become a freak of nature, a state in which power is so devolved that government is an abhorred vacuum. In short, Belgium has served its purpose. A praline divorce is in order.

And AP reports that this week, someone tried to sell Belgium on Ebay:

Hidden among the porcelain fox hounds and Burberry tablecloths on sale at eBay.be this week was an unusual item: “For Sale: Belgium, a Kingdom in three parts … free premium: the king and his court (costs not included).”

The odd ad was posted by one disgruntled Belgian in protest at his country’s political crisis which reached a 100-day landmark Tuesday with no end in sight to the squabbling between Flemish and Walloon politicians.

“I wanted to attract attention,” said Gerrit Six, the teacher and former journalist who posted the ad. “You almost have to throw rock through a window to get attention for Belgium.”

Six placed the advertisement on Saturday, offering free delivery, but pointing out that the country was coming secondhand and that potential buyers would have to take on over $300 billion (euro220 billion) in national debt.

Like many of Belgium’s 10 million citizens, Six is exasperated that the power struggle between the county’s French- or Dutch-speaking political parties has left Belgium in political limbo since June 10 elections.

Demands for more autonomy from the Dutch-speaking Flemish are resisted by the French-speaking Walloons, making it impossible to form a government coalition and triggering concern the kingdom is on the verge of a breakup.

Six decided to vent his frustration through the Internet ad.

“My proposal was to make it clear that Belgium was valuable, it’s a masterpiece and we have to keep it,” he told Associated Press Television News. “It’s my country and I’m taking care of it, and with me are millions of Belgians.”

One Feedback on "Belgium Breaking Up?"

Dominique R. Poirier

Some news from France about this issue.

Yes, there is a lot of fuss over this question and the French media consistently report about it. Some French speaking Walloons would like to be just French citizen whereas Dutch speaking Flemings got weary of French language they simply banned use within their territory. Nearly all French translations on Flemish road signs have been covered with aerosol paint during the last month, as a mean of protest and claim for a 100% Belgian identity.

Yves Leterme, Flemish Christian Democrat and would-be Belgian Prime Minister multiplies provocations toward French speaking Belgians. On July 21, he sung the Marseillaise (French national anthem) as an answer to a journalist of the RTBF (the radio-television public broadcasting service of the French speaking Belgian minority) who was asking to him whether he was able to sing the Brabançonne, the Belgian national anthem.
During an interview with the French newspaper Libération in August 2006, Leterme, who is himself bilingual and son of a Walloon father[4], declared regarding the reluctance of French-speaking inhabitants of the municipalities with language facilities in Flanders around Brussels to learn to speak Dutch:
“Initially, the idea was that many French speakers would adjust to the new linguistic reality. But apparently the French speakers are intellectually not capable of learning Dutch.”

Yves Leterme is a Belgian Senator, and Flemish Minister-President.

Well, I am not sure France is interested in Belgium as it is in Quebec. For, the Belgian public debt is one of biggest of the European community and France is unwilling to accept such a burden since long already. Beside, French influence in Belgium, through media, literature and movies, to begin with, is well established already, and it is of no cost.


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