BBC BLOGS - Mark Mardell's Euroblog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Divided Belgium

Mark Mardell | 00:02 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2007

They are hanging out the flags round my way. And it's not in celebration, but despair at political failure.

Each day another black, red and gold flag seems to sprout from the window of a house or apartment. I'm tempted, just out of devilment, to stick a black lion rampant on a gold field out of my bedroom window. But the Flemish flag might not go down too well in my French-speaking part of Brussels.

Flag out in BrusselsThe profusion of flags is a patriotic but also partisan response to the failure of political parties to form a government. It’s now 108 days after the general election.

But this is not some vague expression of frustration but a specific display by French-speakers of loyalty to king and country, amid speculation that Belgium may bust in two. "I haven’t seen any around my way," sniffed a Flemish friend, when I mentioned the flags.

Well, he wouldn't. For in many ways the flags are a protest against the man who is still expected to become prime minister of Belgium. To the flag hangers, Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme represents those who don’t care overmuch about the existence of the country or the rule of the royal family.

He’s the one who dismissed Belgium as "an accident of history" and has questioned whether French-speakers are intellectually capable of learning his language. Given the royal family’s own questionable skills in that direction, it’s not at all polite.

Demonic issues

The obvious sticking point between the potential coalition parties is a reform package aimed at devolving more power to the Flemish regional government, giving them more power over health and the courts.

There’s also a side issue of the problem in Flemish towns around Brussels, where some feel not just French-speakers but French political parties are taking over. But for once the devil is not in the detail but in the demonic cultural and linguistic issues lurking behind these particulars.

tintinbottle203.jpgBelgium is a cosy, friendly country, a good place to live if you don’t want to live life at a breakneck pace. Or in my case, if you want an ideal base to throw yourself in to the hurly burly and retreat from it at decent intervals. But it is a country starkly divided on linguistic and cultural lines, which are far more firmly drawn than in some countries where such divisions have had far more brutal expressions.

It’s partly economic. I wrote some time ago about a survey that purported to show that if Belgium split, Flanders would be one of the richest countries in Europe, French-speaking Wallonia one of the poorest. Crucially, this divide is reflected in the political parties.

Cliches and stereotypes are dangerous generalisations, but it's necessary to refer to them to explain the tensions. Many Flemish see the French either as disdainful one-time aristocrats who are too arrogant and dismissive to learn the language of their fellow countrymen, or as lazy good-for-nothings high on tax subsidies, and trapped in Wallonia, an area that until recently was dominated by a Socialist Party apparently unaware of the economic direction of the last 20 years and allegedly corrupt.

One of my Flemish friends confesses that he finds his Francophone countrymen far more "foreign" than the Brits, like me. It’s probably an arrogant, very English way of seeing it, but to me there is no denying that Belgium can seem like an argument between the more "Anglo-Saxon" Flemish and their French-speaking neighbours. For humour or for approaches to the economy they would tend to look to the UK rather than France.

Two of everything

There’s another big difference, although I am not sure what political impact it has. The Walloons look up to France: they follow its politics more closely than their own, watching French films and reading French books. In return, the French on the whole sneer at their northern neighbours: one guidebook I have begins, "If you want to hear the language of Voltaire spoken in a German accent, go to Belgium."

belgium_flemish_203_2.gifThe Flemish, on the other hand, laugh at Dutch food, drivers and landscape, while maintaining they speak a purer Dutch than their neighbours in the Netherlands.

I must admit I hadn’t clearly seen the political problem, until I saw a think tank make this point in a Guardian article about the divide: Belgium is a federal nation without federal-level parties.

In Belgian politics there are two of everything. Socialists. Liberals. Christian Democrats. There’s a Francophone party and a Flemish party. Each with their own leaders and policies.

This is, I think, unique. It’s true in Germany the Bavarian CSU keeps itself proudly separate from the Christian Democrats but the same does not apply to the Social Democrats, Socialists or Greens. In the USA the differences between southern Democrats and their northern colleagues is well-known, but just imagine if they ran different candidates for president.

Unfortunately, the linguistic divide is not a new phenomenon but something that dates back to the country's foundation.

In 1830 the Netherlands ruled here. The linguistically repressed Walloons took their cue from the latest revolution in France and the upper and middle class liberals took to the streets. A provisional government was set up and eventually a kingdom established. One where the French language was the only official one and Flemish peasants accused of a crime couldn’t defend themselves because they couldn’t understand the charges or reply in their own language.

This only really changed in the 1960s, when linguistic liberalism combined with the decline of heavy industry to give Flanders more of a say. In Mr Leterme’s accidental country, the resentment between the two linguistic communities is not a tension that has sprung up over time, the conquest of one over the other was what brought Belgium into being.

An EU protectorate?

So a leader in the Economist touched a raw nerve a few weeks ago urging a “praline divorce”.

Going up a lift in a shopping centre, to do some filming for an unrelated story, a man noticed "BBC" plastered all over our equipment. He wrongly assumed we’d come over from London to film a report on the state of the country. "Filming a story on Belgium? Tell people the Economist is wrong. We will not split," he said.

Perhaps not, but the divide appears to be getting deeper.

Brussels is perhaps the best reason for staying together. Like parents who muddle along because of the children, the recurring question, "But what about Brussels?" may save Belgium. Brussels is at least in theory bilingual and just about works. It certainly wouldn’t be possible to divide. But if the worst comes, it could always be declared an EU protectorate, I suppose.

What is life like in a country with only a caretaker government keeping things ticking over, with no new initiatives and no new directions?

Looking out of my window, it seems fine. There are flags, but no furore. Belgium may one day fall apart, but its lack of governance doesn’t seem to have pushed it over the edge.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:36 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

This blog post is treason, I tell you, and it must be removed at once !!

If those peasants in Britain realise that a country can have no government for over a 100 days without it falling apart they might rumble how little work we politicians really do !!

Yes, remove it at once before we are doomed, I tell you, doomed...

  • 2.
  • At 01:35 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Bungeejump wrote:

This story reminds me of the demise of Yugoslavia, although there the different slavic nationalities spoke the same language. But look closely at Serbia and the southern province of the country called Kosovo, which has a linguistically and culturally different Albanian minority. I remember when my cousin visited this area 20 years ago, they had Albanian and Serbian shops, restaurants etc on opposite sides of the street, with very little interaction between the two communities.

In my view, they will all be independent, and so will Scotland and Wales and the Basque country. None can stop a nation's drive towards self-determination. In the end, the nation-state will be the only viable option, so the sooner they understand it the better. And let's hope they won't follow the path of Yugoslavia, and do it peacefully through the democratic process.

  • 3.
  • At 01:57 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Vasif wrote:

Interesting article.
I remembered when Guy Verhofstadt said 'in joke' that Belgium gonna separate. After 2-3 days i talked with my flemish friends about this. They said, that was really 'foolish'. But they notified that we dont want work for wallonians. we are tired. That was about 6-7 months ago.

  • 4.
  • At 02:21 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Klaus Stultitiae wrote:

Some Belgians' attachment to their country can be reduced to their love of surrealism. In what other country would not only the political parties, but even the Esperanto league be divided according to the (native) language of their members?

Having said this, surrealism *is* a form of escapism - a luxury many feel we can no longer afford. Mr Mardell quite rightly remarks that the differences, in more carefree times paved over with magnanimous helpings of government subsidies, are not just linguistic but cultural. In matters as diverse as humour and economics, Flemings look towards the Anglosphere, Francophones towards the Francosphere.

  • 5.
  • At 02:36 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Frank Adams wrote:

You said something about the Southern and Northern Democrats running different candidates for president and how weird that would be, but its actually happened.

It was during the very unusual election of 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. Anyway, at the Democratic National Convention at Charleston, SC in 1860 the Southern Delegates walked out and as a result the Northern Democrats ran Stephan Douglas and the Southern Democrats ran their own candidate, John C. Breckenridge, against Republican Abraham Lincoln and Northern Democrat Stephan A. Douglas.

Just an interesting little historical fact that you unknowingly touched upon as being something hypothetical.

  • 6.
  • At 02:38 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • claudia gehlen wrote:

Your analysis is quite accurate, but you might want to mention a third element, which is often forgotten: the German-speaking community in the East, which belongs to the Walloon Region, but is doing better economically speaking and seeks more autonomy as well.

  • 7.
  • At 04:28 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Miles wrote:

A great article. It's absolutely fascinating about the deep divide in Belgium, especially within a nation whose capital is the political heart of the EU.

A very interesting aspect about Belgium federal politics is how each linguistic community has their own political parties, many with their own agendas. In other federal systems, like Quebec in Canada, a separatist French-speaking Bloc Quebecois faces other parties that appeal nationally regardless of language, such as the Liberals or Conservatives.

Perhaps if Belgium wishes to remain united, cross-consensus parties with national agendas that go over Flanders and Wallonia may be necessary. And if Belgium separates, what about the small German Region and Brussels? A Belgium with multiple Velvet Divorces?

  • 8.
  • At 05:27 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Terry wrote:

Great piece of journalism. Thanks. Herewith a few comments, tongue in cheek, for your consideration.

Flemish people more Anglo? Maybe
only because, like many Britons,they love the French Riviera were many Flemish flamboyant industrialists keep yachts and villas and organize a huge "Fete des Belges" in Saint Tropez every July 21, Belgium Independence Day.

And speaking of your use of "Tintin" as illustration, legend has that in Leuven, a Flemish Prime Minister liked to order the French "Tintin" weekly magazine with a ritual:"Kuifje in het Frans voor mijn zoon" ("Tintin in French for my son").

Those two anecdotes stress Belgians ability to jungle with burlesque contradictions. So, maybe things may turn around again, after all.

Personally, I can only think of two suggestions to help with the current political "cul-de-sac": either replace the Belgian National Anthem, which Mr. Leterme does not seem to know anyway, by "je t'aime-moi non plus" by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, or call Dr. Phil for urgent marriage counseling between Vlamingen and Wallons in a hit US TV reality show. The counseling may not be effective but the show royalties would assist Wallonia finances.

  • 9.
  • At 07:54 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Ananda Falisse wrote:

As a businessman who left Belgium to find "a faster pace of life" in Asia I totally endorse the separation of Belgium... and I have walloon blood, although I do not identify myself with this community.

Flanders is rich, deserves a chance to create more value by reinvesting in businesses within Flanders or wherever they get higher ROI and Wallonia deserves a new start bereft of state endorsed cronyisms and favoritism. Sure 30% of the walloon population will suffer with reduced state aid but the outcome will be positive in more than one way:

1. A drastic cut in the number of government jobs at regional and community level which as it is now destroys value by adding superficial layers and complexity to government.

2. A willingness to export "savoir faire" to richer parts of Europe which lack human resources - Flanders with its dwindling population cqn be the first to benefit. This generation could act as a catalyst to value creation in Wallonia much as the Indian and Chinese diaspora did in their homelands.

3. A complete revamp of the industrial and political scene. A lot of labor intensive jobs are still maintained in Wallonia as these constitute the political base of a corrupt socialist party which is ideologically "depasse".

So let's hope for a reduction in agency costs, a realignment of politics to the real needs of society and an end of endless nonsensical negotiations which make lesser men and women look more important than who they are.

Goodbye Belgium, hup vlaanderen, En avant la Wallonie.

  • 10.
  • At 08:10 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • R. Hendrickx wrote:

Thank you for this very well balanced article, which gives an accurate view on the linguistic and cultural situation in Belgium. It's nice to read an article that is not based on the French-speaking press in Belgium only.


The Flemish Parliament has again stated that it does not want to split the country. It simply asks for more autonomy, within the Belgian federal state. Apparently, the French speaking journalists and politicians of this country are intellectually not capable of learning Dutch (as Mr Leterme would say ironically), so they don't understand what their Flemish counterparts are saying.


And you're absolutely right: life is fine in this country. Maybe that's why we can spend so much time on deciding who speaks what language to whom in what place.

  • 11.
  • At 08:25 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Szymon wrote:

It should be borne in mind that until the Second World War, the Waloon region was prosperous and the Dutch-speakers were the underdogs.

Should the wheel of fortune turn around once more, would the Flemish be still so eager to separate?

  • 12.
  • At 08:35 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Diederik Manderfeld Knaeps wrote:

Very good analysis! But one remark: When Yves Leterme told a French newspaper that Walloons at times "seemed almost intellectually incapable to learn Dutch" he immediately added he was just being ironic.

He would be. His own parents were Walloons who integrated very well. But I dare to say the same without any irony: at my office in Antwerp, many Walloons who have been commuting for years refuse to even say "How was your weekend?" in Dutch.

Anyone unwilling to adapt to them is dismissed as a "racist Fleming" which to them often sound like synonyms.

I guess the sorrow of Belgium will not diminish until they stop seeing the other 60% of their compatriots as local natives needing to be colonized.

  • 13.
  • At 08:42 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • dóc wrote:

I suppose the initial, simplistic solution would be to merge Flanders with Holland and Wollonia with France whether they like it or not, whilst turning Brussels into the EU's Washington DC. There is always the possibility that such a split would encourage other regions to go for it (though admittedly it didn't happen after the Czech/Slovak split.)

This potential split however reinforces my own personal theory that as Europe develops on the supra-national basis (i.e. the EU), there will be further regional fragmentation, whether it be Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders / Wollonia. A need for regional identity should not be underestimated in the face of what some might consider a more anonymous, potentially bland 'EU identity'.

Personally, as long as it is peaceful, I'm not against it.

Don't you see the parallel with the UK, where the English majority resents the burden of supporting Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Cornwall? We have a Scottish Queen, and the second Scottish Prime Minister in a row. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have devolution; England doesn't. The revolt of the Flemings in the 1960s led to their domination of political life in Belgium. Unlike Belgium, the UK would be easy to split; England would simply secede, cease paying subsidies to the other nations of the UK (and to the EU), and live more happily ever afterwards.

  • 15.
  • At 08:46 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • steveh wrote:

A home-grown variant of the problems in post-colonial parts of Africa and Asia where state boundaries bear little resemblance to cultural ones. Image what would happen if they were still responsible for the (Belgian)Congo?
Actually, I tend to favour the break up of the larger countries into something more like Lander or Canton sized entities where local people can have more influence in the way their lives are run. If they want laws which are different from their neighbours, then that is part of the richness of diversity that we are supposed to enjoy.
Having said that, I would have thought that Belgium was about the optimum size as it is. Perhaps life in Belgium has become too cosy?

  • 16.
  • At 08:46 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • John Douglas wrote:

Interesting and insightful!
I spent some years in Antwerp in the 60's living and studying in Antwerp (which I loved)but I still learned more French than Flemish as it was considered 'more useful'. I married into a predom French speaking family from Flanders where one sister was wed to a lawer from Charleroi who spoke only French, another sister who wed a teacher from Hasselt who spoke Flemish ans a third sister who was married to a bureaucrat in Brussels who was multi-lingual; we had nieces and nephews who couldn't communicate!

However, the other 'problem' in that wanderful country is 'Religion'; certain companies only employ either Catholics or Protestants, rather like Glasgow football clubs.

But, Brussels attracts the majority of the multinational global entities such as NATO, the EU HQ's etc.

Their motorways are numerous and lit from end to end; the national health 'complaint' is the 'liver' and their standard of living is high, so whatever one may think, they must be doing something right!

Now; name 5 famous Belgians!

  • 17.
  • At 08:49 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • steveh wrote:

A home-grown variant of the problems in post-colonial parts of Africa and Asia where state boundaries bear little resemblance to cultural ones. Image what would happen if they were still responsible for the (Belgian)Congo?
Actually, I tend to favour the break up of the larger countries into something more like Lander or Canton sized entities where local people can have more influence in the way their lives are run. If they want laws which are different from their neighbours, then that is part of the richness of diversity that we are supposed to enjoy.
Having said that, I would have thought that Belgium was about the optimum size as it is. Perhaps life in Belgium has become too cosy?

  • 18.
  • At 08:59 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Jan Vermeulen wrote:

One of the best articles I've read on Belgium lately! At last a foreign correspondent whose sole reference is not the Belgian Francophone press. All too often, foreign correspondents in Belgium, unable to read Dutch, rely on the Francophone media and thus give an unbalanced view of this country.

  • 19.
  • At 09:05 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

Mark's story confirms my long held view that a concept of European indentity is really Orwellian because it denies obvious realities on the ground. It's not even a concept of French, Spanish, British or Belgian identity taking precedent over European one anymore, but of Catalonian, Bask, Corsican, Scottish, Welsh, Wallonian and Flemish still firmly embedded in peoples' psyche and make-up.

So much for hope of some politicians to create United States of Europe as a counterbalance to USA.

  • 20.
  • At 09:31 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • M. Goretzki wrote:

Brussels is indeed the key to the further existance of Belgium, as Flanders would not go independent without it and the Bruxellois would not agree to become part of Flanders. It is, however, clear that Flanders wants to "reunite" with (the Francophones would say "annex") Brussels, as the region of Flanders has made Brussels its political capital, an absurdity, as it is not part of this region. Flanders also encourages as many Flemish as possible to settle in Brussels. I have heard that Flanders subsidizes people and businesses from Flanders to move to Brussels. This is is difficult to verify, but perhaps Mark knows something about it - unless it is only a rumour. Brussels cannot be split, but as soon as Flemish parties in Brussels have the majority, Belgium will vanish. Surprizingly the Walloons have not the same urge to hold Brussels as the Flemish have to "conquer" it. Wallons have no great love for Brussels or the Bruxellois, whom they regard as French speaking Flemish - historically true. Populations have changed language before in Belgium. Large parts of the upper and middle classes in Gent and Antwerp spoke French a generation or two ago.

  • 21.
  • At 09:34 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Timothy Baines wrote:

The sticking point is indeed about devolution of power from the federal government to the regions, however, unlike what you state, this devolution is equal: both the Flemish and the Walloon government would receive it. The way you put it, it seems that the Flemings are the bullies and "winners" if devolution happens.

An aspect not to be overlooked is that the Walloons fear losing-out on the financial front once this mutual devolution takes place.

  • 22.
  • At 09:34 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Belgium should be a unified country, with both Flanders and Wallonia. However, they should work to create a distinct Belgian cultural identity.

If Belgium did break up and Brussels became an EU protectorate, that would be one more step toward United States of Europe (Washington, D.C. is something of USA protectorate, controlled by Congress).

Which leads to a trend in many of these European states splitting into smaller and smaller political entities (or going that direction). Yugoslavia may be most poignant, but there's: devolutions in the UK, and potential independence for Scotland; the Spaniards have the Basques and Catalonia; France, Basques and Corsica; and this proposed Belgian division (oddly, what about Germany and Italy--are there moves to return to a bunch of city-states?). As the EU grows in power, these smaller nations feel that they can exist under the EU umbrella, but free from their former parent state. This provides more incentive for the EU to further progress toward becoming a country--if the EU is dissolved, immediately a slew of small states suddenly will be at a disadvantage.

  • 23.
  • At 09:48 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Alain Vermoesen wrote:

Mark is perhaps wrong about Brussels; it might seem to work but only if you speak French or English. The horror stories of Frenchspeaking ambulance drivers not understanding Flemishspeaking victims or elderly Flemish speaking people declared as senile by French speaking doctors and nurses who don't understand them, are all too common but mentioned only in the Flemish press.
The flemish press is not read by foreigners or foreign correspondents.

  • 24.
  • At 09:52 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • andre wrote:

why do I have the feeling this is a biaised article in favor of the Flemish? (maybe the idea of putting out a Flemish flag? that's a strange idea, like it's strange that you left out all comment that the separatist Flemish party, Vlaams Belang, a leading party in Flanders, is basically a racist party, their leader was at the manifestation against Islam in Europe just a few weeks ago, didn't you see him from your window?)Brussels may be officially bilingual but last I heard it is more than 80% French speaking and the second language is English and not Dutch... so why shouldn't Brussels go to the French speakers? Suddenly the Flemish remember that Belgium is not so bad when there is talk of Brussels... The political parties from Wallonia have every reason to be blamed for not having chosen Brussels as their capital as the Flemish have.
French speakers look up to France? Don't be too sure, they know very well that they would end up as a lost tiny poor province of a country that they also often despise if they get annexed. They also have plenty to laugh at the French, their "Grande gueule" etc and would never side with a French team at any sporting event. The proximity is mainly linguistic. Unlike the Flemish arrogance, they know that their culture and history is nothing compared to France and they recognise that better French is spoken in France (although this is not always the case). To say the Belgian French speakers speak French with a German accent is just crass ignorance... When a German speaks French it's one of the prettiest foreign accents, much better than when a Brit attemps to speak French. Plus, Flemish artists are very appreciated in France, especially in the music industry.
The French speakers don't look up to Britain? well... sorry to say this but for one, British modern culture is not in such a great shape at present and all Belgians are interested in all cultures from around the world and not just Britain (something not quite understandle to a Brit like you apparently). Don't just look out of your window at the flags but go out in the street, have a frit, a beer, have a chat to all the crazy people out there and don't take sides so fast in this prickly matter and no, a Flemish does not equall a separatist

  • 25.
  • At 09:59 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • David wrote:

Mark,

As a Englishman of Belgian (Flemish) descent, I know a bit about the linguistic separation in my grandfather´s homeland.

While stories of Belgium´s demise surface regularly, I´ve got the sense that this time it´s different.

Of course, there was RTBF´s spoof last year that Flanders had unilaterally declared its independence, which even some ambassadors admitted to being taken in by.

There are nearly 88,000 signatories to an an online petition (As Belgium is about one-sixth the size of the UK that´s equivalent to 1/2 million over here!) to keep Belgium together, but from a cursory scan most of the comments are in French.

In truth, there is precious little holding Belgium together.

  • 26.
  • At 10:11 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Another fantastic entry Mark - I don't know how you do it!

  • 27.
  • At 10:49 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • michiel wrote:

@ Szymon:
This is an argument often used by Francophones. Although it is true that the economic fortunes were different in the past, there" were no transfers of money from tax payers in Wallonia to Flanders at that time.

  • 28.
  • At 10:55 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • francis marc wrote:

Mr Mardell misses the point completely. Why does every shy away from stating the obvious, appalling truth!
Flemish neighbourhoods around Brussels are being ethnically cleansed of their long-standing resident French-speakers. A little tolerance from the right wing Flanders politicians would go a long way to solving the problem. Some of the derogatory statements made by Flemish people towards their French-speaking countrymen is plain scandalous and no one speaks out! Why?

  • 29.
  • At 11:05 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Felix wrote:

It's quite telling how in Belgium, above all, the notion of "eux" (les Néerlandophones) and "nous" (les Francophones) strongly persists.

They are compatriots, but they're always from two separate camps. Imagine that in a political discussion, the fact whether a citizen's mother tongue is French or Dutch plays such a pivotal role. What a luxury problem! And amazingly, one of the most obvious solutions to the "problem", namely making the entire country 100% bilingual, is always strongly dismissed in Belgium.

  • 30.
  • At 11:20 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Very good article.
I am a Brit living in Flanders. Many of my friends are flemish and prefer to regarded as flemish rather than belgian. However, they pretty much all speak either good or excellent french as well as flemish (dutch), English, a bit of german, .... This is something you do not encounter in the french speaking part. You get french there and very little else.

If the Walloon population were to be a little more adaptable to other ways of life, the flemish part would be able to identify a lot more with their own 'countrymen'. When a french speaking person come to let say Antwerp, they will speak french. When a dutch speaking person goes to Charleroi they speak french. Maybe the flemish people should just stop speaking french.

  • 31.
  • At 11:28 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • David Ewing wrote:

I'm a Brit. And I have lived in France and Holland. (Which gives me indirect insights into the Flemish and Walloon people).

And I have to agree with what the Flemings say.

The Dutch, Germans, Flemings, Scandinavians and British - most of what might be called Northern Europe - know how to work. Understand that things have changed. They have dynamism. And they loosely share a common ideology.

The French, and presumably Walloons, have none of these concepts. France is a cumbersome and lazy system of bureaucrats. The less you do, the greater the reward.

France, and presumably Walloons, need to shape up. It is the 21st Century!

  • 32.
  • At 11:38 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

I read that someone recently tried to sell Belgium on eBay, stating: "Belgium a kingdom in three parts. Possible to buy it as a whole, but not advisable".

Apparently bidding reached €10 million, which may seem a bargain, but with a national debt of €300 million, caveat emptor.

Crazy place, but with great food and some lovely architecture, art and design.

  • 33.
  • At 11:45 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Jean-Paul Denis wrote:

Congratulations for this accurate article about Belgium. I am belgian, born in Brussels, french-speaking, with a good command of Flemish, and currently living in Slovakia, who splitted from Cekoslovakia 15 years ago as you remember. I am afraid the next steps could be quite the same in Belgium. In a couple, if one is convinced the best is to get divorced (Slovakia in the case I mentioned), the best option is to divorce. I think some flemish demands are totally justified, e.g the split of Brussel-Hal-Vilvorde electoral entity by community. Other ones make no sense in a context of a fedaral entity. The crucial question is what do we want to do in common ? What do we want to share together ? If the answer is quite nothing,I am not very optimistic about the future of Belgium as an entity.
You are right to highlight the problem of Brussel in case of split. I am not sure I want Brussels to be integrated in a wallonian state. Excpet the language, we are very different. To give you an example, in a business context, I feel more comfortable with flemish collegues (dwz in het nederlands) than with french-speaking ones.
I hope our french-speaking politicians will be more open to discuss topics as asked by their flemish collegues. I hope our flemish politicians will remember that if there is no more minimum in common, it's a nonsense to continue to discuss about ... Belgium.

  • 34.
  • At 11:48 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • nads wrote:

#19 ignores the fact that the EU would be stronger if it had more and smaller members; who individually would have less power on the international scene and so would strive for more power for the Communities. After all the US has roundabout twice as many states as the 'enlarged' EU, none of which sit on the Security Council of the UN.

Coming from Luxembourg, I have no problem with non-violent divisions of countries. My country had 3 large parts removed from it and handed to its 3 neighbours (the largest to Wallonie - it's still called 'Province de Luxembourg') and nonetheless we are the richest in the world, so small and beautiful works for us.

Bring on the Europe of the Scots, Luxembourgers, Wallons, Flemish, Saarländer, Alsaciens, Basques, Catalans: it will rival if not surpass the US.

  • 35.
  • At 11:50 AM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Toni wrote:

Mark, I think you should get the records straight before you publish. Claiming that linguistic liberalism came in the 60ies is plain wrong, as Belgium was officially bilingual by the 20ies already. What did happen in the 60ies was the creation of a linguistic border, drawn by politicians, contested today by the francophones in the areas around Brussels, and which by no means is linguistic liberalism. Try to go and register to a Flemish municipality and in good faith speak English or German or (God forbid!) French to them. The employee in front of you will answer in Dutch (if they're nice!) or demand that you come back with a translator (This is St-Pieters-Leeuw for you). Indeeed, they are not allowed to speak anything but Dutch. Welcome to the heart of Europe!

One cannot hold a nation together peacefully against the will of the populace. At the moment, most of the citizens of Belgium do not wish to split, how long will that be the case?

Mark's excellent entry here does highlight a problem, how can the nation-state exist if there is no underlying identity supporting it?

This does not mean, however that an identity cannot be created. Only it as of yet does not exist.

  • 37.
  • At 12:00 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • jurgen huyghe wrote:

Just a small remark. The belgian flag is not the stated black, red and gold. That is the flag of the german nation and is even not used by the german speaking community in the east of Belgium. The flag of Belgium does contain the color 'yellow' in stead of 'gold'. The order of the colors is black - yellow - red. Or as stated in our(trilingual) constitution:

Art. 193
La Nation belge adopte les couleurs rouge, jaune et noire, et pour armes du Royaume le Lion Belgique avec la légende : L'UNION FAIT LA FORCE.

Art. 193
De Belgische Natie kiest als kleuren rood, geel en zwart, en als rijkswapen de Belgische Leeuw met de kenspreuk EENDRACHT MAAKT MACHT.

Art. 193
Die Belgische Nation wählt die Farben Rot, Gelb und Schwarz und als Wappen des Königreichs den Belgischen Löwen mit dem Spruch: EINIGKEIT MACHT STARK.

  • 38.
  • At 12:01 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • David Jones wrote:

In my opinion, nobody in Belgium would take the risk of seperation - just like the scots or catalans would be unlikely to take the leap. It just seems too dangerous to risk the economy and the nation on a dream. The only countries that I can think of that have seperated have either not been fully economically developed or have recently undergone political revolution. Personally, I think the future lies in cultural secularism where the state has no influence on an individual's cultural aspect. This model fits nicely for both the UK and the EU where identity is based on unity.

  • 39.
  • At 12:03 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Jonesy wrote:

I'm positive that, for any of us étrangers living in Belgium, who have aquaintencies on both sides of the divide, your brief summary rings distinct bells of truth.

Yves Letermes comments only served to further seperate Vlaams from Wallonians; Francophones now finding one less reason to learn Flemish whilst the northern neighbours have been fed yet another piece of (franckly) facist rhetoric.

Interesting also to note that, for anyone who doesn't know, Bedd Gelert is the name of a mythical Welsh dog! Follow link http://www.celtnet.org.uk/legends/gelert.html

  • 40.
  • At 12:05 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Gareth O'Flaherty wrote:

Your article was pro-Fleming and trotted out the usual, tired clichés about Wallonia.
As an Irish man married to a Walloon, I find the comments by Flemings that French-speakers are not capable of learning their language borderline racist. Which is no surprise given the history of the Flemings and their over allegiance to far-right ideologies.
Has it ever occurred to a vlaams speaker that there is little point in a francophone learning a language that is only spoken in Flanders and no where else in the world? Where is the economic or social value in learning such a minority language? And before ill-informed comments are made, vlaams as spoken by Flemings is NOT the same as Dutch. Equally, which version of vlaams do the Flemings suggest Walloons learn; west or east vlaams?
My wife can speak fluent Dutch, but chooses not to. That is her perogative. Much like those twenty-something Flemings I regularly meet who would rather speak English than even try to say 'Bonjour'.

  • 41.
  • At 12:11 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Rodrigo Calvo wrote:

Balanced? Mark, I'm afraid that your post not only reflects a purely Flemish point of view, but that of the most nationalistic Flemings.
You've managed to cite the complete grievance list of the Flemish nationalists (going back to the Industrial Revolution and WWI), without a single mention of the civil rights of French-speakers in Flanders (please ask your Flemish friend about the meaning and history of the "Walen buiten" slogan).

Your post not only makes a disservice to Belgium, but even to the majority of Flemings who still appreciate and value the cultural diversity of Belgium, and see the folly of a divorce, velvet or otherwise. Something that is often forgotten is that Czechoslovakia split against the wishes of a majority of both Czechs and Slovaks.

  • 42.
  • At 12:16 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • John Lancaster wrote:

Mark, your summary of the situation is spot on. A Brit, I have lived in Belgium for 40 years and have NEVER properly understood the politics. With separate Socialist, and Liberal parties representing each community, three federal governments (Brussels, Wallonia and the German speaking enclave in the south – you forgot that one!)and a national government with a Flemish prime minister who can wonder that the king, who is supposed to sort out the mess, is now reported as "tired". My opinion is that the root of the problem is that neither community is taught each other's language in school, as was the case some years ago. Most older people are in favour of king and country, but their voice will soon die away - literally!

  • 43.
  • At 12:25 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • koen wrote:

Belgium is indeed, historically, a creation of the Francophones (some were Flemish). Flanders was a kind of colony in this entity. It has, in fact, always been a part of foreign (Roman, Burgondian, Spanish, French, ...) entities. Who have, of course, always exploited and sometimes occupied Flanders. The 'Belgian' entity is no exception. Flanders was, until the 20th century, culturally 'occupied' by it and it must have paid, since 1830, many hundreds of billions of euro's in todays money to the French speaking part via the so-called transfers. The 'communautairy' tensions are, up to this day, largely a result of the struggle for cultural and economic independence of Flanders. The French speaking political parties fear that this will result in the end of Belgium. That seems to be the main reason why they have said 'non' to the latest Flemish demands for more autonomy. Although no Flemish democratic party wants to stop the 'solidarity' with Brussels/Wallonia (approximately 10 billion euro's per year, a lot of money for such a small region, although some argue that it's only 3 to 5 billion).

  • 44.
  • At 12:38 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Jojo wrote:

Interesting article. After reading this article, I think people from Belgium can learn a thing or two from India.

India, despite being a diverse country, having different language, food habit and custom have stayed together for over 60 years.

  • 45.
  • At 12:40 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Dectora wrote:

I have just returned from Flanders where, it must be said, my French was not much in demand. A Dutch friend told me (years ago) that when she visited Belgium she took good care to speak French in Wallonia nd Flemish in Flanders.
Bungeejump. How can there be a united basque country when the basque region occupies parts of both France and Spain. Will both countries meekly yield up territory?

  • 46.
  • At 12:50 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Dectora wrote:

Alain: you certainly have a very large frite on your shoulder.
'Modern British culture' is generally accepted as being almost the most vibrant in the world, but I suppose no francophone could ever accept this phenomenon. I have just come back from Flanders convinced that a two state solution might be best for both regions.

  • 47.
  • At 12:56 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Ieuan Johns wrote:

In my view, they will all be independent, and so will Scotland and Wales and the Basque country. None can stop a nation's drive towards self-determination. In the end, the nation-state will be the only viable option.

---------

Ridiculous notion that.

Nations like those that make up the UK need each other to survive. To split totally would be to spite ones self and only serve to undermine ourselves and each other.

I support more the devolution model that is prevalent in the UK at present as well as the US. States/Nations/Regions that have a degree of self-determination in how aspect of society are run such as health, policing, education etc. But tap into a larger national resource for military, taxation etc.

It is the best of both world's, the ability to be local enough to deal with unique situations but the stability of tapping into what is effectively a public sector economy of scale.

Unfortunately the likes of Yugoslavia housed too many idiots and bigots to allow such peoples to work with each other, here in the UK we are much more mature about it all. So I think are the belgians.

  • 48.
  • At 01:07 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Well it seems to be happening all over Europe. The Czech Republic separating from Slovakia, The breakup of the Balkins and the end of Yuogoslavia, Scotland demanding devolution, and now Belgium possibly splitting into to very unequal nations? And what irony, that Brussels, that locus of centralized power which seeks to rule a continent sized supernation right in the middle of the whirlwind. Perhaps the EU will eventually have 100 members after all, not because of accessions of new nations like Turkey, Khazakhstan, or New Zealand but because its existing memebers will fragment themselves so completely. It's as though the process of nation state building which took centuries is coming apart at the seams, almost simultaneously everywhere. I'd have guessed Wallonia cut off from the Flemish could become part of France but that may be more wishful thinking on their part than practical possibility. I'm still trying to absorb the impact of what the French Prime Minister said just a few days ago, that France is on the verge of bankrupcy. I mean I knew it was inevitable given their irrationally reckless economic policies, but so soon? Nobody during the recent Presidential campaign even mentioned it, something you'd think would be hard to hide in a democracy.

From BBC;

"The measures would be paid for through higher overall tax receipts as a result of the growth, Mr Sarkozy said."

"It comes days after the French prime minister said France was "bankrupt"."

""France is a rich country, which happily has the resources which allow it to face the future, but the state is in a critical situation," Prime Minister Francois Fillon warned."

"Earlier this month, European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet had expressed concern that French public finances were "in very great difficulty.""

Anyone recall the "Growth and Stability Pact" in the Maastrict treaty, who demanded it and why, what the penalties were supposed to be for violating it, who were the only ones to violate it year after year yet paid no penalties at all, and what they said about why it should be abolished? And exactly who is keeping those French farmers from going broke? Who is financing two lead balloons the A350 and A380, not to mention the European Space Agency and Galileo, the EU's answer to GPS? Of course Sarkozy has been warming up quickly to the US, he knows France is going to soon be asking for a favor, a very big favor from Uncle Sam. I for one hope, pray, and expect that for once we slam the door in France's face and hang out a big sign, "Nobody home, gone to Iraq."

  • 49.
  • At 01:14 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

@michiel
There were indeed no "tranfers from Wallonia to Flanders" in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century since the unitary Bellgian state paid for all the infrastructure investments in Flanders (e.g. the building of Zeebrugge, the improvements at Antwerp harbour the Ghent-Terneuzen canal) and the state budget got most of its resources from Wallonia. In the postd-WW II period, which was the first motorway to be built ? In Flanders or Wallonia ? Hiw many ministers of public works (who decide where money will be spent) have not been Flemings since 1900 ?
@mark
When I was in the Hague, two Flemish ministers gave speeches to an audience of Dutch businessmen and they impressed the audience by the quality of their Dutch and their eloquence, but once home. they revert to their "plat Vlaams", otherwise they would be considered as stoeffers" (snobs) by their electors. A recent study by the Berlin free university showed that 88% of West Flemish students speak WEst-Vlaams in public, a language which I as a Busseleir find more difficult to understand than the Dutch spoken in Breda, a city of "Nood Brabant" which was formerly part of the Duchy of Brabant, with Brussels as its capital.
Do you know why Everard 't Serclaes (whose satue is near the Grand Place in the Charles Buls street) is so venerated by the old Brusseleirs ? Because he led the revolt that kicked out the invading soldiers of the Count of Flanders in 1356. We are waitding for his successor (Wij wachten voor zijn opvolgeer)

  • 50.
  • At 01:21 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Hermann Cloeren wrote:

Wow, what a slight mistake! Black red gold are the colors of the German not the Belgian flag.

  • 51.
  • At 01:23 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Erwin wrote:

The call for confederalism is strongest in Flanders and stems in part from frustration with an old centralised -french style- administration/judiciary (dominated by a francophone elite troughout most of the history of Belgium).

In my opinion Flanders does well because it has done away (not to perfection mind) with much of the old -french style- centralised bureaucracy that we used to have.

Wallonia under the socialists is not inclined to change. The walloon socialists failed to renew themselves and have proven themselves incapable of reïnvigorating the economy. State sponsored jobs are treated as hand outs to the loyal vasals never mind effiency or results.
The impression in Flanders of widespread corruption in Walloniais does not help, either.

One example. The Flemish region round Kortrijk/Courtrain has a stiffling lack of workers. 20 km to the south east lays a walloon region with ± 20% unemployed. Yet the flow of Walloon unemployed is nihil. It really is far easier to recruit French (From France) or Polish workers for jobs in Kortrijk.

I do not support the break up of Belgium but in my view it may become inevitable if the socialists remain in power in Wallonia.

The perverse irony of the latest election results is that now the Walloon liberals and christian-democrats are in effect protecting the future dominance of Wallonia by the socialists.


As for Brussels. Part of my family lives near Brussels. Some of the neighbours came from Brussels in 60's and 70's and still speak only french.

Is learning the language not the first thing an immigrant is supposed to do ?

Why is it unreasonble that this rule applies in Flanders ??

Last point.
The media (and most politicians) play a negative role in the coherence of Belgium.
I believe much of the reporting in Flemish/Walloon media is sensationalist, inaccurate, shallow and full with scapegoating. It takes quite an effort to find good journalism on both sides of the language divide.

  • 52.
  • At 01:24 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • ILSE VINGERHOETS-HAGLEY wrote:

As a Flemish Belgian citizen living in England it was quite interesting to read what other people have to say about my country of birth. The controversy between Vlamingen (Flemish) & Walen (Walloons) have been going on for centuries. Personally, if you go to south of the country you speak French and German, if you go to the north you speak Flemish - it's that simple. Brussels should and was bilingual when I resided in Belgium but found when I visited Brussels (school trip) you end up having to speak French which I refused to do (out of principle). Schools in the Flemish side of Belgium teach 3 languages, English, French and German and ofcourse Flemish. In the French speaking side you learn possibly English & German. Why is it that the Flemish side obviously incorporate our counterparts language but we don't get the same on the French side. As for the Royal House, King Boudewijn & his wife spoke fluent Flemish & French which was appreciated by both populations (the kings speech was spoken in both languages), our present King Albert & his wife can't seem to do the effort to learn Flemish (the kings speech was all in French)and when they eventually had too could not resist pointing out that they now could speak Fluent Flemish aswell (albeit with the most horrible accent) which put the fox amongst the pigeons with the Flemish speaking Belgians. At the end of the day they rule the whole of Belgiun and not just the French side. As for the politicians, they are the same wherever you go. Personally, I couldn't care less what the politicians do, whatever they decide it won't make any difference in the lives of ordinary people, they will struggle whatever language is spoken in Belgium.

  • 53.
  • At 01:30 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Pieter wrote:

As an aswer to Szymon

It is true that until the second World War Flanders was the poor part of Belgium. However in a time when a French speaking elite willingly deprived the Flemish “peasant” majority of the possibility of studying in their native language or even of the right to vote, this can hardly be held against them. In fact it is quite remarkable how Flanders has become the wealthy nation that it is now, despite French speaking political resistance.

  • 54.
  • At 01:32 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Is not the language problem that the Flemish will not speak standard Dutch, but prefer to use their local dialect? A Belgium French speaker friend of mine complains he can understand the Dutch as spoken by presenters and politicians on television, but not the different dialects of his Flemish colleagues.

Also if Belgium splits, perhaps Brussels can become English speaking as that is language both communities each seem to have as their second language?

  • 55.
  • At 01:46 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Michele Hills wrote:

I love my country. I am Flemish and speak French. I can switch from one language to the other without effort. I can read and write both and am confortable in both cultures. My husband is a Brit. I speak English and relate to Anglo-Saxon culture as well. In family reunions, three languages are spoken quite naturally.
I do not want to become Dutch or French. I am Belgian and that is my identity.
As for Brussels becoming an EU protectorate .....that's the funniest thing I have heard for a long time.

  • 56.
  • At 01:55 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Stefan wrote:

In brief, it's like this.

Flanders cannot unilaterally secede from Belgium, however much it would like to, as it would lose Brussels and lose EU membership (the rest of Belgium would inherit EU membership, and Flanders would have to join Croatia as a candidate country). Dividing up the enormous national debt would be another problem.

Brussels cannot survive alone without huge subsidies from somewhere, as it has a tax base too low to be self-sustaining (no industry to speak of, and the EU institutions and staff are largely tax-exempt). Even the airport is outside the city limits, in Flanders.

As for Wallonia, it is too poor to be viable as an independent state (even with Brussels), and would have to beg France to take it under its wing. Most Walloons do NOT want to be part of France, given the patronising attitude the French have towards them and the fact thay would then be a tiny province in a big country.

The Walloons are very attached to the Belgian "marriage"; the Flemings are resentful of their "lazy, parasitic" spouse, who take their money but can't even be bothered to learn their language, and ideally they would like out. But the practical issues of divorce would be a real nightmare (especially Brussels).

So they just glare at each other across the breakfast table, then try to see as little of each other as possible during the day.

  • 57.
  • At 02:00 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Klesmick wrote:

I'd like to reply to andre,

You say that 80% of Brussels is French speaking, and while this may be true you seem to forget that people living in Brussels also have will of their own. Who sais that *if* our country splits, they'll decide to go with the poorest part *just because* they speak the same language? I think not. If Belgium splits I'm sure Brussels will end up on it's own.

The matter of the fact is that because solidarity has been flowing into Wallonia for so long that it has taken away the need for change.
Basically it is like this; if you're unemployed in Wallonia you vote for the PS (Parti Socialiste) because you know that they'll do nothing to force you out of your structural unemployment and they'll do anything to keep things as they are (the solidarity flowing into Wallonia). The PS is hugely corrupt, but they manage(d) to stay in power because in a way they pay their voters. Solidarity should be well spent but as a Fleming I get the distinct feeling that Wallonian parties just use that money to give to unemployed people - no questions asked-
Recently ofcourse things have changed, other parties finally managed to break PS majority and are now faced with shaping up Wallonia's economy, to do this they'll have to take measures unpopular with it's populace, such as forcing them to go look for work.

I don't feel we should split, that'll only make us weaker on the long term. The fact that some of the richest and poorest parts of Europe manage to be *the same country* for so long just shows the country has been badly led. Belgium somehow needs to reorganise itself so that the help Flanders has been sending actually starts *solving* some of Wallonia's problems instead of just maintaining them. Perhaps Flanders should have a bigger say in how the solidarity it sends is being used.
If Belgium were to split for cultural reasons, we might as well split Flanders up into a collection of small city states because the language barrier can also be drawn in Flemmish dialects.

Wikipedia History of Belgium says: "After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the major victorious powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed at Congress of Vienna on reuniting the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Dutch Republic, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was to serve as a buffer state against any future French invasions."

If this artificial creation of the "international community" is still in trouble after so many years -then what chance do more modern artificial creations such as Israel or Iraq have?

From programmes on Dutch TV -I understood that it was actually the German speakers winning the right to educate their kids in German that won the language fight for the Flemish. Unfortunately, it seems that there was no single "flemish" language (only a group of related dialects). Apparently, as a result, ABN (official Dutch language) was artificially promoted in Belgium by certain groups. Now there is an official intergovernmental joint Belgium/Dutch language committe which decides on the language and the spelling (which changes every few years in Holland). Belgians do often win more than Dutch natives do in the yearly Dutch "Great Dictation" language competition -and several top ABN (General Civilised Dutch) writers are (Flemish) Belgians....

Surely, a supra-national EU actually allows countries to fragment and create a more regional autonomy within a larger (federal) union. What is a "nation" when so many borders are artifical -or the arbitrary result of war and conquest?

In my experience, getting a reply can be almost impossible if one tries to speak the wrong language to Flemmings or Wals (especially in Brussels). This can be rather awkward for outsiders (asking for directions in the street). So perhaps the Belgians (who are nice people) could all wear little flags on their heads, to help (bi-lingual) foreigners.

Whenever I was in Belgium it always struck me as being the most civilized of countries. Superb beer, fine food and an appreciation of the finer things of life as well as a great respect for humanity. Such a country will not fall apart, they'll just do things differently. Perhaps it will be the first country to prove it can carry on quite well without politicians, thank you. I speak both Dutch and French and so I can follow both sides of the argument. After all Einstein was a refugee in Belgium before he moved to America. Gezellig en mooi, avec joie de vivre, that's Belgium. As you admit yourself, a haven of tranquility in a busy world.

  • 60.
  • At 02:35 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Cedric Van Dorpe wrote:

@31
The national debt is not 300 million euro, it's 300 Billion, something to consider when bidding on ebay ;-)
As a Fleming I must say that it's very refreshing, almost shocking to read a foreign-language article that is't solely inspired by the French-language newspapers in Belgium. (Because those are usually the only papers foreign journalists can understand)
Thank you!

  • 61.
  • At 03:04 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Robby wrote:

Excellent article! It's not entirely correct though to present this as a confrontation between "Latin" Europe on the one hand & "Germanic/Anglo-Saxon" on the other. Items of dissent among the communities have included how to tackle juvenile crime, reduce traffic accidents etc. The Flemish approach has typically been more hawkish than the Walloon. But because of the institutional set-up of Belgium the latter have been able to block what Flemish see as essential measures. This has caused mounting frustration among moderate, previously non-separatist, Flemish.

It has to be noted though that in these debates the Flemish position mirrors the French (as in France), and the French media are puzzled at exactly what the Francophone Belgians are up to... Besides, whereas since 1830 there has always been an Orange movement (seeking reunification with the Netherlands), France has never shown any particular eagerness to take on Wallonia...

  • 62.
  • At 03:11 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Koen wrote:

It's sad how internationale media always focuses on the extreme-right party. Altough they recieve a lot of votes in Flanders, it's mainly because of the delocation of many jobs for low-educated people. The socialist party can no longer protect them in this globalized world.

belgium is a country where it's good to live and at the end we find a solution. I think it wil be two states in one, with a little national governement as a interregional forum.

  • 63.
  • At 03:14 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Arnoud wrote:

Just a comment on the Leterme quote about the intellectual capabilities of french-speaking Belgians. In the article (in a french newspaper given i nfrench), he referred to the french-speaking people moving to flemish speaking part of the country and "refusing" to speak dutch. What he actually said was:"either those people are unwilling to speak dutch or lacking the capability to do so". So what he really wanted to say (that most of the french speaking citizens don't want to speak flemish) was lost in a storm of indignation over part of the other part of the quote.
And for the record: I'm not at all a Leterme supporter or a speratist!

  • 64.
  • At 03:15 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

Ilse V-H
The last King's speech I heard was in French, Flemish and German. I would look as bored as he did if I had to repeat the same thoughts three times... As far as his Flemish accent is concerned, he'd have a diffcult time choosing between the West Vlaams, Oost Vlaams, Brabants or Linburgs variety and if he chose to speak "high Dutch", he'd be considered snooty...

  • 65.
  • At 03:28 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Belgium should split, sooner rather than later. From all I've read here, the atmosphere between the Flemish and Walloons is poisoned, irreversibly and for ever. It doesn't matter whose fault it is. Instead of wasting energy on bickering and blaming each other, why not separate?

Belgium has existed for close to 200 years... so what? We aren't at the end of history. Borders have changed in the past and they can be redrawn again.

  • 66.
  • At 03:33 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Stefan wrote:

In brief, it's like this.

Flanders cannot unilaterally secede from Belgium, however much it would like to, as it would lose Brussels and lose EU membership (the rest of Belgium would inherit EU membership, and Flanders would have to join Croatia as a candidate country). Dividing up the enormous national debt would be another big problem.

Brussels cannot survive alone without huge subsidies from somewhere, as it has a tax base too low to be self-sustaining (no industry to speak of, and the EU institutions and staff are largely tax-exempt). Even the airport is outside the city limits, in Flanders.

As for Wallonia, it is too poor to be viable as an independent state (even with Brussels), and would have to beg France to take it under its wing. Most Walloons do NOT want to be part of France, given the patronising attitude the French have towards them and the fact that they would then be a tiny province in a big country.

The Walloons are naturally very attached to the Belgian "marriage"; the Flemings are resentful of their "lazy, parasitic" spouse, who takes their money but can't even be bothered to learn their language, and would ideally like out. But the practical issues of divorce would be a nightmare (especially Brussels).

So they just glare at each other across the breakfast table, then try to see as little of each other as possible during the day.

  • 67.
  • At 03:37 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • koen wrote:

# john somer: you clearly have never heard of the 'wafelijzerpolitiek': every major public investment in one region has, in Belgium, to be balanced by a public investment in the other region, which has resulted in a couple of absurd investments in Wallonia (such as the huge 'scheepslift' in Strephy)

you also don't seem to realise that 't Serclaes (a Flemish name) was from Brabant and that he was, therefore, Flemish (in the current meaning of the word), nor that Brussels (the modern name for the ancient Flemish town 'Broecksele') is very dependent on Flemish money

and by the way: it's 'wij wachten op zijn opvolger', not 'Wij wachten voor zijn opvolgeer' (we're waiting for his successor),

It's ironic that you're waiting for someone from Brabant (a Flemisch province in modern Belgium) to chase away the people from East- and West-Flanders (historically 'Flanders') who live in Brussels, but your 'dream' illustrates how agressive some Francophones from Brussels are towards the Flemish (vs the big majority of the Walloons)

  • 68.
  • At 03:38 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Geert Roosens wrote:

It is a pleasure to read a comment that is not biased pro-Francophone. Mark Mardell obviously has gone through the trouble to get well informed before writing. One thing I would like to add though, for those readers who would like to understand more about Flemish desire to become independent. Mr. Mardell mentions the hundreds of Belgian flags in Brussels. Just go and ask the owners for their reasons. In Dutch. There won't even be 10% who will be able to make the conversation in Dutch. Because they are unable or unwilling to learn the language of the Belgian majority? The answer is clear when you've lived in Brussels.

  • 69.
  • At 03:58 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Alan Reid wrote:

Mark Mardell's point that there are no federal political parties is also cited by ex-PM Wilfried Martens as a big problem. Incidentally, the existing EU Treaty says that "Political parties are important as a factor for integration within the Union", but this has gone from the new Treaty.
Note that even bodies such as Amnesty and Oxfam in Belgium have divided themselves into French and Flemish sections, which rather runs counter to what they preach.

  • 70.
  • At 04:00 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Anna Kopchinska wrote:

It only fair if Flanders holds up Belgium financially that that the Walloons make an effort to speak Flemish/Dutch. Virtually all Flemish speak French and English fluently. Otherwise, who could blame Flanders if they broke away? Flanders does not get the respect that they so truly deserve by their southern "countrymen".

  • 71.
  • At 04:00 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • jan berend wrote:

It is a tragic situation in Belgium indeed, but it could not have been avoided. Im a dutch citizen who has lived in Brussels for most of his life and there is a certain hostility between the Walloons and the Flemish.
The French-speaking refuse to speak Dutch, though they constitution states that they should be taught both french and dutch in their schools. With this in mnd, many flemish as well as us Dutchmen get frustrated with their reluctance to speak our language or acting like they do not speak it.
If a split were to happen, there is much speculation whether the Belgians would merge with the Netherlands once again. I can tell you from my standpoint thatthis will never happen, concluding that if the split occurred, the Flemish would set up their own nation as a result

  • 72.
  • At 04:08 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"After all Einstein was a refugee in Belgium before he moved to America."
{#53]

If it was so great, why did he move to America? For the same reason as Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Horowitz,
Sikorski, Teller, Bethe, Dyson, Malle, the sons of Teng Siao-ping and Khrushchev, daughter and son-in-law of. pres. Hujintao, and even...
Belgian waffles?

  • 73.
  • At 04:11 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Thomas Patricio wrote:

As a Canadian who also has an European nationality, I find the whole Belgium issue very fascinating.
In Canada we have the French/Anglo dichotomy, yet as things seem to be degenerating in Belgium, in Canada, the possibility of Quebec separating seems more remote than ever.
Of course there are many differences between Canada and Belgium. In Canada we have Hockey, immigration and a southern giant to deal with as the great unifiers. Also Canada is officially bilingual. The Federal government is mandated to offer services in both French and English, no matter where you are in the country. Most of English speaking Canada doesn't know French, but more and more English speakers are putting in the effort. Canada is also becoming less and less French/English. With Natives becoming more assertive and immigration from all over the world (Toronto is the world's most diverse city - not London) English and French are becoming just two variables in an amazing equation with hundreds of other variables.
However, the biggest difference between Canada and Belgium is that Belgium is a member of the EU. If Canada broke up the consequences would be disastrous, whereas if Belgium splits, probably nobody would notice. I doubt Wallonia or Flanders would leave the EU (that would be disastrous). There would be no new currencies to contend with, no new borders to set up and dispute over, and no major economic upheaval despite the differences in wealth. If anything, Belgium separating would probably be seen as the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of the EU with the dissolution of national governments, a stronger assertion of regions and a centralization of continental and international issues towards Brussels. What better place for this process to start than at the heart of Europe?

Thomas Patricio
Toronto, Canada

  • 74.
  • At 04:18 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Were Belgium to separate into 2 or three states, this would resonate in places like Spain, where I live. The break up of Yugoslavia or the Czech-Slovak divide was seen as part of the realignment of Eastern Europe after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and anyway were too distant from Spain.

After a Belgian split, I can see the Basques and Catalans making a quick exit from Spain, followed possibly by Galicia, the Balearics or even Valencia. All have their own languages, strong regional governments and a sense of identity that would match any Waloon or Flem!

  • 75.
  • At 04:22 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Daniel wrote:

I have just availed myself of a copy of a book called 'Bye Bye Belgium', which seems interesting without being polemical.

Mr Mardell - you refer to 'French-speaking' parts of Brussels and I presume 'Dutch-speaking' therefore - I wasn't aware that there are enclaves of such a kind in the city - are there?

  • 76.
  • At 05:01 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Herman wrote:

to nr. 37
Unfortunately our flag is unconstitutional. You correctly point out that the constitution states the colours are red-yellow-black. However the flags you will see on the streets are black-yellow-red. The colours of the French flag areblue-blanc-rouge as stated in that order in the constitution.

to nr. 40
Thank you for your clarification. You have kindly demonstrated to the rest of the world the attitude of large parts of French speakers towards their fellow countrymen. The flemish basically are a bunch of peasants whose language it's not worth learning. Not even when you come and live in their part of the country.

  • 77.
  • At 05:18 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Renze wrote:

Here's a silly idea, but what about introducing a third language that would be the official language spoken in government, business and schools.. English for example? Or perhaps Chinese would be better nowadays..

  • 78.
  • At 07:17 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

Belgium should take a clue from Czech Republic and Slovakia. An amicable split is better than a bickering 'union'.

  • 79.
  • At 07:48 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • evan byrne wrote:

The question 'What is life like in a country with only a caretaker government keeping things ticking over, with no new initiatives and no new directions?' can be answered by anyone who has been to Italy. Mark says: 'Looking out of my window, it (Belgium in his case) seems fine.'

Things seem to work in Italy, too, where there has not really been anything more than a 'caretaker' government since Mussolini. Each government is simply looking after things until the next caretaker government gets its 6-12 months' in office but not really in power.

The fact that Italy has survived in this fashion since World War Two might give Belgians pause for thought: Depending upon whether you are Flemish or a Walloon the thought of a further 60 or so years of the status quo without the country splitting could be either very encouraging or very depressing...

  • 80.
  • At 08:33 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

Amongst all the various Flemish posts saying how nice it is to see a "well balanced" article thank God there are at least a few replies which attempt to hold things up to the light.

I have posted a number of replies to various BBC aricles by Mark or others, not a single one published to date, trying to point out that maybe they should go and live outside Brussels and see the real world.

I should know I work there, in a company with staff from 50 odd countries, but unfortunately at the end of the day some of us go home to somewhere in the real Flanders where even if you speak perfect Dutch you will always feel a second class citizen.

Or have none of you considered the idea that 1 in 3 people in places like in Antwerp voting for the equivalent of the BNP is not just to do with their dislike of the Walloons. :-(

  • 81.
  • At 09:19 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • markrichard wrote:

Dear Belgium,
The poor Flemish,they will become the LAUGHINGSTOCK of Europe. They won't join the Dutch and can't live with the French. How ignorant and immature. Next time I visit Europe I will bypass Flanders.

  • 82.
  • At 09:37 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Matthew Walsh wrote:

If Belgium splits it will be a great example to the rest of the world. We don't need big states held together flimsily anymore; Flanders, Scotland, Catalonia, Bavaria... all of these and more can happily thrive independantly and in security thanks to structures like the EU and NATO.

The EU is perhaps the saviour of the nation-state against the multinational-state.

  • 83.
  • At 10:06 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • ImagineLife wrote:

As a Flemisch Belgian working in Brussels and living in Flanders, I can say that this is just typically Belgium.

Everybody talking about separating, it amazes me, all the big words and strong expressions. Mainly by nationalist testosteronbombs...

There is not even a blueprint, in case Belgium may divide, off what will happen. What about national debt, social security, and,as pointed out in the story, Brussels. As also said in the story, only 40% of the Flemisch people like to split the country. My guess is that 25-30% really want it, the other 10% are just going with the flow, if not even more.

As for me and millions of other Belgians, we just say " ach, dit is België" (oh, this is Belgium)

  • 84.
  • At 10:07 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • jozef wrote:

post #40 by Gareth O'Flaherty is a good illustration of how the French speaking people continue to look down on the "peasant" language of the people in Flanders, not even knowing that the official language is Dutch, and yes, people in each region have their dialect, just like the people in Luxembourg-Wallonia speak a different dialect from the people in Hainaut-Wallonia, and that's the situation in every country in Europe, so nothing wrong with that. Please accept that it's difficult to understand why French speaking people coming to live in Flanders refuse to adapt and speak the official language of the region, and then even have bourgeosie attitude to call the Flemish arrogant. Who is arrogant here?

To post #49 by John Somer, in the days of Everard 't Serclaes, Brussels was a flemish speaking city, so this was a battle between a flemish landlord and flemish city.

Personally, I'am totally against the split of Belgium, but some more respect from both sides will be needed, including by Mr. Leterme

  • 85.
  • At 10:45 PM on 27 Sep 2007,
  • Bert wrote:

The problem in Belgium is the following: many Walloons can't speak Dutch, and can only speak one language: French. Why? Bad education I think..
In Flanders, every child at the age of 11 has to learn French. At the age of 14, every teenager has to learn English. Some of those teenagers at the age of 16 have to learn German. And a few students at the age of 18 have to learn Spanish or Italian (at college).
While in Wallonia.. they can only speak French, and maybe a few words in German or English. But they don't understand Dutch. Dutch isn't so hard to learn. If you understand English and German, then you can understand Dutch too. Dutch is a mix of French, German and English, so I don't see difficulties there... Maybe the Walloons are a bit - like we say in Dutch - "chauvinistisch"? (which is a French word by the way..)
I am a Fleming, who can speak 4 languages very fluently and I am proud about it.
Oh, and Brussels is originally a Flemish city and not a French one. As Wikipedia says: "The name Brussels comes from the old Dutch Bruocsella, Brucsella or Broekzele, which means "marsh (bruoc, bruc or broek) home (sella or zele)" or "home consisting of one room, in the marsh". "Broekzele" was spelt "Bruxelles" in French. In Belgian French pronunciation as well as in Dutch, the "k" eventually disappeared and "z" became "s", as reflected in the current Dutch spelling (Brussel). The names of all other municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region are also of Dutch origin, except for Evere, which is of Celtic origin."
The thing is: if one can not understand another person because of his language, you won't talk to him. So you don't know him. That's the reason why many Flemings and many Walloons don't know each other. And I regret this. Too bad we don't know each other. These days, we don't live "with" each other anymore, but simply "next" to each other...

  • 86.
  • At 12:23 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • John wrote:

The slow break-up of Belgium is part of the bigger trend towards more & more nation-states in the world. The membership of the UN has increased from 60 to 200 states since 1950 and the number of European states from 30 to 50 since 1989 alone. This process has not ended in Europe (Kosovo may be independent by the end of this year) and it has scarcely begun in Africa and parts of Asia, where current state boundaries were drawn up by colonial powers with little consideration for the linguistic and cultural diversity of indigenous peoples.

The form and functions of government that most Europeans expect are totally dependent on the nation-state. Only the shared language, culture and historical experience that lie at the heart of our national identities leads to the strong solidarities necessary to legitimate decision-making by majority or the redistributive programs of government. Without these solidarities people in one community ask (as in Wallonia) why they should live under a government in which another community has a majority, or (as in Flanders) why their taxes are paying to subsidise people from other communities.

There are those who would regard the potential break-up of Belgium as a disastrous omen for the EU. That is indeed true if you imagine the EU becoming a multinational federal state. But a world of ever more nation-states has need of supranational organisations of the confederal type (i.e. a voluntary association of sovereign states) to prevent an explosion of bilateral relationships. The problem for the EU is that its institutions have had a proto-federalist design from the start because Monnet believed that the creation of self-aggrandizing European institutions would lead to a federal state that could ultimately be legitimised by attracting the loyalty of Europeans away from their national institutions. This second part of his plan has failed totally leaving us with state-like EU institutions whose powers are inappropriate for a voluntary association of sovereign states. The EU is in drastic need of real reform to prevent that it suffers the fate of all multinational federations, but instead we have a political elite too dim-witted to do anything except impose a ‘reform’ treaty that is nothing other than the tired old agenda of Monnet of extending the inappropriate ‘community method’ (i.e. federalism) to more and more politically sensitive policy areas.

The real reform that the EU needs is to remove the inappropriate proto-federalist powers of some of its institutions. For example, only a federal nation-state can have a Supreme Court (ECJ) independent of other braches of governance with an unchecked power to determine the limits of EU competence in relation to the powers of national parliaments. The EU institutions cannot determine the limits of their own powers because those powers belong to the sovereign peoples of Europe and are not the property of the ECJ to distribute as it sees fit. Similarly the supremacy of EU law and its imposition by a qualified majority against the wishes of outvoted member-states would be acceptable if the states were mere regions (as US states are) of a large nation-state but is not compatible with a voluntary association of nation-states. And the Commission’s monopoly of legislative initiative on law superior to any other is totally inappropriate for any supranational body. All of these things most go because they imply the EU will become a multinational federation which is an increasingly obsolete form of government of which Belgium is one of the last examples still in existence.
--------------

“Monnet had the great merit of having built Europe, and the great responsibility to have built it badly” -- Altiero Spinelli

I have a connection to Belgium in that I have relatives there. I've been to Belgium once, in the fall of 1991, and fell in love with the country. I would love to come back, even if by the time I do return, Belgium may not exist anymore. I believe that a split, if it happens, should be handled with the utmost care. I also believe that the Dutch language, while relatively minuscule, does have its place in the world. (I'm saying this as someone who is also a Francophone and Francophile.) I do agree, however, that a lot needs to be done to foster a true Belgian identity.

  • 88.
  • At 08:51 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • ramO wrote:

Many people have mentioned that the article forgot to mention the German speaking community ... nobody's mentioned the Arab speaking community, their numbers are far greater than the German speakers and they have far less rights.

Of course most of the Arabs speak French and/ or Flemish ... so in a sense they are more integrated!

  • 89.
  • At 10:45 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Having lived in Wallonie for 17 years and worked with mostly Flemish people in the Bruxelles and Brabant areas I can say I much prefer the Southern French part as the mentality is much more friendly and almost never aggressive, Nationalistic or racist. I always found a lot of people very willing to try out their English as I stumbled through learning French, and in the civic offices as well. However, every time I've been North it's been the opposite with Flemish forced down your throats and no willingness to help at all.
I might also point out that schools in Wallonie do insist the children learn Flemish as the second language, with English being relegated to an optional language if the children have time, and this was following Flemish pressure some years back. Consequently my grandchildren will be forced to learn Flemish even though it will be of little use in their future careers, with their English coming from my son or myself.
Finally, if asked whether there should be a split I have to say yes there should, as whilst Wallonie has corruption problems it is still a very nice place to live and most people simply don't want the hassle of the Flemish Nationalists.

  • 90.
  • At 11:15 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Frye wrote:

According to a recent poll in the Netherlands, most dutch people would welcome Flanders joining the Netherlands (67%).

http://www.tns-nipo.com/sub_ext.asp?c003&file=persvannipo%5crtl_samenvoeging_be_ne07.htm

Our love might be a one-way-street and you might have to get rid of your king, but would it not be great to win some football matches again?

It will probably never happen.
It saddens me though to see how emotional the issue has become. Comments like 'chooses to speak only french' or 'the flemish should start speaking dutch only' are almost childish from an outsider's perspective. I find it vaguely reminds me of those marches in Northern Ireland, which on one hand are a display of cultural identity and on the other a veiled provocation. What is next? A debate about centuries old history, both sides making historical claims? Grow up! It has all been done before. You seem to agree that splitting up the country is no solution anyways.

  • 91.
  • At 11:22 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Neil Graham wrote:

This question can hardly be said to be one of independence (viz Scotland, Quebec). The notion of independence requires you to be independent FROM something. This is more As long as Brussels continues to exist, so will the deadlock. And in all this mess, the German speaking minority in Wallonia are overlooked. And for that matter, so are the rest of us who living in Brussels. As a Brit (read: Scot) living in and working in and around Brussels for the last 20+ years - unaffiliated to "The Institutions", I might add - "Belgium" suits me just fine. Vast numbers of my Belgian-national friends feel the same way, from an ideological and pracitcal perspective.

  • 92.
  • At 11:45 AM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Frank Eerdekens wrote:

Great article about the current situation in Belgium, and not -as is so often the case - only based on the French press in Belgium.

From my own perspective, the main problem that Flemish have with the Walloons is their refusal to adapt when they move to Flanders. French speakers are moving "en masse" to Flanders (mostly around Brussels), benefiting from all the advantages that this brings (lower taxes, better education, ...). Instead of learning/speaking Dutch and integrating in the local community, they demand to be served in French by the local administration, have education in French, have signposts in French, ... Would they have the same demands if they moved to Finland or Portugal? Wouldn't they learn Finnish or Portuguese and send their children to Finnish and Portuguese schools? I know I would.

An illustration of this arrogance is the insistence of Walloons to preserve the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, although it has been ruled unconstitutional by the Belgian Constitutional Court. This arrangement allows Walloon parties and politicians to campaign in the Flemish areas of Halle and Vilvoorde, and get elected there. No arrangement exists that allows Flemish speakers to elect any Flemish politician in the Walloon region.

Most Flemish do not want Belgium to split. They only want Walloons to get their act together and move into the 21st century, get rid of corruption and the "it's not who you are and what you can do, but who you know” mentality that still rules Wallonia. Flanders has been an exemplary state, efficiently run, economically sound, a great place to live. Walloons should take note and stop behaving like rebellious teenagers.

  • 93.
  • At 12:28 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • ekebrev wrote:

One comment is about the fact that Wallonie used to be rich and Flanders wasn't. And what would Flemings do should the situation reverse?
Well the answer is quite clear : when Wallonie used to be rich, a very small autocraty had all the wealth, whereas now the wealth produced mainly in Flanders is socially redistributed. The wealth produced then was produced also with hordes of cheap labor coming from Flanders, where schools were unavailible for locals because thaught in another language. Or that the vast majority of traffic cameras today can be found in Flanders, yet the earnings of these flow bach for approx 40% to Wallonie....
Or the vast difference in jurisdictional approach between the two regions. These matters cannot remain unattended for fear of panic. They must be adressed else the consequences become irriversible.

  • 94.
  • At 01:21 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • van asselt guido wrote:

to gareth O'Flaherty, since u live in wallony i suppose you speak french (after all, it is only normal that when you live in another, you will learn the language)

which cant be said of most walloons who come to live in flandres (which they do because flemish cities are wealthier and offer a nice place to live)

i honestly dislike leterme but he said that our southern friends where either too dumb to speak dutch or refuse to speak it (like that brilliant wife of yours, who learns a language and then refuses to speak it)

and why is that if i may ask? if she doesnt want anything to do with us she can give me back the thousands of eeuros she cost me each year.

and that is why those rascist parties ((who come from a flemish movement who finds its origine in the fact that thousands of young flemish soldiers in WW1 died because of the refusal of their french speaking officers to give the orders in dutch)
become bigger every year

the average fleming (me included) doesnt want to seperate, we just want you to make the same efforts we do.
and for al the money you get each year (your standard of living would drop 30% if we would split) that is the least you could do

  • 95.
  • At 01:41 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • MazuX wrote:

Hmmm Mark, how can this article be serious with the flag colors of Germany mentioned for Belgium ?

Has everyone forgot some facts:
- one of the first party in Flanders is clearly far-right (more or less 30%), the other one is nationalist
- that confederalism is a trap to gain more money: making richest more rich, and poorest more poor
- that money is not everything
- that in flanders it's forbidden to talk another language than dutch with police & administrations
- that if you put a sign in front of your shop in another language than dutch it will cost you 250€ (in Flanders)
- that in flanders, if your cellphone is ringing too loudly you have to pay 250€
- that if you are a taximan in Flanders, you cannot speak another language
- that if you want to wed in Flanders, you have to speak dutch, if not you could forget your wedding
- that if you are french-speaking, but speaking dutch in police court fines are the double amount
- that flanders is clearly doing linguistic cleansing
- that the richest province is on Wallonia, but also the poorest
- that french-speaking part is also hardworker, and following polls are ok to make more kilometers or more hours to their job office than dutch
- that if you calculate in Belgium by a proportional who is creating more value, it's the brussels inhabitants
- that if brussels and wallonia are going together, their economy will be stronger than flanders
- that never brussels will be under EU protectorate (what a joke!!!)
- that in Wallonia, corruption is made public, not in Flanders
- that the frenchspeaking part of the country build and paid for all the country during 80 years in the 20st century.
- that the active population in Flanders will be really low in 10 years (and by that you understand why they want confederalism: taking advantages and let others paying for flanders)

What a joke this article!


  • 96.
  • At 02:20 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Patrik wrote:

Lucky for us, this complex and surrealistic little country has a lot of built in redundancy. Like the beautiful hang bridge a few minutes from where I live that simply goes nowhere, or the subway systems that where built in several of our cities, but were never used; so to is this redundancy found in the way our country is run.

With power spread between the European Union, our federal government, five cultural/regional governments and many more provincial and municipal institutions for such a small country, we can easily afford a few going on indefinite leave without our lives being affected.

So why isn’t Belgium going to be split anytime soon? Because despite all our efforts to symmetrically recreate everything to please both regions, it seems like a strange oversight on our part that we only have just one Brussels.

If we are ever going to split, the first thing we’ll need to do, is start the construction of Bruxelles-la-Neuve, some 30km’s from the original city and on the French side of the language border. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to duplicate a city in order to resolve our regional disputes.

  • 97.
  • At 03:45 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • DaveH wrote:

As a Luxembourger friend of mine always puts it: "But then, they are Belgians".

  • 98.
  • At 05:29 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Emilie Van den Broeck wrote:

Answer to post 86
Last sunday, I was guiding 20 guys in a Walloon cave with 6 other friends of my club (all of us Walloons).
This was a free of charge visit, just between passionated cavers.
Most of the visitors were Flemisch.
They were welcomed in their own language and we after talked in both languages but mostly in flemisch.
Flemisch were better at languages 10 or 20 years ago, but that's not the case anymore.
The flemisch teenagers cannot speak french better than their walloons fellows...
I speak French, Flemisch, English, Italian and I'm learning Hindi. My way of speaking is for sure not perfect but I'm able to talk and to understand...
Maybe some of our Flemisch friends schould try to talk with us instead of looking only at their television and radio programs which shock me sometimes when I hear how we are considerated as Walloons.
Last year, at an international scout camp, I heard Flemisch young boys singing that Walloons were porks... the hate can't bring us anything good !
Maybe it's time to forget the past and to look in direction of the future. Maybe it's time to look at the positive aspects of each other instead of negative one's.
And I'm happy to have many Flemisch friends and to see that most of them are fair, can recognize that walloons have qualities too and don't want to separate our country.

  • 99.
  • At 05:52 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Filip wrote:

First, I want to apologise for my not-so-good writing in English (i'm flemish, but european in the first place).

One big remark:
- The felamish part of the countru is actually the majority. I think this is a unique situation in that the minority wants to keep a staus-quo...
I have noticed that the little map attached to the article has shifted Brussels to the west and has been edited to make Wallonie look bigger than it actually is.


  • 100.
  • At 07:20 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Antoine van Beest wrote:

Great subject, european regionality, but not going far enough. For here for once over-inflated linguistic division masks more important cultural divisions which are provincial and historical. Thus a dutch speaking inhabitant from Limburg or from Brabant (which stretches from North of Eindhoven in Holland to south of Brussels into french speaking territory) will not take kindly to being called a Fleming, referring to the frugally minded inhabitants of the flatlands to the west. As for Hainaut, always close to France, the properly walloon province of Namur and the truly linquistically indecipherable Luxembourg ... it is where the others spend their weekends. All this has deep roots in history... Ironically, the scale of immigration and change today is so overwhelming in this small country that all these issues are already history in the face of the new europe being created daily.

  • 101.
  • At 10:08 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Erik wrote:

To #74: one interesting feature of this forum to me (flemish) is the input of people living comparable situations elsewhere. Clearly many features essential for the canadian unity are on the european level over here. The intermediate level (the country) is rapidly losing its relevance between europe deciding nowadays more than half of our laws, and a Lander level closer to the population. Even competences which are universally believed to be best at country level (army, foreign policy, police) probably would better be transfered to europe. As for economy, health, unemployment, pensions, traffic, the situation and ideas are nowadays that different between flemish and walloons that a 'national' policy becomes ever more powerless and ineffective. To me it is not important at all whether the idea of 'belgium' will survive in whatever form; an efficacious policy on the right level however is extremely important to maximalize our opportunities in an ever changing world economy.

  • 102.
  • At 10:17 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Leila wrote:

(answer to number 12)
Only Leterme's father was a Walloon, not his mother! Usually mixed couples produce tolerant people, well not this time...

  • 103.
  • At 12:41 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

A note to all those who said it is normal that people who come live in Flanders refuse to learn Dutch (there actually is a Dutch language unlike stated by others):

Each and every psychiatrist who has studied integration has concluded that the key factor to integration is being able to communicate with the local community. Let it be that most important thing of all that they fail to achieve. They will never integrate, but they will live on their own and only talk to other people who are living in the same way as they are.

This won't be the end of Belgium, solutions will be found. I - and many befriended people - don't really care a lot about having our Flanders become more autonomous. Most of the population doesn't really seem to care about it. But did we have a choice? All Flemish political parties seemed to have more autonomy for Flanders on their agenda. For most, just solving the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde problem would suffice (note that I said solving, not splitting. There are other solutions).

Also, a small note: do you even think France *wants* Wallonia? Most Walloons don't even want France, so if there would be a split, most likely they'll be a separate country as well. But no politicians (except extreme-right) want to split Belgium, so no worries there.

  • 104.
  • At 06:14 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew McCUBBIN wrote:

The problem isn't Flanders and Wallonia going their separate ways it is Brussels and its suburbs.
Brussels is 90% Francophone and the suburbs that separate Brussels from Wallonia have francophone majorities.
They cannot,legally or practicaly be merged into an independent Flanders, such an act would risk French intervention to "save" their fellow French speakers.
The idea that the EU should run Brussels is a joke, most Bruxellois have nothing to do with the EU.
Let Flanders go its own way and a Francophone state of Bruxelles, its suburbs and Wallonia remain as the Kingdom of Belgium.

  • 105.
  • At 12:17 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Ivan wrote:

Wow. Just read Mark Mardell's article with 86 reactions to it.

While it's true that we are already 109 days without federal government, the administrations and state governments are still functioning fine, thank you, and most Belgians are less worried than some foreigners here.

So why does it take so long to form a government?
As indicated, mainstream politicians are not looking for a split.
But the small Frenchspeaking Christian Democratic party (CDH) apparantly feels the need to profile itself by hopping on a populist train that describes all Flemish people as fanatics.
Bad move, as this exactly plays into the cards of the populist party in Flanders.
Even the MR (liberal party) demands a 'symbolic' gesture for the Halle-Vilvoorde regularisation. It seems to me they want a French-speaking prime minister, like Mr. Reynders or Louis Michel. Personally, I have no objection to the latter, as he has handled the Iraq situation very well (opposing Belgian involvement) and speaks all the necessary languages. But now the Flemish Christian Democrats are being difficult, as they don't want to let down the capable Yves Leterme.

My advice to our Walloon friends: better to deal with the current Flemish leaders about ways to get out of the economic swamp, then to continue to frustrate Flemish voters, who are already fed up by the corruption in Wallonia.

My advice to our Flemish friends: 'trade' Halle-Vilvoorde for Mr. Michel as prime minister. Let Yves Leterme go back to being minister-president of Flanders, or, if that's not possible, let him be president of the Christian Democrats: he'll secure another election victory in the Flemish elections for sure, which is far better than the populist alternative.

  • 106.
  • At 12:30 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Piotr wrote:

My wife and I are Poles now living in Luxembourg, and we lived in Brussels before. Almost every weekend, we traverse almost all of Belgium on our way to the Netherlands.

Viewed from the perspective of an average motorist taking the E411 via Wallonia and then Flanders, the difference between the two is shocking, and not very flattering to the former, I am afraid.

Just take a quick look at the motorway service areas on both sides: the Flemish ones are spick and span, the type you expect in a civilised Western European country, from Bavaria to Stockholm. In Wallonia, by contrast, it is like taking a time machine to the Soviet block in the late 1980s (and I know what I am talking about, 'cause I actually lived in Poland in those times). The filth, the smelly overflowng rubbish bins, the exasperating slowness and unresponsiveness of service...

We ask ourselves: why?

And after a recent run-in with the toilet attendant on the Walloon side (cost: 30 c a pee) over the lamentable hygienic state of the facilities (they are free of charge and immaculate in Flanders), my wife is adamant about never stopping over in Wallonia any more.

The Balkanizing of Belgium. Hmm, we start to worry that this disease that started in Yugoslavia is spreading unnaturally. What next? The Lega Nord in Italy persuade us that Italy should split in two? And what about the cascading dream that is Spain? Catalonia au revoir, next Basque Country, etc...

Of course, this will all really screw up those well calculated voting balances in Brussels.

  • 108.
  • At 03:16 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Joren wrote:

I'm Flemish, living in Brussels. So, part of the majority country-wide, and part of a small minority within the Brussels officially bi-lingual region. I've seen Brussels change over the last 10-15 years. It has become what is probably the most cosmopolitan city of its size - not more than 1.5 million (the size depends on your political point of view). I love Brussels, and the international atmosphere it has. Belgium, and by extension Flanders, needs Brussels, to avoid closing down on itself.

The article is very good. Obviously Mark has been speaking to both Flemish and Francophone sources, which is very rare.

Two facts can be added:
1. The language issue in Flanders is also a deeply social issue. The upper class and higher bourgeoisie in Flanders always spoke French (and "Vlaams" to the domestic staff) - up until this day you will hear quite a bit of French being spoken at some schools and fancy shops in Antwerp, Ghent or Kortrijk. The idea of Flanders becoming (or wanting to become) unilingual Dutch feels like a threat of "ethnic cleansing" to Francophones, and certainly to those who live in the area just around Brussels, historically purely Flemish (but no longer).

2. A proposal to make the whole of Belgium bi-lingual (rather than the two uni-lingual regions of Flanders and Wallonia, with Brussels in between) was refused in the thirties of the twentieth century - by the Walloons.

The Flemish rightly demand respect for their culture and language, but should have the self-confidence to do so in an open Belgium system.

If you don't respect your own language (e.g. by speaking it in your own capital), how can you expect your neighbour to do so?

Of course, that is no excuse for the former Prime Minister of the Walloon region to write in his book "oser être Wallon" that "obviously, the French culture is vastly superior over the Dutch culture". Talk about racism...

  • 109.
  • At 03:45 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

To Jozef and Bert,
Brussels was never a Flemish city but the capital city of the Duchy of Brabant, not a part of the County of Flanders. The Dukes of Brabant married mostly French noblewomen (along with a few German ones and two Flemish ones) so naturally the court, the merchants and quite a few people began to speak French from the 14th century on. After 1815, King Willem of the Netherlands tried to impose "Hollandsch" on the population, which led to the 1830 revolution (BTW, Guido Gezelle was also opposed to what he called a "half-Jewish, half-pagan" language).
And Evereard 't Serclaes led a revolt against the Flemish occupiers of Brussels because the Brusseleirs wanted their legitimate ruler, Wenceslas of Luxemburg (not a particular Flemish name...) to make his "Joyeuse Entrée" (Blijde Ingang) in Brussels, thereby swearing to respect the city's privileges (which the Vlaanderingers didn't do and still don't do)

For Mark: Your blog is not treason [the word treason is cliche]. Belgium with its communities splitting apart could lead the way but then there is the Euro and EU. The USA on the otherhand is splitting apart on ethnic, religious, regional lines [and not necessarily linguistic]. The US Dollar has the worth of a piece of loo paper. I myself who was born and raised in America am of the firm belief that even America will split apart and the concept of city state may replace nation state.Roberto.
PS: The Prime Minister of Belgium declaring Belgium a "mistake" should cross the Atlantic and take a look at the mistake called USA.

  • 111.
  • At 04:01 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Harry wrote:

I am a Brit and have lived in Brussels for just 10 months.
I apologise in advance for the following uninformed and naive comment.
I see no reason why such ingnorance should not let me join in the fun.

The various issues and conflicts of identity, historical myths and self-interest currently seen in Belgium are supposedly what democratic societies are empowered to resolve.

Instead of staying fixated with monarchial, religious or political absolutism ultimately the electorate can choose to junk what they don't need of their pasts and realign themselves with a new, workable myth for the future.

And those of them who disagree can accept this as it is the choice of the community, if unhappily and until the next election ( by which time other things may seem more important, anyway).

In Belgium this useful tool of societal recalibration/evolution doesn't exist as there are no "Belgium" parties, only regional parties.

No party is allowed to represent the people of Belgium itself.

Voters in the South cannot vote for a party in the North and vice versa.

In this sense Belgium already doesn't exist as a nation and is more an economic community.

The regional politicians are encouraged to compete with the other regional parties and claimimg that only they can fight best for the interests of the region and so drift to the extremes as the moderate votes have no where else to go.

When their electorates sense this goes too far, how can they signal this politically?
They can only vote for a regional party or not vote at all.

The politicians should permit the redesign of the electoral system so that the true political voice of the Belgians can be heard not just the whining of the careerist politicians themselves.

I find it strange that so many Walloons do not speak Dutch, when they live in a multi-lingual country, surrounded by opportunities to practise and learn by absorbtion over years almost without effort.
No one who can speak language(s) in addition to their own would want to lose that ability, so it is a 'good thing'.
Why the resistance?
This is so widespread that it must begin in school and must therefore be encouraged by an official policy of inaction.
Yes, French is a more widespread language that Dutch, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be beneficial for a Belgium to speak both.

Why are Walloons content to accept large subsidies from Flanders year after year, without their situation improving?
This amounts to many billions of euros.
Many other parts of the world are poor.
Throw billions of euros at them for 5, 10 or 20 years and it would make a difference.
Look at Eastern Europe.
What use has Wallonia made of this money?
If the wheel turns and in decades hence it is Flanders that is in need of massive subsidy, will Wallonia then be in a position to provide it, assisted by the results of wise investment of the subsidy? Or at least no longer need the subsidy?
If not, what is the subsidy for? Is it emergency relief?

In fact Wallonia cannot be regarded as 'poor' at all.
Rather it has other priorities in addition to the grubby creation of wealth and is content for Flanders and the EU to pay the difference, and to accrue debt using the credit-worthiness of 'Belgium'.

If Belgium were to split Flanders would not seek to unite with the Netherlands, as an orphan of a political failure that was itself the created as a reaction against domination by the Netherlands ( nearly 180 years ago but it would all be stirred up again if Belgium split).
It would first seek to prosper on it's own and perhaps merge with the Netherlands in future decades as an equal, if it made sense to both countries to do so.

And France has financial problems of its own and absorbing Wallonia along with the expectation of replacing Flanders as the source of subsidy seems implausible and very ungallic. Not without massive grants from the EU - i.e. its non French tax payers.

If Brussels cannot survive on its own tax base and a separate Wallonia cannot afford to support it, then obviously it should be part of independent Flanders which could afford to support it; assuming it wanted to do so, rather than investing in Antwerp, Ghent, etc

Some have said Brussels must become a protectorate of the EU.
I don't think there are any of those at the moment so instead of such a thing being paid for by EU taxpayers, perhaps it could be funded by an income tax on employees of EU institutions? Why don't they pay tax, anyway?

Belgium can stay together if its people wish it to, which they must somehow express despite their politicians.

The Flemish are irritated by the refusal of many French speaking Belgians to learn & speak Dutch, and conscious that they heavily subsidise the Walloon's unemployment rather than investment which could reduce that unemployment.

The Walloons are irritated that the Flemish expect them to speak Dutch rather than improve their own French, and are complaining about the solidarity grant and what it is spent on, rather than increasing it each year without fuss.

The Walloons could generate immense good will by stating an official policy of within 5 years requiring all university entrants to speak all 3 official languages to some EU recognised standard, and reserving the subsidy only for investment and education and growing the economy so that ultimately the subsidy is not needed, perhaps matching it on per capita basis to pool with Flander's to pay off national debt and then for a strategic reserve for Belgium.

This would obviously require some changes to the Walloon body politic, but measurable progress towards these objectives would undermine the complaints of the Flemmish and the rabid extremists amongst them, and lead to improved education and standards of living within Wallonia.

Perhaps both sides of the dispute would then recognise that it's better to be a significant part of a successful Belgium than a small part of a bigger neighbour.

  • 112.
  • At 05:35 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Samuel Ganczaruk wrote:

This obviously is a political situation best left to the citizens of Belgium to resolve. As a citizen of the USA who lives in Oregon and who visited Belgium only once, I am sorry to read about this division. During the 20th century, Belgium was western Europe's doormat where larger powers fought their battles. Im am sorry the Belgium citizens are facing a potential battle just as tragic. A divde in Belgium would be a tragedy for not only Belgium, but for Europe and the whole world.

  • 113.
  • At 06:09 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Edward wrote:

Two of everything in Belgium?

Not quite.

There are three trade union confederations recognised as representative organisations, the two largest of which are the ACV-CSC (Christian) with 1,700,000 members and the ABVV-FGTB (Socialist) with approximately 1,000,000.

The trade unions are divided along ideological, not language or regional lines, though they have regional structures.

This is important because Belgium is a quite highly unionised country, with extensive nation-wide collective agreement coverage.

The CSC and the FGTB recently launched a petition for Belgian solidarity.

http://www.lesoir.be/actualite/belgique/une-petition-syndicale-pour-2007-09-25-551605.shtml

  • 114.
  • At 08:20 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Laurent Szyster wrote:

As a French speaker living in Brussels and working in Flanders, I have to correct a few facts.

First, in 1830 the peasants of Wallonia did not speak French but - like Flemish peasants - a local dialect. Today Flemish people are culturally oppressed only by their own paranoid myths.

Second, the largest difference in GDP per capita is not between Flanders and Wallonia, but between Brussels and the rest of the country. Financial transfers between the three regions go mainly from Brussels to Wallonia.

Third, having a 60% majority in all public institutions, Flemish are in facts "more equals than others" in this country, getting the best part of public contracts, jobs and budgets.

So, without the lion's share of Brussels' taxes and the effective control of Belgium's federal state, Flanders is going to be a lot less wealthy.

The trouble is that Flemish politicians have hammered a stupid propaganda for too long now, they cannot back down and tell their voters how much independence is going to cost them.

  • 115.
  • At 08:26 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Antoine Holle wrote:

Great subject, european regionality, but not going far enough. For here for once over-inflated linguistic division masks more important cultural divisions which are provincial and historical. Thus a dutch speaking inhabitant from Limburg or from Brabant (which stretches from North of Eindhoven in Holland to south of Brussels into french speaking territory) will not take kindly to being called a Fleming, referring to the frugally minded inhabitants of the flatlands to the west. As for Hainaut, always close to France, the properly walloon province of Namur and the truly linquistically indecipherable Luxembourg ... it is where the others spend their weekends. All this has deep roots in history... Ironically, the scale of immigration and change today is so overwhelming in this small country that all these issues are already history in the face of the new europe being created daily.

  • 116.
  • At 08:52 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Serge wrote:

The great thing about the people living in Belgium is that they all love the same good food, are all quite pragmatic and do not lack humour in dealing with the surrealistic political landscape that resulted from their 177 years of intricate multicultural compromises. Belgians are well known for their art of compromise. No wonder that the country and Brussels are hosting the capital of the European Union and Nato, two major institutions that heavily rely on the art of multiparty compromise.

Other multicultural communities may derive some inspiration from this complex local, yet distinctively European multicultural patchwork, by realising that they can create more value for their people by building on compromise than by fighting out their differences through ethnic cleansing, bombs and civil war.

The political vision of a Flanders nation - whatever the concept of nation still holds in Europe - a nation of monocultural identity and homogeneity, different social security in borders that limit the expansion of multicultural Brussels is as Belgian as surrealism. The Flanders region has historically thrived on the economic expansion of the multicultural Brussels hub. What arguments can the Flanders bring forward to sell this idea at Brussels, Belgium, EU, Nato and UN levels?

Belgian politicians should be reminded that their small-world debates about Brussels and Belgium are touching other stakeholders' interests in the wider European Union.

What is refreshing is that the rather meek, but mostly pragmatic folks living in this multicultural patchwork of a country are starting to express views of their future. Perhaps this is the start of a wider popular debate about the vision and role of Brussels as capital of Europe.

What value can Belgians create by working with each other in this perspective? Perhaps Belgian politicians from all sides would do better by starting to speak with each other in English, so that there would be no further excuses for not listening to each others' ideas. That would also help in bringing other stakeholders in the debate. For example one could start by dealing with more immediate concerns such as trafic jams in and out of the capital of Europe, or what the Brussels, Flanders and Walloon regions of Belgium can do together to make Brussels more competitive and accessible as a European economic hub. They would all benefit from their joint proximity to the thriving capital of Europe.

  • 117.
  • At 09:08 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Davidson wrote:

Mirek #19

Perhaps the European Union can be viewed as an anticipatory response to the now rapidly changing and increasingly unpredictable global environment; there is after all safety in size and numbers when it comes to exercising clout on a larger international stage?

Have you considered another possible alternative future (albeit unlikely at present) where the European Union gradually evolves into a two tier structure predicated on smaller more immediate geo-political building blocs with stronger cultural and linguistic resonance for respective inhabitants.

In this possible future, the EU develops democratic legitimacy, institutions to match, and begins to assume the mantle of effective voice for European citizens in the global arena. Limited powers with obvious pan-European significance in clearly defined policy areas (thus requiring a constitution?), such as Foreign Affairs, Defence and Macroeconomics, are ceded upwards and others of more day to day concern for ordinary citizens; healthcare, law and order, education, devolve downwards to become the exclusive domain of what are now considered as sub-national tiers of governance, such as Vlaanderan and Wallonie. Thus the role of larger more unitary Nation States within the European sphere gradually diminshes.

Of course one hopes that momentous change of this kind can occur within an overarching environment of social stability and peace. Maybe the future role of the EU lies in this field? The events unfolding now in Belgium indicate that this model might not be as unrealistic as previously thought. Other contributors here (Steveh #17, Anonymous #22) certainly seem to be sympathetic to the idea?

  • 118.
  • At 09:25 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

Long ago somebody has sent be a description of cow enterprises in different countries reflecting local peculiarities and character.
Rereading it recently I've found on their list this:

BELGIAN CORPORATION
You have one cow.
The cow is schizophrenic.
Sometimes the cow thinks he's French, other times he's Flemish.
The Flemish cow won't share with the French cow.
The French cow wants control of the Flemish cow's milk.
The cow asks permission to be cut in half.
The cow dies happy.

  • 119.
  • At 10:12 PM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Engelbert wrote:

Well, at least the excellent article generates a lot of reactions, and the most accurate is this one (59):

"Whenever I was in Belgium it always struck me as being the most civilized of countries. Superb beer, fine food and an appreciation of the finer things of life as well as a great respect for humanity. Such a country will not fall apart, they'll just do things differently. Perhaps it will be the first country to prove it can carry on quite well without politicians, thank you."

On an international scale, Belgium is indeed one of the best places to live, with very high standards, but also with a healthy portion of surrealism, besides good food and drink, one of the national characteristics. Most of the actual discussion is about politics, power and money, but it certainly is not exactly what the Belgian people really want. But being known for their ability to compromise, no need to worry, this time it just takes some extra effort.

And to John Douglas who asks to name 5 famous Belgians: if this question is a serious one, it says more about one's cultural baggage than a lack of famous material I suppose. The extensive list may be a surprise to a lot of people, but that is because Belgians are generally very, very discreet about being some kind of famous ( as an example: one of the two fathers of the WWW is a Belgian, the other is British. The first is extremely discreet and rarely gets in the spotlight, the second lets the world know).

Engelbert, Antwerp

  • 120.
  • At 02:57 AM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • paul wrote:

I would like to react on this article by pointing out the fundamental legal problems here are one of loyalty to already concluded agreements and one of non discrimination.

In a constituational refom (8.08.19980 and later in 1988) Belgium became a federal state with two communities, Wallonia and Vlaanderen, with three regional parts and 4 linguistical area’s :Dutch speaking, French speaking, German speaking and bilingual in Brussels. The districts Halle and Vilvoorde were defined as belonging tot the Dutch speaking area.

Thus the electoral statute was to be adapted accordingly, since already it was provided by law that elections had to be held in the language of the linguistical area.

In order to facilitate the French speaking people in the Flemish Rand of Brussels (FRB), they recieved a temporary facility to vote in French. But no term was fixed. At the time of the constitutional reforms, the FRB was in large majority Dutch speaking.

French speaking politicians are untill today after more then 26 years refusing the abolishment of these facilities.

A federal state shoud act in a spirit of loyalty to her federal constitution. As in the German Republic “Die Länder” are to uphold “Die Bundestrue”.

The “Arbitragehof”, or “Cour d’Arbitration” (The Constituational High Court) decided in 2003 that the electoral statute shoud be changed as mentionned before.. (Thus every election since, is in fact unconstitutional, but no real sanction is provided for)

The French speaking politicians continue to refuse to adapt or if not are asking for an enlargement of the Capital Region of Brussels. This would implicate a fundamental change of the “linguistical frontier” and is consequently unacceptable to the Flemish politicians.

On the other hand e.g. a large number of Flemish people have recently bought houses in the Province of Wallonial-Brabant (Le Brabant Wallon) and are living there. Speaking of giving those people similar facilities as in the FRB are undiscussable and politicians who have merely mentionned this aspect are defined in French speaking press immediately as nationalistic rightwinged extremists, even as fascists.

Thus if the facilities in the FRB stay, Flemish people would be discriminated.

It all started in 1932 when Flemish people asked to organise in the Kingdom bilingual public services, so they could finally understand decisions that concerned them.. The French speaking Belgians, at that time in overall control of the public services, refused this.

  • 121.
  • At 09:36 AM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

Bonjour! I am a Walloon from Charleroi. After reading all the comments above, I learned a lot about myself. Now, I know I am presumably lazy, inward-looking, narrow-minded, chauvinistic, monolingual, anglophobic, anti-Flemish, intolerant, and, bien sûr, unable to adapt to other cultures. I am a freeloader whose only dream is to become French!

Well, actually, I have a job, I pay my taxes, I speak 6 languages (including Dutch), thank you very much, I am not a socialist. What else? I adore everything British (even the food!), I listen to American pop, I watch Flemish and Dutch TV, and I always speak Dutch in Flanders/NL!

I am aware that my region drags behind despite some signs of economic recovery, and I can understand the frustration of some of my Flemish compatriots. I love France, I really do, but I am not French, and I don't feel French. Parisians are Martians to me! I do feel wholly Belgian, maybe because as many Walloons from Mons, Charleroi, Liège, I also have Flemish origins - a lot of Flemings migrated to Wallonia a few decades ago to work in coal mines.

I accept the criticisms regarding the poor linguistic performances of Walloons. But we are trying hard to speak better Dutch and English. Yes, we are! .

Finally, as a Walloon, I don't understand why Francophones who move to Flemish cities and towns around Brussels refuse to speak Dutch and miss the opportunity to become bilingual. This is really beyond me! Voilà. Merci, bedankt, danke.

It would seem that Belgium and Belgium politics is but a potted version of Europe as a whole.

Europe, west and east, despite the European Union, is probably the largest collection of small world nationalism to be found on the planet.

We have common sources race wise. We have common food ingredients, we have common musical history and, yes, even our languages have a common set of sources, albeit in different balances. And yet we seem to want to divide our selves in ever smaller, more useless little parcels, just because someone did something in seventeen forty whenever, or because we deep fry our potatoes in different oil, or because we cannot agree how to say "seventy."

It does not look good, does it. For if Belgium still cannot agree with itself after all these years, what hope for the European Union?

  • 123.
  • At 03:13 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Manu wrote:

First a question: Where did the BBC get this very original map of Belgium? It looks as if it was drawn from memory by a eleven-year-old.

As a Flemish Belgian, I liked Mark's analysis, but I think that he underestimated the importance of the details of the current constitutional debate. I admit that even to Belgians, these are almost unintelligible, but the central problem is actually simple: Belgium does not have a logically structured system of government but a bizarre patchwork of overlapping authorities, in which an aircraft can literally fly through three different legal regimes on take-off, and one authority is fining the other for allowing its laws to be broken.

The contentious split of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde is the very Belgian version of the West Lothian question. Just imagine an electoral district that is half in England and half in Scotland, with senior Scottish politicians being elected to the Scottish parliament based on votes from people who live in England, and Scottish people who live in England demanding the right to address the local authorities in Gaelic.

Some kind of organization that is practical and workable, respects the rights of minorities, but avoids Byzantine bureaucracy, really needs to be found. I am not really in favor of a split, but if that it is what it takes, then let us have it. It is better than developing institutions with a built-in eternal gridlock, which is what political compromise now all too often amounts to.

  • 124.
  • At 03:24 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Denis wrote:


Bert and other:
I'm always amazed to hear again and again this absurd idea that no walloons learn anything else than just french at school!

I'm walloon, and I had dutch classes from 10years old to 18 and english from 14 to 18. Some of my class mates also did either german or spanish from 16 to 18. This is not specific to my school nor am I speaking of a long time ago (I do know that it's still like that).

  • 125.
  • At 03:28 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • James Sibley wrote:

Well the Swiss have managed to maintain the stability of their multi-language confederacy; perhaps the Belgians should be taking notes from them!

  • 126.
  • At 03:58 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Ether wrote:

Concerning southern and northern Democrats in the US: there really is no distinction between the two any more, and it would actually be more honest to say there is no such thing as a southern Democrat at all. As someone who grew up in the South, I have watched the classic liberal Democrat become a near mythical creature.

If there is any clear political division currently in the US it is between red states and blue states. But even that is just muddy conjecture, since politics in America has little to do anymore with geography, or even political affiliation, and more to do with personal ideology and economics. People vote mostly along personal ideological preference these days - or more accurately, do what they can to elect the lesser of two evils, which look more similar every day - and not based on any organized electoral scheme or package.

In short, the two-party system is dead - even though those in power refuse to accept this, and it may very well be the case that the whole democratic system in the US is in it's death throes. It's just that nothing new has been offered to replace it, so people go on with business as usual. God knows - and so do most Americans - that the Bush administration has done everything possible to kill a fair and just electoral process, and a reasonable democratic system of governance. I don't know any Americans anymore who believe in the political system at all, and this is the consensus from the supposed land of freedom.

The next presidential election will tell the true tale. It is pretty-much accepted in the US that the last two presidential elections were fraudulent, and if the next one doesn't fare better, Belgium will likely not be the only country splitting apart.

It may seem like a terrifying and unlikely scenario to some, but it is a very real possibility.

  • 127.
  • At 04:02 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Tayo wrote:

In response to Trevor (#58)
"In my experience, getting a reply can be almost impossible if one tries to speak the wrong language to Flemmings or Wals (especially in Brussels). This can be rather awkward for outsiders (asking for directions in the street). So perhaps the Belgians (who are nice people) could all wear little flags on their heads, to help (bi-lingual) foreigners."

But why bother - just speak English. I will bet a nickel to your dime that you will get help faster that way.

  • 128.
  • At 07:11 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

This is how Belgian politics work. It will take a long time to create a new government and Belgium will not split. We have seen this a few times in the past, so why would it be different now?

Yes, some things have changed. But not enough to split this country. We are only hearing the media, while our politicians are concentrating on something totally else. (I'm a student who had a guestcollege from Van Rompuy. He confirmed this.)

I'm from Flanders and I live very close to the French and the Walloon border. People hate nearly everything Frenchspeaking here. Not because of money flows, not because of the language, not because all those reasons given in the media.
I live so close, but still I never see any Frenchspeaking. It's like an other country already, we never have to be across the border. We have got no buslines across and one trainline to Wallonia.
So we don't have contact with them.

Half of my family are seperatists. Why? Because they think about their taxes! BUT, they hate the EU too. Actually, their houses should be independent.
Many people here don't care about anyone else. This is typicaly for low-educated Flanders, this is what our culture partially changed in.

By the way: When Van Rompuy gave the guestcollege in the University of Ghent a group of seperatist came in and immediatly there was a loud "BOOOO" and people were throwing pencils at them. And yelling it out was a relief for many of us.

For many young Belgians, Belgium splitting up is a nightmare. And please stop living in passive fear and stand up for your country.

My opinion is: I will defend (not with weapons) Belgium to the last bit, but if we split in the future, I'll move to Sweden. I will never live in an independant Flanders.

  • 129.
  • At 10:10 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Miss J wrote:

Thanks for the interesting article, Mark.

I am a Fleming, living in Brussels and I'd like to respond on those comments stating that the Flemish language is not Dutch. I'm sick and tired of that statement, certainly when it's used as some kind of justification why learning Dutch is impossible for so many French-speakers (so, it's the Flemings again who are to blame, it's them who can't even speak Dutch!).

I wonder if those who made that comment even speak Flemish/ Dutch... I do, and although I can't speak any dialect and have huge difficulties understanding it, I seem to understand the other Flemings fine.

Surely, you must realise that stating that those Flemings can't speak a proper language is highly insulting.

Of course there is a difference between the Dutch/ Flemish spoken on the telly and the Dutch/ Flemish spoken on the street. But that's true for every language in every other country. Although I understand everything on the BBC I might have difficulties when speaking to someone from, let's say, Newcastle. But just because I'm not used to his accent, I would never say that that person cannot speak proper English, but rather that my English is not good enough to understand everything in daily speech with a non RP speaker.

I hope I made my point clear.

Oh, and something else, @ Kaiser Schorsch: good for you that you ventilated your hatred and ill-feeling towards Belgium on the internet, but I'd like to ask you to stay away from literature and stop rewriting the classics. Even you should realise that Conrad was not really writing about Belgian Congo, nor Belgium, but about imperialistic ideology in general. To understand that you may, of course, have to read between the lines... "The horror! The horror!"

  • 130.
  • At 10:59 PM on 30 Sep 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

“Bosnia is dysfunctional? Not half as dysfunctional as Brussels!”

Paddy Ashdown was in fact speaking of the EU institutions, but having lived in Belgium and more recently moved to Bosnia, I would be tempted to apply his comments directly to the Belgian political establishment.

And "establishment" is the right word. Unfortunately it suits a politician wanting to retain a comfortable position to play the card of division. What shocked me in Belgium was how many seemed to fall for it.

While it is true that the dividing line between Walonie and Flanders is rooted in history and even today remains clearly drawn (it ran down the middle of our road and caused no end of administrative problems) one look at the mixture of surnames on both sides of the divide makes you realise that now it is maintained more by vested interest than history.

From my understanding, ABN (standard Dutch) was promoted by (certain) Flemish intellectuals -exactly to avoid the problems that Miss J (* 120) is describing.

Unfortunately, the world seems to know little of the Mathematician/Philisopher Kurt Goedel (once made semi-famous in Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize winning book "Goedel Esher Bach").

Goedel showed that (via coding and translation) a consistant system can become inconsistant. Prhaps this is the secret of politics -no matter how consistant the theory, it becomes inconsistant in practice. Which is why we need to monitor carefully our actions and not simply believe that all is well simply because it is intended to be well. The road to hell is indead paved with good intentions.

Indeed, there seems to me to an inherent (and dangerous) contradiction within a cultural system that believes in (global) objective "universal truth" while also believing in (local) individualism (and subjective variation). Perhaps many of the real problems in the world (including international meddling and the confused concepts of "nationalism" and "globalism") are caused by deep rooted and unresolved conflicts within our own belief system and thought processing.

  • 132.
  • At 09:59 AM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Elizabeth Wyant wrote:

I am an American with a Alsatian family (originally German speaking) and Belgium's dilemma in a way mirrors that of Alsace Lorraine. The difference is that the francophones from Lorraine do NOT live in their own isolated French world without knowledge or connection with the Alsatian cultural world. The two linguistic communities helped each other survive Hitler and World War II. However, the French government in Paris has NOT always been kind to the Alsatian speaking minority, since World War II, not always respecting the Alsatian priority to maintain a Germanic linguistic identity. Strasbourg, like Brussels, has two identities: A German identity and a French identity. This dilemma is an old one in Europe. I used to live in Berlin, and when I travelled to Strasburg, the German people on the train often did not know that Strasburg is now French. The French in Paris also seemed not to understand that people speaking French with a German accent in Strasbourg, were French citizens, citizens as far back as World I and right after the French Revolution until 1870, when Bismarck made Alsace Lorraine part of the Prussian Empire. Similarly, Flanders has a history of being part of European empires. Flemish speaking Belgium was known as the Spanish Netherlands in the 17th century-since it was part of Spain. The French and German speaking peoples of Alsace Lorraine do see that their duality makes the area a culturally unique province. Perhaps the people of Belgium can someday reach a similar postive view of their linguistic uniqueness.

  • 133.
  • At 12:50 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Benjamin wrote:

BBC reader's : welcome to Belgium! Reading those comments is way more powerful than any article relating our difficulties to get along.

You may read wikipedia and read about federalism in Belgium... same result: a never ending accumulation of insult, disrespect for each other...

Frustrations, resentment, lack of communication and acceptance, it is definitely easier to love Mankind than loving your neighbour.

Go visit the Belgian Embassy in Canberra, you will be screamed at if you don't speak Flemish... "here it is Flemish or English" .. I have grown sick and tired from hatred and discriminations, I have now moved to Australia, won't go back to my embassy, and do not meet Belgians abroad just by fearing to be who I am: a free spirit with an open mind who speak whatever I can... More important I remain full of brightness in the eyes.

  • 134.
  • At 01:58 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • confused belgian wrote:

I am Flemish and have always been rather "belgicist".
As everyone knows, Flanders puts billions of euros in Wallonia every year. I don't make a fuss about that. But now the French-speaking Belgians want Flanders to become smaller, because they want Brussels to become larger. A curious way of showing gratitude...
I would recommend the francophones to become reasonable, if not, belgicists like myself sooner or later will have to become separatists, whether we like it or not. And the country WILL finally split. Or is it that what they really want?

  • 135.
  • At 04:59 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Belgian abroad wrote:

I would like to reply to the comments made by people querying why they should learn to speak Flemish. May I point out that Flemish is a dialect and therefore not taught in schools. We are all taught to speak a generalised dutch, some call it High Dutch or posh dutch. I don't believe that politicians, royals etc should be labeled as posh or snotty for speaking this class of dutch. May I remind you that it is a way of showing respect to make yourself understood. I am a pure west-flemish girl but I do speak 'high dutch', might sound posh but at least people understand me. And as for the objection of 3rd parties towards our claim that the Wallons refuse to speak dutch. Many years ago my niece brought a friend over (both live in Wallonia), when she came here she was totally surprised (and also said so, I understood her): "do they have schools here" and "they have the same number plates as us"? Do I need to say more?

  • 136.
  • At 05:33 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Richard Dargan wrote:

On the post by Mirek Kondradcki (No 73) he asked why if Einstein found Belgium so pleasant, he did not stay. Mr K seems to forget that for many people of Jewish origin, the most important thing was to get as far away as possible from the anti-Semtism that was particularly prevalent in large parts of Central Europe - not just the areas over-run by the Nazis after the Anschluss and the Munich agreement. For example there were pogroms before the Second World War in Poland (and also after it in Kielce in 1945 or 1946).

More generally, Mark's piece is fair to both sides, and presents a true picture of Belgium. Regarding the language question, maybe everyone in Brussel should have to pass a test of competence in both Vlaams and French before he or she could vote - I have a feeling the number of native speakers of French who would have the vote would be very much reduced!

  • 137.
  • At 05:52 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • David wrote:

I can't help feeling that this article, like much English-language coverage of the situation, is exagerating the differences.

The Belgian revolt may have been led by bourgeouis francophones but it had the full support of the catholic flemish who wanted to be rid of the protestant Dutch king!

Flanders would only be 'one of the richest countries in Europe' IF it included Brussels and its surrounding towns and suburbs: together these form the area of fastest growth in Belgium, but their functioning would be destroyed by splitting the country. The separatist politicians are dishonest in ignoring this.

This article follows the same narrative as other English-language commentators: 'those lazy, backward french-speakers need to reform if they want to get with us hard-working, free-market northern types...'

Flemish separatist rhetoric has been promoted for decades by populist, extremist, racist, anti-EU parties that exploit people's frustrations with coalition governments - why not mention this in the article?

The complex interrelationships of Belgian history, culture and people just seems to be too much for British journalists...

  • 138.
  • At 06:43 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • JEFF wrote:

This is an unintended consequence of the EU. Any break away province or split up country can still be members of the EU in their own right. This lowers the cost of succession, since trade agreements and regulatory cohesion can all be maintained as a separate country. European states will have a hard time keeping together unless they can keep their break away provinces out of the EU, just as Canada has not allowed Quebec into NAFTA on its own.

  • 139.
  • At 09:32 AM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • David wrote:

Mark's article covers a lot of the viewpoints but fails to mention that seperatism has been promoted single-mindedly by a party that is also anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-globalisation, reactionary, populist and irresponsible - to the extent that no other party will enter into a coaltion with it.

Nonetheless, its voters make up the majority of the 40% of flemish who are said to be in favour of splitting.

* 138.
* At 06:43 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
* JEFF wrote:

"This is an unintended consequence of the EU. Any break away province or split up country can still be members of the EU in their own right. This lowers the cost of succession, since trade agreements and regulatory cohesion can all be maintained as a separate country."

Yes -indeed. The cost of succession is reduced -but why is this such a bad thing?

Surely every democrat would want people to live happily and freely amongst (and cooperating with) their neighbours -not locked up in arbitrary (historically war based) "nations" which they are not allowed to escape from.

Do all Eurosceptics oppose democracy in this way?


Arn't all rules and regulations based on people's "nationality" fundamentally racist (and oppressive). Why, for example, can I stay in Hongkong (and many other places) for 6 months without a visa and my partner only two weeks (or less)? In normal circumstances wouldn't this be against the race relations and human rights acts?

  • 141.
  • At 01:05 PM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Michel Nowé wrote:

Dear Sir,

You wrote : "The Flemish.... while maintaining they speak a purer Dutch than their neighbours in the Netherlands."

I do not know anyone here in Flanders that says that we speak purer Dutch than Dutch people!!! I never heart that, and I cannot imagine anybody saying that.

I wonder who told you this

Kind regards,

Michel Nowé

  • 142.
  • At 01:24 PM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Mika wrote:

Hi,

Interesting article (but where did you get the poor map ?).
I would like to precise a topic (as already underlined in too few posts).
French speakers in Belgium are not all Walloons (or from Brussels) but there are also a lot of Flemish from the upper class which speak french as their mother language. So when you read stories like « the flemish soldiers did not understand the french speaking officers during WWI », the latter were from the upper class, whatever their native region. The problem at this time was the class struggle, not walloons against flemish. And many walloons did not get well french either at this time. .. (even if the walloon dialects are close to French).
For other topics I tend to agree with some views from the Flanders (not all). For the question of BHV, I do not understand my politic guys (I’m walloon as you can hear from my accent) : it is a flemish region. Point.

  • 143.
  • At 01:51 PM on 02 Oct 2007,
  • Nathaniël Bovin wrote:

"Flanders has a history of being part of European empires. Flemish speaking Belgium was known as the Spanish Netherlands in the 17th century-since it was part of Spain."

I'm getting rather tired of comments like these. If you are not qualified to speak about Belgian history, don't.

You make it out as if the French-speaking part was not part of this empire, it was! Aside from the Liege, which was under clerical control, which by the way, included Limburg, a Flemish speaking province.

There are numerous errors about Belgian history being spewed in this discussion.

May I also point out that generalizing Flemish as "racists & collaborators" is about just as racist? Thank you for honoring all those Flemish that died in the resistance. The seperatists are still a minority, remember that.

  • 144.
  • At 11:45 AM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Andrey, Russia wrote:

Everybody has been talking about Belgium for many years but more pressing problems are in Ukraine: this is a county that is divided into two nations that chose opposite dreams for their future.

They speak different languages and have different mentality and politicians on both sides want to control the whole country.

The current Western solution: to capture the Eastern half and force its population to submit is in sharp contrast to the solution that is excercised in Belgium.

As far as I saw in Belgium, there is no sharp discrimination and no injustise in urgent need of fixing. A divided territory- yes, but a far cry from horrors of other divided societies: Latvia, apartheid-era South Africa, Ukraine, Estonia.

Ok, Ukraine is not as bad but on the way there.

The interesting point M.Mardell makes is about "two of everything": it is interesting how "two of everything" has strted gowing in some other divided societies in the world, so I guess it is a natural model.

  • 145.
  • At 11:50 AM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Robert Wilkinson wrote:

As someone who has lived in Belgium for a number of years and witnesed talk of Belgium splitting before, I doubt that it will happen. After all, the linguistic scuffling is the bread and butter of Belgian politicians - people are not exactly marching through the streets demanding seperation. But in the hypothesis that it did one day break up, why doesn't the EU assume its responsibility for making the city that it likes to call the capital of Europe a truly European territory?

  • 146.
  • At 12:51 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Daniel wrote:

I think it is ingenuous to presume that the Flemish have had the 'good grace' to learn French in order to be able to communicate with their poor cousins, the Walloons, but rather, they have learnt the language in order to be able to find work in Brussels.

Ditto the reason the Wallonians do not learn Dutch is because, well, they have no reason to.

  • 147.
  • At 01:13 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Foreign national in Belgium wrote:

A good post from Mark and nice observations. Being a foreign national staying in Belgium for the last 2 years, I have noticed this "divide" quite well within the Belgians. Initially I failed to understand this divide. But after staying here for 2 years, I know why the Flemish people from Flanders are fuming. I have experienced this myself.

People in Brussels and Walloon just refuse to speak any other language but French, while in Flanders most people speak English (my language) and those who don't, at least make an attempt.
Also the overall interactions with people related to my work have substantiated my observations (and Mark's). The Flemish people I interact with during work, are quite open, ready to accept new ideas, generally where technology savvy, willing to work hard and open to other cultures. French speaking people on the other hand are exactly the opposite. They come to meetings (knowing they are going to meet me) with a biased opinion already formed.
Also Flanders seem to be more prosperous (in terms of economy) as compared to Walloon, and the reasons for this are quite obvious.

I am not sure whether the country should divide or not based on this, but there definitely needs to be some diffusion of the "tension". Already in the comments to the post, people are discussing whether separate countries would be automatically accepted byb the EU!!!

If one country cannot stay cohesively together, how can you expect the EU to function as "one virtual country" with one constitution, parliament, etc?

  • 148.
  • At 02:04 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • koen wrote:

@Nathaniël Bovin:

It's true that history (and certainly the history of Belgium) often is much more complex and nuanced that we think. But nobody said that a big part of Wallonia wasn't a part of the Spanish empire.

The historic point is, as far as I'm concerned, that Flanders was a kind of 'colony' in the 19th century Franco/Wallophone entity, called Belgium. Although it is true that the catholic elite in Flanders (Francophone) was also in favour of a split with The Netherlands (protestant). It was culturally oppressed (the official language was French) and it was financially exploited. Google on 'hannes' and 'transfers'.

@ Laurent Szyster (115)

Yes, Walloons didn't speak French. But Flemish people don't speak Dutch at home either (but Flemish dialects, although they are fading away).

Nobody claimed that Flemish people are still culturally oppressed.

It's not true that most financial transfers go from Brussels to Wallonia. Most money that Wallonia receives comes from Flanders. And without Flemish transfers, Brussels would have an income of 99.8% of the national average. After transfers, it has an income of 104.1% of the national average.

I don't know if Flanders gets the "best part of the public contracts, jobs and budgets." But it certainly contributes "the best part" of the money, used to pay those jobs and contracts.

Your conclusion, that Flanders is going to be a lot less wealthy without "the lion's share (????) of Brussels' taxes and the effective control of Belgium's federal state" is not correct. To say the least.

  • 149.
  • At 03:46 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Van Daele wrote:

As a fleming I totally support more autonomy and even independence. It is very frustrating to conclude that the french speaking belgians want to steal land of the flemish region by demanding a corridor via Sint-Genesius-Rode (flemish community) so Brussels is connected with Wallonia and by expanding Brussels with the rich parts of Flanders so Flanders is economicaly cripled. Belgium purely exists for the well being of the french speaking part not for the well being of its flemish inhabitants. It never was and it will never be. Yes the linguistic battle is important and its not because we have a good life we can discuss about it. Since the independence of Belgium, flemish people were brutally opressed, their language was banned and flemish inhabitants of Brussels were punished for speaking dutch (registering their babies had to be done in french, if not they would have to pay a fine and were sent to prison). Also was it banned to speak Dutch on the playground until 1920. The first academic education in dutch was established in 1930 at the university of Ghent. For more than 100 years the majority of this country could not follow higher education in their own language. Belgium or the king (who activally supported this apartheid system) never appologised or even recognised the cultural genocide. Cardinal Mercier stated: La Belgique sera latine ou elle ne sera pas (Belgium shall be francophone or it will not be). 100 years ago the majority of Brussels spoke Dutch, just before and after world war II the francophone elite of that city turned it more francophone by brutal laws banning dutch from public life. Stealing the capital of Flanders (Brussels is the constitutional capital of the flemish region). A lot of walloon politicians declared that the walloon region supported the flemish region when it was poor. This is simply not true. Academic research of the university of Ghent has shown that Flanders always paid for Belgium. Taxes were imposed on the posession of land (agriculture of flanders)and not on the posession of factories (industry of Wallonia). The difference between the demand of Flanders for more competences is totally different than the demand of territorial expansion of the french speaking Belgians. The french speaking politicians must accept the territorial integrity of the flemish region (which they do not since they refuse to split the electoral arrondissement of Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde). They refuse to accept the territorial principle and want to apply the personality principle for francophones in Flanders. However they refuse to grand the same rights they demand in Flanders for francophones to Flemish in Wallonia. They block flemish schools in the Flemish facility communities (the flemish there have the legal right to have flemish education in those communities, those rights are not granted by the french community governement), start roadworks in front of flemish schools (funded by the flemish community) at the start of the new schoolyear. If they do not accept this integrity they will destroy the balance of this country. Belgium will not fall apart now, the flemish parties did not go to the elections with a seperatist state of mind. However, if the francophones continu to be expensionist and continu their disrespect for the flemish language, culture and region, they will be the destructors of Belgium. A lot of french speaking Belgians say: this was 100 years ago. I hate that sentence because it shows their refusal to accept what their politicians have done. The opression of Flemings is still a live. The generation of Flemings opressed is still alive and remembers it. My grandparents (I hope they will live long) still remember the country that never has accepted them as real civilians but as peasants not worth educating. So its not that long ago. I also want to say that I do not feel hatred towards walloons. I have walloon friends and they are warm and kind. Their elite, politicians and journalists are different and colonialist.

  • 150.
  • At 04:20 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Rik wrote:

We, the Belgian PEOPLE, get along just fine.
But I do believe there are 2 causes (injustices) that lead to more extremism as time goes bye.

1.The Flemish town of Brussels has become a French city. During the last 170 years largely at the expense of Flanders where the real center is Antwerp. Antwerp is the cultural and geographic capital of Flanders and up to this day pays disproportionaly into Belgian/Brussels. This city could never grow to its full potential because the 'capital' Brussels is the priority. Thus the request to stop these large transfers of money.

2. Now that the Flemish are the foreigners in what was once their town and is still their capital (haha) we feel that this french expansion should be limited without further expansion into Flanders. If 1 million people from the UK move to Brussels does it become part of the UK?

I believe with a revision of the transfers and respect for the borders, we the Belgian people will get along for a long time to come.

  • 151.
  • At 05:52 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Olivier Laurent wrote:

"After all Einstein was a refugee in Belgium before he moved to America."
{#53]

If it was so great, why did he move to America? For the same reason as Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Horowitz,
----

Because Belgium was about to be invaded by the Nazi...

  • 152.
  • At 06:01 PM on 03 Oct 2007,
  • Paul Cordy wrote:

To number 115. It is not correct that Flemings have 60% in all public institutions - although this would only be fair as they make up 60% of the Belgian population. In reality the amount of Flemings in the federal administration is closer to 55%, and the highest jobs are often equally divided between French and Dutch speaking people. In several federal institutions (museums, scientific institutions etc) there is even a majority of French speaking personell, despite the fact that they only make up 40% of the Belgian population. The constitution stipulates that the Belgian government is equally divided between French and Dutch speakin ministers (7 ministers for each group, the prime minister being considered to be neutral). In the federal parliament, the Dutch hold a majority of seats - reflecting the numbers of Dutch speaking people in the country - but the French speaking minority is very good protected by a whole system of laws needing a majority in both language groups, the possibility to block a majority decision in parliament via the infamous "alarm bell procedure" etc. The Belgian state being controlled by the Flemish is just a myth, in reality power on the federal level is equally divided between both communities, giving the average French speaking voter in fact more influence than the average Dutch speaking voter. If the Flemish would dominate Belgium, then why virtually all Flemish parties want to take more power away from the federal government and give it to the regions. And why is it that a French speaking minority has the power to block this?

Financial transfers are not going from Brussels to the other regions, it is far more complex than that. The fact is that without the redistribution of money via the federal government, Brussels would be bankrupt.

  • 153.
  • At 07:32 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Sarah wrote:

An interesting article. I have lived in Belgium for 11 years now and this split ebtween the two prats of Vlaanderen and Wallonia has appeared to get wider and worse. When I arrived in the country there were rumblings and then the leader of the country was well respected by both sides. It is now developed into a playground scrap.He said this she said that. Come on Belgium, you are a lovely contru with lots to offer get yourself sorted. I don't think the country should split and I don't think it will.

  • 154.
  • At 07:37 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Michel Nowé wrote:

I do not understand why our Flemish elite wants to impose us a language (Dutch) that even they don't master well.
I do not understand why they are ashamed of speaking simply Flemish.

  • 155.
  • At 08:20 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Paul Cordy wrote:

To number 115. It is not correct that Flemings have 60% in all public institutions - although this would only be fair as they make up 60% of the Belgian population. In reality the amount of Flemings in the federal administration is closer to 55%, and the highest jobs are often equally divided between French and Dutch speaking people. In several federal institutions (museums, scientific institutions etc) there is even a majority of French speaking personell, despite the fact that they only make up 40% of the Belgian population. The constitution stipulates that the Belgian government is equally divided between French and Dutch speakin ministers (7 ministers for each group, the prime minister being considered to be neutral). In the federal parliament, the Dutch hold a majority of seats - reflecting the numbers of Dutch speaking people in the country - but the French speaking minority is very good protected by a whole system of laws needing a majority in both language groups, the possibility to block a majority decision in parliament via the infamous "alarm bell procedure" etc. The Belgian state being controlled by the Flemish is just a myth, in reality power on the federal level is equally divided between both communities, giving the average French speaking voter in fact more influence than the average Dutch speaking voter. If the Flemish would dominate Belgium, then why virtually all Flemish parties want to take more power away from the federal government and give it to the regions. And why is it that a French speaking minority has the power to block this?

Financial transfers are not going from Brussels to the other regions, it is far more complex than that. The fact is that without the redistribution of money via the federal government, Brussels would be bankrupt.

  • 156.
  • At 01:30 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Paula wrote:

I lived in Belgium for two years and, unlike most expats, liked and worked in Leuven (npt Brussels), which is situated in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. I learnt Flemish and most of my friends are either Flemish or expats. I always knew that there were tensions between the Flemish-speakers and the French-speakers but I thought it was something along the lines of antagonism between the Welsh/English or Scots/English but it seems to have deteriorated further. Belgium is such a unique country with a fascinating culture and people. I can only hope that they can find a way out of this horrible situation together and not apart.

  • 157.
  • At 02:27 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

I am a Flemish person living in the UK and hope that Flanders becomes independent as soon as possible. The Flemish and Walloons have a totally different outlook on life and the Belgian structure is inhibiting Flanders development. Previous 'wise' politicians have created an unworkable and inefficient federal structure that is so complicated one needs a doctorate to understand it!

The Walloons like the current system because each of them gets the equivalent of 930 euro from the Flemish every year! Whenever I have visited French-speaking Belgium I felt like I was in a different country. It is time to make this a reality!

It is important to stress in each article about Belgian politics - as you did - that Belgians do not have a direct democracy. Both Flemish and Walloons are ruled by a coalition of parties of which they can only elect half.

To say that voting for Socialist or Liberals or Christian Democrats on either side of the language divide means voting for the same party is increasingly untrue. Take the Belgian Socialist parties: over the past decade, the spA (the Flemish Solialist party) has evolved into a New Labour style movement, while the PS on the Walloon side is a heavy 'old style' Socialist dinosaur.

I understand it is more tempting to look at the cultural differences (which are obviously staggering between a Germanic culture and a Latin one), but let's not lose sight of the indeed unique character of the Belgian political construction. The day the double-party system was chosen in favor of a truly federal state (the Swiss model), the country put itself on a straight track to an inevitable divorce.

  • 159.
  • At 04:31 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Ed wrote:

I have not been to Belgium but being from South Africa and knowing the Afrikaans language which is of course decended from Dutch/Vlaams I find the issue very interesting.

There is nothing like language and culture to stirr up visceral passions, especially if a people feel their language or culture is looked down on Afrikaans is often looked down apon by English-speakers as ugly, inferior and not worth learning which is hurtful, so I tend to sympathise with the people of Vlaandere.

In my opinion Vlaandere should leave Belgium. Brussels should be its capital for historical reasons but have a bilingual status. What the 'rump' of Begium left behind would do I'm not sure.

  • 160.
  • At 05:38 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • ScotinBelgie wrote:

Oh the joys of living in Belgium - great food, great beer, great people and utterly fantastic political discussions.

One thing is definately true from the various posts above - the current political 'crisis' in Belgium makes the West Lothian question look like an argument over some spilt milk.

Belgian politics and finances are very complex and there are well reasoned arguments on both sides of the divide. Just look at the debate and finances for the expansion of Antwerps ring road if you have any doubts.

One thing though is clear - there is a desperate need to address some of the political inbalances otherwise it will lead to the break-up of Belgium. And while these political inbalances are tied to language and culture, they are neither cultural or lingual in origin.

So vive la différence! And if anyone complains about my English, please note I'm frae Glasgae yet can communicate with someone speaking plat Antwerps.

  • 161.
  • At 06:21 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Kevin Van Genechten wrote:

I live in the USA now but was born in Belgium I am very proud to say I am Belgian especially now. I am Flemish and proud of that. Maybe just not being in the country learning how to disagree with the French I feel like it's just two stub urn sides fighting because they don't want to compromise. While the country in a whole seems to understand getting along with other countries. Like brothers and sister who have not matured yet they fight. Yet they have the same friends. I don't know, I haven't followed this till yesterday so what ever but at least We have gone 100 some odd days with out getting totally out of control. More then I can say for other countries. Hopefully there will be an end soon , either way I can still be proud to be Belgian.

  • 162.
  • At 09:05 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

To Gareth O'Flaherty, the self-appointed linguist, who claims that

"(...)vlaams as spoken by Flemings is NOT the same as Dutch. Equally, which version of vlaams do the Flemings suggest Walloons learn; west or east vlaams?"

I think I can answer that one.

I once saw an interview with the Dutch governess of the late king Boudewijn - that's Baudouin to you and your wife - in which she produced a copy of his school report. And it seems that she taught him "Flemish". Some difference, indeed. I suppose that must be why I do not need an interpreter when talking to my Dutch colleagues.

Still, it might be fun to hear your Walloon wife have a go at my Westvlaams though.

  • 163.
  • At 01:24 AM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Fred wrote:

I feel sad to see that Belgium, that has so many good things to offer to it's inhabitants, is being ripped or may be ripped apart by people who are using vague historical arguments and please don't forget that when Belgium was created the prosperous region was Wallonie and they did help the Flemish people...a lot of them went to work and finally lived over there...so before blaming people of taking advantage of something perhaps you should look into your own family and perhaps you might have some Flemish or Walloon ancestors...So I say : L'Union fait la Force - Eendracht Maakt Macht "

  • 164.
  • At 03:03 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Rik wrote:

Dear Fred I feel sad too;

There is a transfer of 900 + Euro/ per year/ per person ( according to a Walloon study).

If the Flemish want to stop these injustices then the french say we are radicals.

Transfer 900 Euro/per year/per person to Flanders and you will see a lot of Belgium flags in Flanders!

  • 165.
  • At 11:50 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Rik wrote:

Dear Fred I feel sad too;

There is a transfer of 900 + Euro/ per year/ per person (according to a Walloon study). If the Flemish want to discuss/stop these injustices then the french say we are extremists.

Transfer 900 Euro/per year/per person to Flanders and you will see a lot of Belgium flags in Flanders!

  • 166.
  • At 11:47 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Wouter N wrote:

@ 163;

"I feel sad to see that Belgium (..) is being ripped (..) apart by people who are using vague historical arguments"

apart from some (and I stand by you in this) vague historical arguments which are being made at both sides, there are also a number of very real, down-to-earth reasons for discontent with the current situation. Reading all these reactions was very interesting to me, because it makes so very clear that some aspect of the current political setup MUST be changed. Either trough evolution and agreement, or by revolution, disagreement, secession.

"And please don't forget that when Belgium was created the prosperous region was Wallonie and they did help the Flemish people...a lot of them went to work and finally lived over there..."

what did we just agree over about those vague historical arguments?? stop it!

such statements can easily be rebutted with something like:

'when nowadays a walloon comes to work in Flanders he just might refuse to speak Vlaams (for whatever reasons), but the Flemish migrants to Wallonia would not have gotten away with this back then'

so if you want to move the discussion further, its best to leave these old cows in the ditch :)

  • 167.
  • At 10:51 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • annemie wrote:

hello,
I am a Belgian, living in the UK.
With regards to the discussion about Flemish and Dutch. English people are always amazed I fully understand Dutch- Well, I always explain it as such: English people also understand the Americans! Both countries speak English, but with different accents, words (eg cab/taxi) and sayings. It's just the same with Flemish and Dutch. And yes, we have local dialects, but it is mainly a spoken language- just as regional dialects in the UK.
By the way- I want Belgium to remain Belgium- Yes, Flemish is my mother tongue, but it is not my nationality.

  • 168.
  • At 01:35 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

To those mentioning the money that supporting Wallonie costs Flanders I would suggest they first look at the money the EU fines Belgium every day for their Flemish Nationalist parties not implementing EU directives as they are obliged to.

  • 169.
  • At 12:19 PM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

to Malcolm, nr. 167: Flemish Naionalist parties can't implement anything because, apart from one minister in the Flemish government (a coalition of 5 parties) they are not in power.

  • 170.
  • At 09:21 PM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Perhaps Malcolm would care to enlighten us about those fines and whose fault that is ?

For his information, once upon a time those "Flemish nationalists" agreed to implement an EU directive banning tobacco advertising some two years in advance.

This rather hurt some Flemish rockfestivals but never mind that, public health was at stake here !

But when the Walloon organisers of the Grand Prix of Francorchamps got cold feet, the implementation was postponed to accomodate them rather than that absurdly abstract notion of public health.

Not that it really helped. The Grand Prix is a guaranteed financial loss (to the tune of 14 million euros per year till 2010) because the vice-president signed the contract without actually reading it. Not that he was that busy : it is just that he did not speak English. Oh well, in that case.

I sometimes wonder if that makes him a "Walloon nationalist", though.

  • 171.
  • At 05:06 AM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Marco Borg wrote:

Well to me the answer is obvious. Belgium to be split into Flanders and Wallonia. And Brussels to be Flemish. The last thing one should want is to have a sort of European Washington DC with its few Classic Grecian buildings up front and a huge black ghetto behind. We do not want a Brussels with discarded Euro politicians and bureaucrats prancing about and an uncontrollable immigrant Moslem mass funded on Arab oil money and Euro Human Rights legislation plotting the extension of the Caliphate.

  • 172.
  • At 01:05 PM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Gwendolen Webster wrote:

Claudia Gehlen has already commented that there is a German-speaking area of Belgium, situated in the eastern part of the country, in the Ardennes. They have their own parliament in Eupen, and (a great exception in Belgium) proudly announce themselves as Belgian rather than Walloon or Flemish. What on earth would happen to them if Belgium split? For historical reasons, it is difficult to imagine that they would want to become part of Germany.
Apart from that, I think the present situation is extremely damaging because far right-wing parties always profit from a weak (or in this case non-existent) government.

  • 173.
  • At 07:30 PM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Hugo wrote:

congratulations Marc!
It is a rare treat to read comment from an educated foreign journalist who tries to explain the Belgian politics to his readers. It's easier to make a New Yorker understand suicide bombers then it is to make foreigners understand Belgian politics. But you succeed.
Keep up the good work!


One can try to untie the Gordian Knot, or one can cut it in two like Alexander did. Belgian politicians still believe they can untie the knot and keep on arguing about the best way to do it. Let's hope we too will see someone as wise as Alexander, giving us back a future.

  • 174.
  • At 08:06 AM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

I think Belgium should have NEVER been created in the first place.
The Flemish (aka Peasant-Dutch)speakers should have joined Holland and the French speakers should have always been part of France... as simple as that.

Traditionally the French were the upper-crust and had economic power also, the Flemish eleite would forwn upon speaking their own language as it was a commoners', unrefinied and brutish, working class and vulgar.

Now as Flanders is full of new money, the nouveau rich decide to take their revenge and gain the upper hand for all the humilliations the "French" imposed upon them for over 100 years. It is PATHETIC and quite franly who gives a toss about Belgium anyway?
It's nothing but a little country with a sad record of any relevant contributions to the world apart from the little Piss Man and Tin Tin and waffles.
The Blegians are prpbably the most dull, boring, little nation in the world so yes, stop the peasant revolt of the brutish Dutch speakers, against their more sophisticated and cultural French compatriots and let them enjoy their money and power within their even smaller and verkrampt Vlaanders.
Bunch of Kaaskope I say!

  • 175.
  • At 01:47 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Carl Wolter wrote:

Great post Mark. Belgium is a great place to live and the cultural mix of Flemish and Walonian adds to the appeal. Belgians are not (as ranted by Alex-174) dull and boring, but lively, open people who enjoy life and have at times a rather subversive sense of humour.

I admit that the politics is a mess, but that has as much to do with the social political model which has resulted in Belgium having the highest tax wedge in OECD, than with the linguistic divide.

  • 176.
  • At 06:27 AM on 14 Nov 2007,
  • Ed Crabbe wrote:

I am a Belgian born American. With the recent passing of my Mother and a visit to family in OostVlanderen I became motivated to record and maintain the "specific" regional dialect of my ancestors. While not related to my personal language journey, I find this article and the growing blog to be very enlightening to an issue that I have been aware of even tho separated by miles and years. From where I sit, the historic animosity between Walloons and the Flemish is not unlike a cancer that destroys from within and threatens the life of the host.

In my read of the assorted entries, I lean toward those that reflect favorably for the Vlaams side. Its only natural. Hopefully its just one of those things that ebbs and flows. One side gets the upper hand , the other feels downtrodden and secondary...much like the Democrats and Republicans in US politics.

  • 177.
  • At 11:13 PM on 15 Nov 2007,
  • Caroline wrote:

As a non-Belgian EU citizen working in Brussels for the past 30 years, and living in and mostly around Brussels, I have personally witnessed:
- the increasing use in Brussels of the Dutch (Vlaams) language in spoken communication and also in advertising;- but there is also increasing use of English and of Arabic;
- that politics is becoming increasingly childish and full of slanging matches because there is not enough new blood;
- that the international community (which all the bloggers have not bothered to mendion) forms 8% of the total Belgian population (2001 figures) and the long-term residents have been disenfranchised because of a Flemish blockade to the wishes of the European Parliament.

If ever Flanders did try to split, which I strongly doubt,the Flemish would have to pay out yet more subsidies to French-speakers, to help them move south. Flemish nationality is not a good substitute fof Belgian nationality.The unit would be too small for political or economic survival.


Belgium's population is

  • 178.
  • At 05:16 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • geert wrote:

@149 History is important and, indeed, living memory...
My mother as a primary school child in Flemish Ieper (Ypres remember the Great War) was educated in French except for the Dutch and (catholic) religion classes. A big opportunity was lost in those 1930's when the whole country didn't become bilingual... (but was that ever realistic?) My father showed me the bilingual postcards of Flemish Ostend of those days. He helped introducing Dutch in the (Frenchspeaking bourgeois owned)company he worked in from the 50's on... I opened my eyes in the 70's in secondary school in a semi francophone environment of a rather exclusive boarding school near Bruges... lots of history alive and well...

The process has not finished and the Brussel/Bruxelles-Halle-Vilvoorde split is a next necessary step and still felt as a matter of (even constitutional) respect (although it is getting a bit late though after so much cultural colonization)...

Thank you for this opportunity for letting all of us share Mr Mark Mardell, maybe that is as important now ...

  • 179.
  • At 11:57 AM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • geert wrote:

@149 History is important and, indeed, living memory...
My mother as a primary school child in Flemish Ieper (Ypres remember the Great War) was educated in French except for the Dutch and (catholic) religion classes. A big opportunity was lost in those 1930's when the whole country didn't become bilingual... (but was that ever realistic?) My father showed me the bilingual postcards of Flemish Ostend of those days. He helped introducing Dutch in the (Frenchspeaking bourgeois owned)company he worked in from the 50's on... I opened my eyes in the 70's in secondary school in a semi francophone environment of a rather exclusive boarding school near Bruges... lots of history alive and well...

The process has not finished and the Brussel/Bruxelles-Halle-Vilvoorde split is a next necessary step and still felt as a matter of (even constitutional) respect (although it is getting a bit late though after so much cultural colonization)...

Thank you for this opportunity for letting all of us share Mr Mark Mardell, maybe that is as important now ...

  • 180.
  • At 09:23 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Ed Crabbe wrote:

An excellent synopsis of the Flemish/Walloon language conflict can be found at Lingua Franca-the Languages of Belgium. In the transcript of his 3/2/01 speech, Prof Donaldson of the University of Melbourne gives a meaningful social account of Belgian history and how the language tensions have led to a slow drift from a unitary state to a federal one.

Belgium has been a battlefield throughout history. Sadly, it is always a pawn in the wishes and desires of larger, more forceful nations. Now the wishes and desires have shifted to the Belgians themselves. I hope they stay married.

As a board member of the Belgian Esperanto Federation (and Welshman!), I should make a comment on Belgium's Esperanto league splitting on "linguistic" lines (Klaus Stultitiae comment on 27 Sep 2007 but really relevent to the story).

I think on the outside it sounds "illogical" ie. we all speak the same langauge - Esperanto. But on another very practical level - subsidies, ways of working, practical realities - things are very different.

I suppose Belgium will go the same way with more and more functions of the state either passing on either to the European level (euro, defence, foreign + international trade policy, etc) or to the regional Belgian level (now Flemings want regionalisation of social security, fiscal policy, police, judicial matters to some extent).

I think the Belgian Esperanto Association split in the same way, especially after culture/education was regionalised - subsidies were to be had at a regional level. At the end, the only thing that kept us going was money - there was a big inheritance to divide up equally between Esperanto federations in Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia. Unfortunately, we stupidly decided to vote ourselves out of existence! And just several months later lost another major inheritance that could have helped renew our Esperanto centre!

I think the lesson Belgium should learn from its Esperanto league is: if you split up, make sure you've settled all the financial details!

  • 182.
  • At 03:26 PM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • sergehannes wrote:

how little work we politicians really do !!Well Mr.Gelert,that is exactly one of the diseases of Belgium.6 governments whereas NewYork city (roughly same size in population) is run by one mayor.
As a Flemish native,I worked both in North and South.The last 15 years mainly abroad.When I worked in South America,I needed to speak Spanish and Portuguese.I run my own company in Portugal and have to speak Portuguese.I don't see any problem in that.I always defended compulsary bi lingual education as from maternity school.My son is fluent in 3 languages,my wife 8,I for myself only 6.How can you understand your neighbour if you are even not willing to learn their language lets stand speak their language.Ever visited Knokke at our little coast in summer?You might think you are in french speaking Brussels where I lived for 10 years.Good luck there to find somebody who speaks Flemish in a bank or supermarket or clinic.Not mentionning the almost impossible task to find Flemish newspapers or magazines.

  • 183.
  • At 12:46 PM on 28 Nov 2007,
  • Charles Mussche wrote:

@174
As a Flemish Belgian I feel i should say that someone talking about Belgium in such a way clearly doesn't know a great deal about it in the first place. Maybe Belgium is not very relevant to you but i can assure you that for a little sized country as ours it has a (as the dutch say about their country - but to a bigger extend) very large footprint.

Of course, in the past, Wallonia was much richer because it was one of the first regions in the world to get industrialised. There was a lot of money going towards the Flemish regions and a lot of Flemish went working in the south. For that reason there is still quite a few dutch family names in Wallonia. But should we actually thank them? I think not, because we were merely the closest labourforce readily at hand.

Nowadays, the roles are different, not the other way around. The Flemish economy has a major problem with finding proper working forces. In the province of West-Flanders there is in some places less than 3 procent unemployment rate. People are shouting for labour forces. Less than 20 km to the south you are in Wallonia with in some regions more than 20% unemployment rate. One would expect lots of Walloons working in West-Flanders, but the only french spoken is from the 25.000+ people coming dayly from France to Kortrijk and surroundings. Why? I do not know. Clearly language is not the problem. Eventhough the federal government works on different programs to stimulate the Walloons, no progress has been seen yet. Maybe it has something to do with the socialism which ruled (and rules) the southern part of Belgium for decades much more than the northern part? Maybe it has something to do with the amount of money unemployed people get? Or maybe it is just the lazy mentality?

Now one would think that in the Europe of today (an expanding one) tranfers of money from richer to poorer is very normal, almost the standard for economical succes in those regions as shown in countries like Ireland, Portugal and Spain in the past. Well, let us say that it is (still) not a succes in Wallonia, which had funding for a much longer time (25 years+) than those countries mentioned. What is so different in Wallonia? I don't know.

But none the less, some things are changing in the southern part. The Socialist bastion has weakened and the economy is somewhat reviving thanks to some governmental plans (such as the Marshall plan). But most Flemish still only see the transfers going on, which they have seen for a few decades, with still no noticable change... and that's what gets on most of them's nerves.

Politically, the story is different. Flemish and french politicians quarrel, in my opinion, about the power their political parties might gain (for the Flemish)/lose (for the Walloons) with splitting of the Brussel-Halle- Vilvoorde problem. It became the symbol case of all the problems between the north and the south.

I don't know how it will end, however since my patriotic feelings aren't that big (i feel as much Flemish as belgian, but somehow i m more proud about being Flemish than Belgian), I wouldn't feel very bad if a split between the north and the south would be effectuated, but only if both regions can prosper from it.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.