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Belgium - falling apart?

 
 
Reply Sun 16 Sep, 2007 10:43 pm
There is such a thing as a Belgian identity, and sometimes Belgians are proud to be Belgian. But since the Belgian politicans fail to create a government after the last geneneral elections months ago, some ask if Belgium is heading for a split.

Quote:
'Belgium? Something that does not exist' Political fault lines divide nation

Long-running crisis could lead to nation separating into Flanders and Wallonia


Ian Traynor in Steenokkerzeel
Monday September 17, 2007
The Guardian


Willy the florist has had enough of his kingdom. He is an unwilling subject of an unloved country. A middle-class father of 12-year-old twins running a thriving flower business in this small Dutch-speaking town on the eastern fringe of Brussels, Willy is reduced to obscene gesturing by the very mention of his country.
"Belgium?" he splutters. "That's something that doesn't exist. The national anthem? Nobody knows it. Nobody can sing it. The king? A parvenu. A dysfunctional family. We're not going to take it any more."

Willy is Flemish and proud of it. His native language is Dutch but like many Belgians he also speaks French and English. When he goes into Brussels on business, he complains, they call him a racist if he speaks in his own tongue.
He says French-speaking nurses wouldn't help his Dutch-speaking boy in hospital recently. And his comatose 80-year-old neighbour who was rushed to hospital? Same story. His wife didn't speak French and the doctors wouldn't speak Dutch. And if Willy - "don't use my full name, I've got a business to run here" - needs to go to court, that too will be in Brussels and the judges will speak French.

"The Flemish have shut up for too long. But now it's come to the point where we're not stupid any more. This country's sick. It's dying. Not right away. But it's terminal. Little by little, it's over. We will separate in the end."

A whiff of the Balkans is wafting through the heart of the EU. Belgium, a kingdom created by the great powers 177 years ago to keep the Dutch in their place and as a buffer between France and Germany, is falling apart.

It has always been a battlefield. From Waterloo to Passchendaele and the Ardennes, the superpowers of their day brought their wars to Belgium. Now Belgium is under attack from within.

"There's no Belgian sentiment," says Filip Dewinter, the leader of the Vlaams Belang party of extreme Flemish nationalists. "There's no Belgian language. There's no Belgian nation. There's no Belgian anything."

... ... ...

Full report at The Guardian



http://i3.tinypic.com/6cz7gk4.jpg
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fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Mon 24 Sep, 2007 08:51 pm
More than a week, and zero responses.

It means that nobody, but experts in linguistics, cares about the country Belgium, Walter.

A secession would help ease their boredom, wouldn't it?
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 24 Sep, 2007 10:23 pm
Well, where is Belgium?

I already had the idea that this wouldn't catch much interest ...
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 24 Sep, 2007 10:26 pm
An interesting opinion, published as Letter to the Editors in today's FT

Quote:
Failings that left Belgium at the mercy of nationalists
By Stefan Schepers

Published: September 25 2007

From Mr Stefan Schepers.

Sir, Robin Shepherd ("Lessons for Europe if fragile Belgium goes down", September 19) rightly points to two lessons for the European Union. Perhaps there is a third one: a lesson on good government.

The Belgian federal constitution does not provide for the usual checks and balances in federal states: there is no hierarchy between federal and regional laws, no rational division of powers, no regional fiscal responsibility. On top of that, only regional political parties are left, as a result of an electoral system based on a sort of linguistic apartheid in Flanders and Wallonia. Only in the Brussels region can people still choose between Dutch- or French-speaking candidates, an exception that Flemish nationalists now wish to abolish.

The absence of federal parties allowed Flemish nationalists (there are francophone extremists too) to present every political issue through a regional prism and to use it to seek an increase of power. Like Serb nationalists, they followed a tactic of systematically criticising everything still shared with other regions (the monarchy, the social security system, etc) and denigrating them in order to justify their growing demands. The French-speaking minority is rightly worried, given that the same people have prevented Belgium adhering to the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Leading Flemish academics have repeatedly warned against the manipulation of opinion polls or against the simplification of politics to one issue.

Last year, then, the Flemish Christian Democrats made an electoral alliance with the nationalists, and now they are their prisoners (quite the reverse of the Austrian Christian Democrats, who linked up with Jörg Haider but stayed away from his rhetoric). They did so purely to regain power and further dismantle the federal state in favour of their regional power base. Many people voted for them only because they wanted another coalition government, not because they supported their regional nationalism.

Once the mechanisms of good public governance are deficient, the road is open for electoral adventures. In Belgium's case it was ill-thought-out decentralisation and linguistic nationalism, but in Europe's case it may be ill-considered centralisation.

Stefan Schepers,

1000 Brussels, Belgium

(Former director-general, European Institute of Public Administration)
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 08:18 am
I read it, I'm interested, had nothing useful to say.
0 Replies
 
Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 12:57 pm
If Belgium were falling apart with car bombs and snipers and riots there might be more interest.
0 Replies
 
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 08:10 pm
This posting is like watching Deutsche Welle tv news in English. The newscaster is younger, I think, on tv (and has fairly good chiselled features, I believe).
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 10:42 pm
Foofie wrote:
This posting is like watching Deutsche Welle tv news in English. The newscaster is younger, I think, on tv (and has fairly good chiselled features, I believe).


You know Ian Traynor, Foofie?
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 10:50 pm
Ah, I'd be interested in updates. I won't apologize for not having sharp comments at this time, since I'm a fool on all this. I thank you for the notices so far.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 10:53 pm
On Saturday, some disgruntled voter put Belgium for sale on ebay ...
"For Sale: Belgium, a Kingdom in three parts ... free premium: the king and his court (costs not included)."
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 11:16 pm
Not all that cute.


Ok, you folks, do you have opinions?





I guess I see lands breaking down into segments and sometimes 'tribes', and then needing to come together again - and because of my own background, enjoy working coalitions. I see Belgium as staying together, but am I naive?
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 11:40 pm
It usually takes quite a long time until Belgium gets a new government fter general elections.
But this time ...


Well, no, I don't think it will fall apart.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 11:41 pm
Danke.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Sep, 2007 11:50 pm
ossobuco wrote:
Danke.
Dank u wel and merci - to add the other two Belgian languages :wink:
0 Replies
 
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Sep, 2007 07:24 am
Walter Hinteler wrote:
Foofie wrote:
This posting is like watching Deutsche Welle tv news in English. The newscaster is younger, I think, on tv (and has fairly good chiselled features, I believe).


You know Ian Traynor, Foofie?


If that's the name of the newcaster, I wasn't aware. I just watch the newscast on tv when I can, because I like the "special report" the program has in the last half, of the half-hour, that is usually highlighting an interesting subject. Much less "dry" news than the BBC broadcast.

I also like the weather report for all of Europe. I like to compare it to the weather in the U.S.

I'm not sure why, but I find this newscast "friendlier" than the BBC broadcast, perhaps because the viewer gets the news without the "pointed questions" that the BBC newscaster occasionally has with a news personality. That is sort of adversarial, I believe.

The "focus" of the Deutsche Welle news is based more on how the people are living, I believe. Less on political leaders. A more interesting and pleasant newscast, in my opinion.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Sep, 2007 07:27 am
Foofie wrote:
If that's the name of the newcaster, I wasn't aware.


No, the name of the journalist who wrote the quoted report.
0 Replies
 
Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Sep, 2007 11:09 am
PBS just broadcast a segment on Belgium. I didn't catch the expert's name, but the expert agrees with Walter.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Sep, 2007 11:22 am
Noddy24 wrote:
PBS just broadcast a segment on Belgium. I didn't catch the expert's name, but the expert agrees with Walter.


Disclaimer: it wasn't Walter Hinteler :wink:
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 1 Oct, 2007 01:21 am
Quote:
Belgium tries for new government

By Robert Weilaard, Associated Press Writer
Published: 01 October 2007

Belgium's king yesterday asked the head of the Flemish Christian Democrats for a second time to form a centre-right government, hoping that rival linguistic camps of Dutch and French-speaking politicians were ready to end a nearly four-month deadlock.

The royal palace said in a statement that four weeks of exploratory talks have revealed "enough elements of convergence" among Christian Democrats and Liberals to resume their talks to form a government.

The country is divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and Francophone Wallonia in the south. In the middle lies the capital, Brussels, which is officially bilingual. About 6.5 million Belgians speak Dutch, compared with 4 million Francophones.

The Christian Democrats and Liberals, each split into Dutch and French-speaking parties, won a majority of the 150 legislative seats in June 10 elections.

What keeps them from taking office is a demand by Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats and Liberals for more regional autonomy in health, justice and transport for Flanders and the redrawing of a bilingual Brussels-area voting district that the constitutional court has declared to be illegal.

Francophones say enough powers have been shifted to Flanders and Wallonia in the last 25 years. They accuse Flemish politicians of engineering the demise of Belgium as a unified state.

King Albert asked Yves Leterme, head of the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats, to try again to form a government. The first bid failed after five weeks of fruitless talks.

Leterme made no comment yesterday. But Bart De Wever, head of the Flemish nationalist party allied with his Christian Democrats, said several disputes remained, adding, "I bet no money on a date for a new government to take office."
Source
0 Replies
 
InfraBlue
 
  1  
Reply Mon 1 Oct, 2007 03:23 am
I'm familiar with the Flemish/Walloon divide in Belgium from keeping up with professional bicycle racing in Europe. Eddie Merckx a Belgian who is the greatest pro bike racer of all time was widely criticized by the Flemish population for having his wedding ceremony conducted in French, although Eddie himself doesn't lean either towards Flanders or Wallonia. Roger De Vlaeminck, a contemporary of Eddie's and a great racer in his own right was one of Eddie's critics about his French wedding, and has stated in a rather recent interview in Cycle Sport magazine that he hates the Walloon (i.e. French Belgians).

There was a controversy about a year or two ago concerning right-wing Flemish nationalist separatists waving an altered version of the official Flemish flag.

Official version:
http://home.elp.rr.com/infrablues/flemish%20flag.gif

Flemish nationalist version:
http://home.elp.rr.com/infrablues/Flemish%20nationalist%20flag.gif
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