October 12, 2007

O Dierbaar Belgie

You will have heard by now that Belgium is still in search of a Federal Government since the elections of June 10. The particular requirements of the constitution regards the Government formation and the huge social, cultural and economic divisions which run through the country always ensured a lengthy negotiations process. Some commentators think this is a cause for merriment abroad, but they don't have history on their side. I'm old enough to remember the protracted Government formation talks in The Netherlands in the late 1970s when Joop Den Uyl took 208 days to finally disagree to form a coalition with Van Agt's CDA.
An excellent summary of the 'predicament' Belgium finds itself in is here. It's especially good to be reminded that for most of history that little space between France and Germany has been ruled by various overlords with more or less tenuous links to the territory. From the Romans 2,000 years ago to the Dutch until 1830, those pesky Belgae always got on with the job of surviving and thriving (more or less) despite what despots threw at them. Such a long non-national history did result in a remarkably low sense of nationalism (being Belgian and singing the national anthem always gave a strange feeling, at least in me, in those rare formal occasions where we had to stand up and sing it - and this is much more rarely done than in other countries).
Personally I have always felt more European than Flemish or Belgian, and I introduce myself to people as such, usually with a rider of what city I am from, instead of a country.
Flemish nationalism has always appealed to sections of the community more enamoured with blood, soil and church, and that kind of right-wing stench (including active collaboration during the German occupation in World war II) has given it a long-lasting unappealing aura which continues to this day with the Flemish nationalists now actively being xenophobic.
The ongoing political shenanigans are of course a source of humour and if you feel so inclined you can measure how nationalist/federalist/unitarian you are with a quiz (sadly in Dutch only). I'm a "53% separatist", which actually gives a good gauge of my ambiguous take on the issue. On the one hand I'm all in favour of smaller countries, and the more the merrier, but not if it leads to backwardness and an excuse to trample all over human rights.

If you feel strongly that Belgium should remain a unified state, you can sign a petition here.

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