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Belgium: WTF?

Entry 354 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash

When Douglas Adams was asked to change every instance of the word fuck in the American version of his novel Life, the Universe and Everything it didn't take him a light-year to ponder over the new word. He chose Belgium. Adams collectors over the world also know that an extra paragraph was added to explain this twist of words:

"Belgium," said the girl, "I hardly like to say it."
"Belgium?" exclaimed Arthur. (...)
"Are we talking," said Arthur, "about the very flat country, with all the EEC and the fog?"
"What?" said the girl.
"Belgium," said Arthur. (...)
"Have you ever been to Belgium in fact?" he asked brightly and she nearly hit him.
"I think," she said, restraining herself, "that you should restrict that sort of remark to something artistic."
"You sound as if I just said something unspeakable rude."
"You did." (...)
"I see," said Arthur, who didn't, "so what do you get for using the name of a perfectly innocent if slightly dull European country gratuitously in a Serious Screenplay?"

As more and more political commentators argue that Belgium will do a Czechoslovakia all I can think of is: what the Belgium? And apparently I am not the only one. I still have to see the first demonstration of any importance in Brussels about this issue. As a matter of fact more Turkish immigrants have demonstrated in Brussels against the recent Turkish Kurd hostilities than Belgians against (or in favour of) the internal community problems.

But what is it all about? Let me tell you. But it has to be said that, as a Fleming, my comments will be biased and that most Walloons will have another story to tell.

Our time travel starts at 1830 when Belgium became an independent country. Although build on democratic principles the very strict census suffrage system only gave 46000 French speaking men the right to vote. In 1893, after some heavy demonstrations, the right to vote was finally given to all Belgian males, but two extra votes could be acquired according to tax level and social status. As Flemish people were basically farmers or labourers and Dutch education was unexisisting this meant that all extra votes still went to a French speaking elite. (It has to be said that the majority of the Walloons, poor farmers and labourers as well, only had one vote, but they could, at least in theory, have higher education in their own language).

It is a well known story (more a myth actually) that at the First World War many Flemish soldiers lost their lives simply because they didn't understand the orders of the French speaking officers. Although the voting system was finally put to the one man one vote system (women had to wait until 1948 to have voting rights) Flemings were still regarded as second-rate citizens. It is however not a myth that king Albert I once gave a speech in French and ended with the insult: 'pour les Flamands, la même chose' (for the Flemings, the same). One of my aunts told me that as an adolescent, somewhere in the late nineteen-thirties, she was punished for speaking her motherlanguage on the school playground. That was in Antwerp. But French education also meant that more and more Flemings started to infiltrate the French establishment and could slowly put some Flemish points onto the (political) agenda. Some Flemish activists didn't think this went fast enough, so they adhered the adagio 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' and sought support in Nazi-Germany (also at the first world war pro-German Flemish groups had been created). That is a shallow part of Flemish history as well.

In 1962 Belgium was officially divided in two monolingual parts (Flanders and Wallonia), the capital Brussels remained officially bilingual and a small German-speaking region was defined as well. The political crisis that we have now is all about an electoral district (Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde) in and around Brussels, partially placed in Flanders but with a French-speaking majority. Although geographically based in Flanders the inhabitants of these villages have the right to vote for political parties that have been registered in Wallonia. In 2003 the Belgian Constitutional Court decided that this political exception was illegal and that a solution had to be found before the 24th of June 2007. (Actually I have simplified the problem a bit as the legal gobbledygook is a mixture of legal, linguistical, geographical and political inconsistencies in this Belgian area that covers Brussels-Capital but also small parts of Wallonia and Flanders).

For the first time in history the Flemish majority in parliament (representing about 60% of the population) has now voted against the Walloon counterpart regarding the BHV issue. But to tell the truth: here in Belgium, apart from the king (who still has problems speaking Dutch), the politicians and some dodgy extremists, nobody gives a Belgium.

Actually light-year is not a measurement of time. But I don't give a damn.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Just like Belgium