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Time to call it a day

Sometimes it is right for a country to recognise that its job is done. A recent glance at the Low Countries revealed that, nearly four months after its latest general election, Belgium was still without a new government. It may have acquired one by now. But, if so, will anyone notice? And, if not, will anyone mind? Even the Belgians appear indifferent. And what they think of the government they may well think of the country. If Belgium did not already exist, would anyone nowadays take the trouble to invent it?

Such questions could be asked of many countries. Belgium's problem, if such it is, is that they are being asked by the inhabitants themselves. True, in opinion polls most Belgians say they want to keep the show on the road. But when they vote, as they did on June 10th, they do so along linguistic lines, the French-speaking Walloons in the south for French-speaking parties, the Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north for Dutch-speaking parties. The two groups do not get on-hence the inability to form a government. They lead parallel lives, largely in ignorance of each other. They do, however, think they know themselves: when a French-language state television programme was interrupted last December with a spoof news flash announcing that the Flemish regional parliament had unilaterally declared independence, the king had fled and Belgium had dissolved, it was widely believed.

No wonder. The prime minister designate thinks Belgians have nothing in common except “the king, the football team, some beers”, and he describes their country as an “accident of history”. In truth, it isn't. When it was created in 1831, it served more than one purpose. It relieved its people of various discriminatory practices imposed on them by their Dutch rulers. And it suited Britain and France to have a new, neutral state rather than a source of instability that might, so soon after the Napoleonic wars, set off more turbulence in Europe.

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

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

Belgians need not feel too sad. Countries come and go. And perhaps a way can be found to keep the king, if he is still wanted. Since he has never had a country—he has always just been king of the Belgians—he will not miss Belgium. Maybe he can rule a new-old country called Gaul. But king of the Gauloises doesn't sound quite right, does it?

Dit artikel verscheen ook in The Economist en The Brussels Journal, alsmede op KVHV.be en tal van andere weblogs.

Meer internationale artikels over België op www.the-economist.com.

5 Reacties:

At 11:56 Joris Verdonk said...

Vlaamse Staat: ok
Zonder Haat: zever
Dat zelfs gij daaraan mee doet! Ik had van u toch iets anders verwacht, dan het achternakauwen van egalitair extreemlinks!

 
At 13:16 Evelyne said...

Dat je zoiets in de Economist kunt lezen, verschiet ik wel een beetje van.

Het is positief dat de buitenlandse pers ook eens de Vlaamse kant van de zaak ontdekt. Vroeger volgden ze enkel de Franstalige media en negeerden ze de Vlaamse media. Als we zouden willen dat Brussel een Europees district wordt en als we willen dat de bestaande taalgrens gerespecteerd wordt als nieuwe landsgrens, dan zullen we toch de steun moeten krijgen van andere Europese landen. Dit soort artikels in gerenommeerde buitenlandse/internationale magazines kan daar zeker toe bijdragen.

Nu men internationaal eindelijk beseft hoe de vork juist in de steel zit in België, kan het internationale standpunt/vooroordeel dat wij in Vlaanderen allemaal egoïsten zijn, eindelijk eens gewijzigd worden. Nu hebben de Vlamingen internationaal de onterechte reputatie van racistisch te zijn en onverdraagzaam, terwijl we juist te veel brave teddyberen zijn. We verdragen meer dan de meeste maar iedereen heeft zijn grens. Ook de Economist heeft dat nu kennelijk begrepen!

 
At 21:45 Olivier said...

Het is bijzonder schrijnend dat een tijdschrift als "The Economist' zoiets durft te publiceren. Het is simplistisch, populistisch en platvloers. Alsof je heel de Belgische situatie kunt samenvatten in 1 artikel...... Gezond verstand, waar bent U gevaren?

 
At 17:53 Anoniem said...

Olivier, wat is dat nu voor zever? The Economist is een "libertarisch" magazine (niet mijn mening, wel die van hun redactie) dat bijgevolg o.a. het "recht op secessie" (één van de fundamentele rechten van het libertarisme trouwens) hoog in het vaandel draagt. In die optiek is dit artikel, hoe generalistisch het ook mag zijn, best begrijpbaar en aardig om lezen.

 
At 21:31 Olivier said...

Libertarisme of niet, dat heeft er bijzonder weinig mee te maken. Punt is dat in dit artikel een persiflage word gemaakt van de werkelijkheid door feiten en beweringen te reduceren tot simplismen die bij bepaalde extreem-rechtse partijen thuishoren. Het leest vlot maar het blijft flauwekul.

 

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