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October 9, 2007
Is Belgium Falling Apart?
Two peoples, two languages, two distinct cultures, and 177 years of relative harmony. That has been the country of Belgium as we know it.
But recent political developments have shown that the Dutch speaking Flemish and French speaking Walloon people may be headed for a split that would result in two seperate countries:
The most immediate cause is a political deadlock among squabbling parties, which have yet to form a government more than three months after general elections. A temporary political problem or signs of something more serious? The Flemish people, treated as second class citizens for much of Belgium's history, now find themselves in the ascendancy as the more rural Walloonia suffers high unemployment and slow growth. Since World War II, Flanders has mostly called the shots politically. This has bred resentment on both sides who rarely intermarry or speak each other's language.
But the roots of the standoff stretch back decades, nourished by growing language, cultural and economic differences between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south.
"We live in an artificial state," said Philip Dewinter, head of the far-right Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Block, which seeks a referendum on dissolution leading to an independent Flanders.
"One hundred and seventy-seven years after our creation, we've come to the conclusion that we don't have anything in common anymore," he continued. "Well, maybe the king [of Belgium], the beer and chocolate.
But it would be better for us to split up. Many Flemish people appear to agree. A poll released last month found nearly half of them back an independent Flanders.
It will be an interesting test of the EU if the split were to occur. There are a half dozen other ethnic minorities in Europe who might be interested in splitting off from their mother country in order to form their own state. Whether that leads to mass confusion and potential conflict is anyone's guess.