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View Full Version : The Belgian identity : should Flanders divorce Wallonia ?



Maciamo
14-12-06, 02:19
The RTBF (French-speaking Belgian equivalent of the BBC) broacasted a very special news report tonight, claiming that Flanders had become independent from the rest of Belgium (i.e. Wallonia and Brussels). This was of course a joke, but it wasn't annouced until about 30min after it had started. The programme last 1h30min, with the usual newscaster, fake videos of people brandishing Flemish flags, while some French speakers carried Belgian flags in front of the Royal Palace. They claimed that the king had left the country and that the Flemings had to decide soon whether they chose Princess Astrid as their new Queen or if they wanted a republic.

The debate included politicians from Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia. It was accompanied by numerous (phone or SMS) reactions from the audience, as well as opinion polls on the issue of separatism.

The Flemish position

It is common knowledge that a big portion of Flemish people, and even more so Flemish politicians, favour either more autonomy for the 3 regions of Belgium, confederalism or the outright separartion of Flanders. The reason are mainly economical. The Flemish economy is more healthy, with higher revenues and a (much) lower unemployment. Many Flemings resent having to foot the social security bill of Wallonia, given the extreme generosity of the unemployment benefits in Belgium and the fact that Wallonia couldn't support its social security system without the "solidarity of Flanders".

The Flemish are less emotionally attached to the Belgian identity, for instance to the Belgian flag (a rare sight in Flanders where the Flemish flag is everywhere), the national anthem or the monarchy. In fact, many Flemings are anti-monarchist. As they said in the debate, "Belgium" is not a value in itself in Flanders anymore.

The Flemings have a very practical attitude to things. If the country splits, most of them will be indifferent, and will continue their life as if nothing happened. The only times they really feel Belgian are :

- when they travel abroad and are asked where they come from, because there is more chance than people know Belgium than Flanders
- in sports, e.g. to support the Belgian football team, or our national tennis champions.
- for the cultural and historical heritage

This is also true of French speakers.

Most Flemings claim that Brussels is in Flanders and should be their capital (as it is now), even if Flanders become independent. Some politicians in the debate suggested that Brussels could remain the capital of both Flanders and Wallonia, even if they were separate countries. Many saw Brussels as a special-status region within the EU, a "capital district of the EU" a bit like Washington DC in the USA, but with its own elected parliament. It wouldn't change much to the present situation, to tell the truth. Brussels is already the capital of the EU, Belgium, Flanders and the French-speaking community (but not Wallonia). The only difference would be to drop Belgium and keep the rest as it is.

Then comes the question of the majoritarily French-speaking municipalities around Brussels but officially in Flanders. The Flemish politicians tonight all seemed reluctant to include these municipalities to the Brussels Region, as many French speakers want.

The Walloon position

A majority of Walloons consider themselves as Belgian as Walloon, and tend to be pro-monarchy. Many Walloon people in the audience responded that they were utterly shocked at the news of the independence of Flanders, that they had been scared or saddened until it was announced that it was a hoax.

The polls showed that the vast majority of the Wallons were for the unity of Belgium, but if the country had to split, nearly half of them wanted to join France, if possible along with Brussels. Many Walloons are ferociously opposed to a confederate Belgium, which would be a de facto separation, and thus no more "solidarity" from Flanders for the social security.

The Brusseler's position

The people of Brussels tend to be fed up with the bickering between Flemish and Walloons, feeling as belonging to both communities. According to the poll, they wouldn't want to join France if the country splitted, but they also wouldn't want to join Wallonia as a single entity, preferring its current special status of European capital.


The reactions

I was for my part surprised and even appalled at the reactions of many Walloons, or the whole attitude of the RTBF, which I can only describe as narrow-minded. First of all, a poll showed that 95% of the (French-speaking) audience belived that the news was true until it was otherwise announced, including 6% who believed it even after they said it was a fiction ! How stupid can they be !? A country doesn't split like that on a unilteral decision without warning. It was also obvious from the exaggeration of the hoax TV news that it wasn't true.

First example, they said, among others, that from tomorrow phone calls between Flanders and Wallonia-Brussels would be charged as international phone calls and that people would need to dial +321 for Flanders and +322 for Wallonia-Brussels. This is ridiculous as each of the numerous telecom operators (including international ones like Vodafone or Orange) wouldn't suddenly be split into two new companies just because the government splits. In the age of globalisation, companies are international and do not know borders. Just look at Vodafone that is present in about 60 countries around the world.

Second example, they said that Flemish tramways, buses and trains wouldn't be allowed to run in Brussels-Wallonia and vice-versa, so that people would have to change 4 times of train to go from Brussels to Liege. This is clearly non-sensical. There are international trains that cross all Europe (and not just the EU). All the bullet-trains from Belgium are international (to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, London...). Only extremely naive and credulous people would believe such a hoax.

They reported that Flemish viewers who saw the programme understood that it was a joke, because the Flemish media didn't report it, and because their common sense told them that it wasn't possible. Most of them found the programme amusing, while most Walloons found it distressing or alarming. This revelas a radically different attitude to the issue of separatism.

One of the poll question was "Would you still go the the Flemish seaside if Flanders was independent ?". I was shocked again that some people send SMS saying that they would if they didn't need a visa. How stupid are they ? They don't need a visa anywhere in the EU since 1993. There has never been any mention of Flanders leaving the EU ! It is completely unbelievable to have people sending such comments, or at least to have the RTBF publish such comments !

But this may only reflect the manipulating attitude of the utterly pro-Belgian RTBF. Sometimes I wonder if they receive their state subsidies from the Flemish side (in fact they don't) to be so anti-separatist. The programme tonight was destined to scare people. It ended by soldiers parachuted over the RTBF Tower in Brussels and the tower eventually being destroyed (with some very bad special effects :okashii: ). They said that the king would have to seek refuge in (the former Belgian colony of) Congo and other absurdities. Yet 6% of the audience believed it till the end !


I was really disappointed in the reactions of French-speakers, as well as audience, as the politicians and the journalists. Despite being a French-speakers myself, I agree with the Flemish on all the line, except that municipalities with a French-speaking majority around Brussels should join the Brussels Region. This is the least concession that Flanders can do in exchange for not having to support the French-speaking social security system. And I do not want it just to keep things balanced, but because it is fairer to those populations (if they voted to join Brussels, but they almost certainly would). It is this sentiment of fairness that motivates me to support Flemish independence, or a confederalist system. I really feel that the Walloons need this slap on the face to wake up and restructure their economy and political system. Political corruption is rampant in some parts of Wallonia (esp. in poorer Charleroi). The Walloons tend to be lazier, more laxist, too tolerant of illegal immigration and corruption, and rely too much on financial help from Flanders. They need this wake up call.

Maciamo
14-12-06, 12:05
No matter what Flemish independentist say, it will be hard for either side to put an end to Belgium.

The Walloons mistakenly think that the reason for their unity is the monarchy. In fact, it is rather an argument for separatists to split, as they consider the monarchy a waste of money and a system belonging to another age.
So what is it that has kept so far Belgian unity, despite the differences in language, culture, economic system and political ideas of the Dutch- and French-speakers ?

1) Brussels

The main argument that is usually put on the table is "Brussels". The current situation could be seen as a couple who wants to divorce but stays together for the sake of the child (the child being Brussels). Both want the child's custody, and nobody has thought of shared custody or that the child might grow up to become independent once it reaches its majority. Yet, either is possible.

A shared custody would mean that Brussels remains the capital of the Flemish and French-speaking communities, and would thus not belong to either new country, but would remain a special district within the EU. For this to happen, Brussels need to grow up and be able to live on its own as well. Concretely, this means that Brussels would also be recognised as an independent state, an EU Capital District, as has been proposed many times.

I do not see the problem with such a situation. After all, the three states would still belong to a single political entity (the EU), without borders or visa, with a single currency, sharing the same companies as today... It isn't even a premiere as Brussels is already the capital of Flanders without belonging to the state of Flanders, and nobody finds that odd.

2) Federal institutions

A lot of political competences been decentralised to the regions and communities : education, social security, culture and tourism, the media, most of the economy and industry... The federal still has control over public finances (taxes, although they are redistributed in big part to the regions), defence (or what is left of it within the EU), justice and interior policies (e.g. the police). Foreign policy exist at both the federal and regional level, so that Flemish and Walloon both have their representative in missions abroad to promote their region's economy and industry (embassies and visas are only federal).

What bother the Flemish is that part of their taxes are redistributed to Wallonia. The problem is not that they have to support the federal government, as they would cost them as much if not more if they had to create new Flemish ministries for what is now federal.

Many Belgians politicians see the future in Europe, and Europe could indeed solve most of Belgium's problems.

A) Defence & Interior

The Prime Minister has already proposed a common EU army to other EU member states, and said that he would gladly cede the Belgian troops for this. This would solve the issue of the defence ministry.

We could very well imagine that Europol (http://www.eupedia.com/cgi-bin/dir/jump.cgi?ID=229867) would evolve into a sort of European FBI. This would make the police much more efficient to combat international criminality (the worst of all), like organised gangs, drug dealers, human trafficking (e.g. for prostitution and pedophilia), illegal immigrants, and crooks or other criminals that hide in other EU countries. Naturally, the local police would remain under the responsibility of the local government (city, municipality).

B) Foreign Affairs

Visa-wise, Schengen member states (all EU minus UK and Ireland) already do not issue visas for their own country but for all the Schengen zone. French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is already pushing for the creation of a single EU visa office in all countries outside the EU, so as to prevent "visa shopping". At present each embassy can grant or refuse visa at its own discretion, so that when one applicant is refused, he/she can try in another member state embassy, which partly explains the huge influx of immigrants (legal ones, in this case) to the EU. This is not just a good idea to have a single visa-issuing office for the Schengen area, it is vital and should soon be implemented.

The EU Constitution also planned for a single EU Foreign Minister. This will also probably happen soon, with or without a constitution. Foreign affairs would thus not be an issue between Flemings and Walloons.

C) Justice

Justice is maybe the only ministry which the Belgians could keep in common. However the Belgian judicial system has been so heavily criticised for its leniency, its long delays and its inefficiency that it wouldn't be a bad thing to reform everything. There have also been linguistic problems, such as French-speaking judges who studied in Dutch and thus cannot work in the French speaking part (or vice versa). Language quotas in Brussels have also come under criticism. The prison system is on the verge of implosion because of bad working conditions and overcrowdedness. Many Belgian prison guards have been on strike in the past few months. Reforms are greatly needed.


Conclusion

Belgium could very well split. It is only a matter of time and organisation. The more we will go toward a European state, with its own army, police, foreign and immigration policy, the less reasons there will be for the existence of the Belgian state. The Euro, the European Central bank, the disapperance of the borders, common passports, etc. have already contributed to this. I see the split as inevitable, as most Belgians do , whether they like it or not.

I hope that the split of Belgium could be a model for other European countries, and that in a few decades we will have an EU composed of highly autonomous states called Scotland, England, Wales, Lowe Saxony, Hesse, Bavaria, Catalonia, Asturias, Galicia, etc.

Maciamo
14-12-06, 14:00
Here are the media reports in English about yesterday's hoax and reactions :

VRT : Fake news bulletin widely condemned (http://www.vrtnieuws.net/nieuwsnet_master/versie2/english/details/061214_rtbf/index.shtml)


On Wednesday evening the Francophone public broadcaster RTBF interrupted its normal programmes with the news that Flanders had declared independence
...
Only after half an hour did the programme makers make it clear that the broadcast was a hoax. By this time the RTBF had received thousands of phone calls from worried viewers.
...
The US broadcaster CNBC carried the "news" as fact and the RTBF also got a call from the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde.

VRT : "A political agenda behind this" (http://www.vrtnieuws.net/nieuwsnet_master/versie2/english/details/061214_reaxRTBF/index.shtml)

Expatica : Survey on future of Belgium (http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=24&story_id=35062)

Maciamo
14-12-06, 22:10
Today all the Belgian newspapers, as well as many other majr newspapers and TV news around the world, talked about this fake declaration of independence of Flanders announced by the RTBF. Almost all Belgian newspapers, as well as politicians and a good part of the French-speaking population condemed this hoax, which they called scandalous and lacking in deontology. To my surprise and dismay, even high-ranking officials and politicians believed that it was true. It was the case of the Crown Prince and Minister of State, who were on a diplomatc mission to Bulgaria, or Belgium's European Commissioner Louis Michel who was on a visit to Africa. All the French-speaking ministers interviewed on TV tonight were angry and asked for a public apology from the RTBF, and maybe even sanctions. Tens of thousands of people called the RTBF, but also the police or several government agencies last night in the panick caused by the hoax. Some elderly people are reported to have been in a serious state of shock, other people were crying or went to the Royal Palace to show their support to the monarchy.

This is a surrealistic situation we have experienced in Belgium since last night. A situation I cannot believe, as it seemed so obvious from the start that it couldn't be true. First of all, the RTBF started its special programme with a black screen where one could read in white "This may not be a fiction", hinting that it was in fact a fiction. Most people didn't get from the tone and well-dissimulated amused air of the newscaster that he wasn't being serious; yet for me it was obvious from the start. This guy wouldn't appear so optmistic and amused if it had been true, knowning the RTBF's strongly pro-Belgian stance. In the very first minute they announced that the king had to leave the country in a hurry, which was at best inspired from 19th-century novels. It would never happen like this. Then, the reports of bus and trains stopping at the linguistic border was enough to dispel any doubt left (for me).

I wish my fellow country people would have shown more critical sense when watching what they thought was the news on their national channel. It certainly proved that people are too credulous and do not think enough when they receive information. It is virtually impossible for a state like Flanders to declare its independence unilaterally, and so suddenly that the king would have to escape the country.

People were scandalise by the hoax, but I was personally scandalised by the reactions of the politicians. When they blame the RTBF for a lack of deontology, I only see demagogic tactics by echoing the voice of the public majority. The truth is, they couldn't have been scandalised as they knew very well that the RTBF had been planning this programme for months, as another politician (who participated in the debate) explained. I can say that I have lost faith even in the politicians I liked the most (e.g. on the Liberal side).

It is all very ironic to me. At first I disliked the RTBF's programme because I thought it was so exaggerated that it didn't look realistic at all. I thought it was just pro-Belgian propaganda. But it appeared that it was not nearly enough exaggerated as most people strongly believed it. My disappointment in the RTBF turned into a disappointment in the Belgian people (Francophone, at least), then toward the French-speaking politicians for criticising the RTBF, but in the opposite way as I criticised it. It seems that my mind works in a completely different way from that of those other French-speaking Belgians. Maybe that is why I feel much closer to a lot of Flemish politicians, of almost any party.

After all, when two spouses are so different that they can't understand each others anymore, it might be a better thing to split and keep friendly relations, before things turn sour for everybody...

Kinsao
15-12-06, 15:56
Wow. :souka: It just goes to show how gullible people are when they are watching TV. :okashii: *natural sceptic speaks* :D