Three months have past since Belgium had its general election, and there is still no government in place.
The reason is, in short, that the two halves of the country – Flanders and Wallonia – cannot agree on how to run the country. There are very deep and old conflicts lying underneath, which have again surfaced as political problems for the attempts to patch together a government that wolud have a majority in Parliament across not only political, but also across linguistic, dividing lines.
Consequently, the old question of whether or not to break the country up has surfaced again. A recent poll by the TV magazine “Koppen” showed that 91 per cent of the Walloons were against such a break-up – but only 60 per cent of the Flemings. Egged on by such support, parties like extreme-right, populist and xenophobic Vlaams Belang have tabled new suggestions to end the 177-year-old state once and for all.
So far, there is no popular majority for a break-up. But if the current governmental crisis lingers on, that could very well change in Flanders, as the margin there is so small. That would lead to what the Walloons really fear: a unilateral breakaway by the Flemings.
In fact, Wallonia was scared stiff some time ago as Wallonian TV RTBF staged a War-of-the-Worlds-style hoax about Flanders having declared independency, which I have written about in a previous post. The outrage following the TV spectacle was only topped by the fact that most Walloons are seriously worried that their Northern neighbours will blow their country to pieces.
It used to be that key bolts keeping the country together were the Royal family and the captial. However, in the same poll, a majority of the Flemings basically said that the Walloons can keep the King, as they would prefer a republic. The question, then, is what would happen to Brussels. Both sides claim it, even though Flemish separatists have spoken about Antwerp or Ghent as an alternative capital.
There has even been talk about creating a Vatican-style (or, rather, Washington DC-style) enclave under EU rule out of the Brussels area. The EU has so far refused to comment on such ideas.
However, questions were also put to the EU Commission recently about the risk of Belgium disintegrating violently, as did Yugoslavia. The reponse was that it was next to absurd to compare the two.
“Don’t be too sure”, a colleague remarked to me, and I must confess that my wife and I have had similar talks. What would happen if the whole thing goes overboard? Will there be a forced separation? Will there be fighting in the streets?
It may seem absurd – but it did happen in Yugoslavia. And it did happen here, only less than 200 years ago, when Belgium broke away from the Netherlands to the tone of a seven-year war.
If it does happen here again, God forbid, our home is in the middle of the battle zone. All of a sudden, we have had second thoughts about ever buying property here.