There are at least 35,000 people who still think it is a good idea to keep the nation of Belgium as an entity. This became clear on Sunday as they turned up for a large manifestation in Brussels in support of keeping the nation together, in he face of the current Belgian crisis which has threatened to split the country into two nations.
I caught a glimpse of the mood as I drove into town to have a look after Church on Sunday mogning. However, I had lingrered for quite a while after the service, talking with friends, with the result that I arrived just as the whole thing was over. But I did look around to get a general feel of things, and noticed that the feelings were surprisingly calm. Unity was the aim and unity was certainly the result of the event, because it seemed as those participating had been able to leave the squabbling aside and actually meet in a spirit of reconciliation.
There was no shouting, no visible hot-headedness, and the radio report played a clip of the national anthem La Brabançonne sung by the participants in all three of Belgium’s official languages.
By any standards, this is an encouraging sight indeed, because it does provide some hope that whatever the outcome of the current Belgian crisis might be, it will be reached in a peaceful way.
However, 35,000 is not a record for a public manifestation in Brussels. When the “white march” against the authorities’ incompetence in handling the infamous paedophile scandals took place in 1996, the number was 300,000. Thus, one cannot help but wonder what the remaining 9.96 million Belgians who did not take part in yesterday’s event think about the future of their coutry. Do they agree that it should stay united, are they in favour of a split, or do they simply not bother?
Judging from what people usually say when I ask them, the latter is probably the truest answer. Most people are fairly apathetic or indifferent to the ongoing squabbling, and one must remember that any shake-up of the country is percieved far less dramatic here than it would be in, say, the UK, since Belgium has existed for such a relatively short time and has been shifted back and forth between so many different rulers over the preceding centuries.
More interesting is the well-known phenomenon that politicians tend to be more radical in general than those who vote for them. This is true all over the political scale and has been observed by many political scientists, who note that e.g. socialist parties want far more state interference than their voters, centre-right parties want far more deregulaiton and private initiative than their voters, and so on.
Judging from the general mood, Belgium’s French-speaking and Flemish parties seem to be far more zealous to defend the percieved interests of their respective language groups than the people who actualy constitute these language groups, and may reach the point where their efforts to fight for their own may lead to their own abandoning them altogether.
It is always difficult to fight on behalf of other people… because you might discover that they do not want to be fought for.