December 14, 2009


Belgium Waffles: Two nations, after all? (Christopher Caldwell, 12/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

Ever since it was carved by treaty out of the Dutch, French, and German borderlands after the Napoleonic wars, Belgium has been an odd kind of country--short on space, sunlight, and national identity. It was a shotgun marriage of two peoples, the Dutch-speaking Flemings in Flanders and the French-speaking Walloons in Wallonia, who, apart from a shared Catholicism had almost nothing in common. Since Brussels, the Belgian capital, is also the seat of government for the 27-nation European Union, Belgium has become a symbol of the unity-in-diversity that EU bureaucrats aspire to. But the marriage of Flanders and Wallonia, never a love match, has in recent decades entered a thrown-crockery phase. It has become a burning question whether the country is headed for an outright divorce, of the sort that broke Czechoslovakia into two countries after the Cold War.

The question has largely been answered. Belgium already looks less like a country than a loose confederation of two states. Partly thanks to half a dozen reforms pushed through since the 1970s by nationalists on both sides, French speakers and Dutch speakers inhabit different cultural universes. Most people have never heard of the major politicians, the major actresses, and sometimes even the major athletes on the other side of a country that is smaller than Maryland. They inhabit different political universes, too. Except in one nettlesome suburban area of Brussels, Flemings and Walloons are not permitted to vote for the same parties at the national level. They don't even obey the same laws.

They can't even hold countries together and they think they can unify the continent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2009 2:59 PM
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