Why does Belgium exist?


A war has been brewing in Europe and no one seems to care. Admittedly, the hostilities have been mild so far: hurt feelings, insults, diplomatic wrangling. Yves Leterme (a Flemish politician) questioned whether people in the French-speaking part of Belgium have the “intellectual capacity” to learn Dutch. Belgium, Leterme suspects, holds together as a nation only because of three things: “king, national football team and certain beers.” Not even all the beers. So says Morgan Meis in The Smart Set.

Having travelled through Belguim on numerous occasions during my 2009/10 semester in Amsterdam, there is much merit it what he says. And history is on his side, especially when you consider that the country arguably always has been, deeply and fundamentally divided between the French-speaking southern half of the country (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking northern half of the country (Flanders).

Meis reckons the separation runs back to the Frankish invasions of the area around the 5th century, which is a pretty longstanding divide even by European standards. On that basis, Belgium is not the most obvious candidate for a unified state. Morgan continues:

It does not help that the political unity of Belgium has ever been a slapdash affair. Stuck between French and Germanic empires (and a few others besides), the Belgians had a hard time of it throughout most of the last two millennia. The Belgian Revolution of 1830 led, finally, to the establishment of an independent Belgium dominated neither by the Dutch to the North nor the French to the South. It was basically a buffer state. But that did nothing to address the internal divisions. Belgium was little more than an alliance of French speakers who weren’t French and Dutch speakers who weren’t Dutch. Separatist parties on both the Walloon and Flemish sides have existed ever since.

Read the full and enlightening article at The Smart Set …