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Wither Belgium?

Now that headline's a reader magnet, as they say in business, isn't it?

Anyway, The Telegraph reports some scathing comments on Belgium by the Flemish prime minister, including that it is 'accident of history'. I'm inclined to agree. Belgium has always struck me as a rather odd entity, cobbled together in 1830 as the first major revision to the post-Napoleonic settlement and roughly covering what was the Spanish Netherlands.

At the time the Walloons had the whip hand, and held it for a long time as they had the industry, the commerce etc, while the Flemish were more given to agriculture. With demographic change and the decline of Wallonia's rust belt industries, the Flemish have the upper hand, and the tensions between the two halves grow ever greater. As an indicator, a factoid: the Belgian Olympic Committee is bi-partite, with half the team selected from Walloons and half from Flemings (it certainly was true in the late 90's when I read about it in Le Monde Diplo). Savour that nonsense for a moment - imagine there are two outstanding Flemish sprinters, or a couple of world beating modern pentathletes from one half of the country, but one has to stand down in favour of someone less able from the other half of the country. If memory serves, the same item suggested that without the EU, Belgium would have split long ago.

I can't say I would be especially sad if the country split in two, although doubtless there would be some wrangling over Brussels, a French speaking island in the middle of Flanders.

Now for some anecdotes: The burghers of Brussels are the rudest and most charmless people I have ever encountered, and make Parisians seem like over enthusiastic Americans from fly over country. Brussels itself seems more like Norwich than a capital city, and is singularly lacking in impressive buildings, although the station is quite pretty. The Telegraph's article notes the trouble with monolingual road signs, and I have been caught out by not knowing that Rijsel is Lille in Flemish, very nearly missing a ferry back to the mother country because of it. Speaking French in Flanders is a recipe for being ignored, and I was blanked in a petrol station before I switched to English. A mate who ran (remotely) the IT operation for the Belgian subsidiary of the company we both worked for topped that with a tale of a Flemish colleague and a Walloon shopkeeper engaged in a Mexican stand off as each refused to speak the other's language.

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Anonymous phonecamfoolery said... 3:11 pm

come on croydonian be fair
belgium has alwats been a convenient place for the Hun to stock up on frites mayonaise and petrol for the panzer before invading france, so it does serve a purpose.  



Blogger UK Daily Pundit said... 12:53 pm

See what you've started now.....

'Twenty-eight inmates escaped from a Belgian prison early on Saturday after overpowering guards.'

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5267638.stm

The rumours are they're heading for Croydon.  



Blogger Croydonian said... 2:51 pm

PCF - I suppose there is that. Even as we speak, I bet the Quai D'Orsay is cooking up a scheme to incorporate Wallonia into France....

UKDP - see, when Croydonian pontificates, the worls listens.  



Blogger dearieme said... 3:13 pm

All countries are accidents of history.  



Blogger Croydonian said... 3:18 pm

Some accidents result in messier wreckages though.  



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