Le plat pays mais pas le mien


It is easy to be nostalgic – to think back of earlier times when “everything was better”. But somehow I can’t help but think things wére better before. At least, before, Belgian politicians were capable of forming a government. Of making compromises.

Tomorrow, hopefully, 10,000s of people will flood Brussels to ask for… well… something. A government. An agreement. Progress. Light at the end of the tunnel. Almost 23,000 people have RSVPd “yes” on the Facebook page of the event (another 25,000 voted “maybe”) – for an improvised demonstration organized by students in the middle of an exam period this is, to Belgian standards, quite impressive. Whether this will actually change something, is an open question, though judging on the past 223 days I’m guessing: not much.

Because it has been 223 days. 223 days ago, we had federal elections. 223 days ago, the north and the south of the country each chose their winner. Unfortunately, their colors couldn’t have been more opposite: left in the south, right in the north. To make things easier, this government will need to reform part of the constitution and thus needs a 2/3 majority, resulting in no less than 7 parties involved in negotiations. We are quick to judge the US and its 2-party system, but having 14+ parties (only counting the ones that get a voice in tv debates) isn’t exactly the solution either.

So what is going on?

Do you really want to know?

I suggest you take a course – because I sure as hell don’t have a clue.

Belgian catfight.

The north wants more responsibilities for the regional governments. The south wants things to stay the way they are.
The south wants more money for Brussels. The north thinks Brussels should generate its own income.
The north wants to tackle some unconstitutional election issues. The south wants to go along if there are compensations (since this will likely result in less votes for southern parties).
The south wants more rights for French-speaking people who live in the Dutch-speaking north (get their administration letters in French etc). The north feels they should just adapt and learn Dutch. Somehow, everything is brought down to the difference in language.

And (a small, very small) part of the north is sick of the south and wants to solve it all through independency. Unfortunately, it is their party that (for other reasons) won the elections. In other words: any compromise that all parties agree on will be necessarily a defeat for this party because it is not independency.

What I find most amazing is that when polls are held to measure current voting behavior (once in a while the option of new elections is mentioned), the same parties win. Worse: they increase their influence. Because people appreciate that, for once, the politicians try to keep their full electoral promise instead of compromising – an art Belgian politicians have perfected in the past. That meanwhile unemployment is rising, an increasing amount of people end up in debt, our social security system creaks under the rising cost of medical expenses for the elderly, environmental issues aren’t dealt with, speculation on the future of Belgium causes interest rates to skyrocket, … is rather unimportant. Politicians are standing their grounds. And nobody moves.

But now, finally, after 223 days, after breaking the European record government formation (207 days, sometime in the 70s, the Netherlands) and well on our way to break the world record (249 days, last year, … Iraq (!)), the lethargic Belgians have woken up from their sleep and decided to stand up. Call out for movement. For action. I hope tomorrow’s demonstration will bring many people to our capital. I hope it will be peaceful, and serene. And by all means – I hope it will help.

6 responses »

  1. The language divide can cut deep because it is simultaneously the symptom and the cause of a deeper, more personal, more complex cultural and political divide, often nationalistic in nature involving identity politics. Even in a tiny tiny country like Taiwan, there have always been two distinct groups since the Nationalist armies retreated to Taiwan (after the Communists took over China). I am very sorry that your country is going through some sort of pain, and I hope it gets resolved, in a helpful way, as soon as possible.

    At least, I assume, in Belgium, there is NO news network like Fox Network in the US. And I have to chuckle when I heard on the radio that some guy is asking people to pledge to NOT SHAVE until a government is given to the people.

    • Haha – no, thanks god we are spared from Fox :D.

      It is a very complicated situation – with separate tv and radio channels, separate school systems, … caused of course by the language difference, and in turn not helping to bridge the widening gap. Add the eternal inferiority complex of the Flemish and the controversy around Brussels, and you’re in for long negotiations… I have come to the point I don’t really care what happens next, splitting or not, this is a time where we need a strong, stable government, and that is exactly what has been missing for over 5 years now.

      It was a Walloon actor calling for the non-shaving, they’ve been trying to find an alternative for woman, but I don’t think they’ve found one yet : I stick with growing my hair (though that may be caused by not wanting to go to the hairdresser :D). Those who still support current politicians on the other hand, are asked to shave… their balls ;).

      • LOL. But how could they SHOW their solidarity… I guess we’ll just have to take their words for it, eh? By the way, there is this video of Basta vs. Mobistar on YouTube that’s getting a lot of views.

        Yeah sorry. Since you are the only Belgian I know, now whenever I see something from Belgium, I’m like, “Oh I wonder what Lies thinks about this?!” I WILL NOT, I promise, ask you about Belgian chocolate… ;-)

      • Haha – this is not the Bible Belt ;). I’m sure that’s the point though, it would just be embarrassing to SEE the lack of support ;).

        And don’t worry about it, I think about you every time I hear about Asia ;p. I’d seen the clip, Basta is quite the rage right now back home, they actually managed to stop the nightly call-in quizzes a few weeks back too :). That’s the annoying thing about living in a country where they speak a language no one understands – you just can’t share the good stuff easily. Guess I found a new purpose in life: learn to make YouTube movies with subtitles ;).

        How much chocolate do you need? I can send it in an anonymous package ;).

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