The Spine

For Sale: Belgium


Belgium is in the news. When was the last time that Belgium was in the news?

An Associated Press dispatch early this morning reported that a Belgian had put his country up for sale on E-Bay. Of course, ownership
would also entail taking on the enormous national debt, pegged at $300 billion. E-Bay took the country off the dock when the bidding had gone to $14 million.

Of course, one of the reasons that Belgium was up for sale was that the country has been without a government for 101 days after the elections. If you'll pardon my theme from other regions, one the reasons Belgium can't form a government is that its people do not constitute a nation. Not quite like Lebanon or Iraq. But pretty close.

All of this is explained in Tuesday's Financial Times: "Culture clash may break up Belgium." Linguistic differences help define the split, and have for many decades. There are the Dutch-speaking majority Flemish in the north, industrious, prosperous, averse to underwriting the Francophone minority Walloons in the south, a bit on the lazy side and living in a retarded society. There are also a relatively small number of
German-speakers, whose last days of glory were when King Leopold III surrendered to Hitler in, maybe, 20 minutes. Brussels is officially a bi-lingual area.

The irony of all this is that Belgium is where the European Community is headquartered, with its corporatist bureaucracy and impatience with both democracy and national culture. The Flemish majority sees the future of all nations in the E.C., and its instinct is to break out of, first, the artifice of Belgium and then probably of the Community itself. Others will follow. Others have actually preceded separatists: the Czechs and the Slovaks, the Scots and the Brits. A column by Robin Shepherd in the same issue of the FT takes these developments quite casually. I am not so sure.

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