Why the Belgian identity struggle could tear the country apart
It took almost 500 days of political haggling for Belgium to welcome a new coalition government led by Alexander De Croo. And this is the second time in 10 years that Belgians have seen this happen.
The deal was reached only by excluding the two main Flemish separatist movements N-VA and Vlaams Belang (Flemish interest) - the two main parties in the May 2019 elections.
Their exclusion could increase the pressure for the break-up of the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium and the French-speaking south. And yet, doubt was sown from the birth of Belgium in 1830.
Revolution that began during the Brussels Opera
When the advisers of William I, King of the Union of the Netherlands, were asked to choose an opera to play in his honor in the city of Brussels in 1830, they chose badly.
Brussels was then part of the Netherlands and was seething with resentment under a monarch who alienated Dutch-speaking Catholics with his vigorous Protestantism and French-speaking Walloons with his Dutch .
The opera chosen by the courtiers was a popular work of the time - La Muette de Portici (Mute girl of Portici) - which tells the story of an uprising in Naples against the reign of the King of Spain.
Quite strange subject to celebrate the reign of an unpopular king over a population on fire.
At a prearranged signal in an aria called Sacred Love of Country, the revolutionaries shut down the show, took to the streets, and started a revolution - and with it a long saga of confused identities that lingers on at this time. day.
What future now?
This question of identity threatens to raise questions about the sustainability of the Kingdom of Belgium, 10 years from its 200th anniversary.
When I asked Peter de Roover, parliamentary leader of the moderate Flemish nationalists of the N-VA, about the history of the revolution, he was not impressed.
“Bad opera”, he said to me, “bad country”.
Mr. de Roover's serious point was that the language groups in the Joint Uprising did not have much in common and this created a strained political relationship that persists to this day.
His party's anger is immediately focused on the fallout from the 2019 parliamentary elections, in which his party came first and the far-right movement Vlaams Belang second, but does not appear in the new government.
“Sixty percent of Belgians are Flemish, two-thirds of national wealth is created in Flanders and their majority is not reflected in this government,” he complains. For him, it is an anti-democratic scandal.
Is there a future for Belgium?
The new government which Mr de Roover opposes is a seven-party coalition which includes Greens, Socialists and Liberals in a marriage of convenience with Flemish Christian Democrats.
For the demonstrators I met at a Vlaams Belang rally on the outskirts of Brussels, the months of negotiations proved that the Belgian state had simply taken its course.
Kelly, a middle-aged man who has come a long way to be there, said: “It is better for Flanders to be independent, because in Flanders the right wins and in the (French-speaking) south it is the left. "
When I asked him how long he thought Belgium would exist, he simply replied: “As long as the politicians don't listen to the people”.
That doesn't necessarily mean the Belgian idea is dead, however.
Peter de Roover, for example, could imagine a future in which he would remain as a sort of umbrella identity over two essentially independent states of Flanders and Wallonia. There could be a federal army, he suggested, but not a federal police force.
Bridges between Belgian communities
There is certainly a certain pride in the Belgian national football team, the Red Devils, although several Dutch speakers we met said they were rather drawn to the support of the Dutch team.
There are bridges between the two largest communities. There is no longer a single national broadcasting service, although separate channels are provided to the different language groups, Dutch, French and German.
Joyce Azar - a committed Belgian - has for mission to appear on both the Flemish VRT and the French RTBF, and tells her French-speaking audience what is in the news in Flanders.
The agendas for general news in Flanders and Wallonia are also totally different. When the great Francophone singer Annie Cordy passed away recently, it was the headline of Francophones and barely a footnote in Flanders.
Joyce Azar points to unifying factors like the national football team and the King, but you get the feeling that she's operating a kind of airlift for a woman across a growing gap.
'The question is real'
She can see the political dangers that lie ahead.
“There will be new elections in 2024,” she told the BBC. “There could be a bad outcome for Belgium if the parties calling for Flemish independence got a majority - they could demand independence for Flanders. More and more, the question is real. "
It may seem extraordinary that in a stable and prosperous Western Europe, a real question mark hangs over the future existence of a democratic state.
But think of the fate of the opera La Muette de Portici, victim of the evolution of tastes and eras and which more or less ended up in the dustbin of history.
Who can say that the country whose revolution he inspired will not follow itself one day?
This article appeared first on: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54378950