Sunday, December 23, 2007

Trouble in Belgium

Belgium (somewhat like Iraq) is an artificially created state. From The Guardian ("Divided Belgians draw line at divorce") (I'm part French and part Dutch and have no opinion on this--as if anyone would care--but who likes a divorce?):

But the crucial issues still remain. In three months Belgians will once again have to confront the vexed question of what - if anything - they want left in the power of a central state that has already delegated a large measure of independence to the northern Flemings and to the southern French-speaking Walloons.

At the heart of the crisis is a long-lived and growing cultural antagonism that has been exacerbated rather than relieved by Belgium's decades-long project of devolution. Long ruled by a French-speaking minority elite who looked down on the Dutch language as unsophisticated[*], the Francophone ascendancy came to an end in the mid-Sixties, when the previously poorer agricultural north overtook a heavily industrialised south in the throes of the decline of its steel and coal industries.

Needing the support of the wealthier north, Belgium's corrupt and once monolithic Socialist party made the first steps towards trading greater cultural rights for Dutch language and education in exchange for economic assistance. It resulted in the establishment of the prejudices of Belgium's constitutional conflict: the southern Francophone Walloons are unproductive, lazy and rely on subsidies, while the Flemings are money-obsessed, conservative and xenophobic. . . .

*In Belgium, the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns is usually, but not always, maintained, with speakers and writers of West-Flemish descent using the common gender more than other Belgians. For a large number of words no clear division is determined, and dictionaries just indicate them as de-words. In the case of persons and animals of known sex the pronouns used are generally determined by the biological sex rather than by the grammatical gender of the word. There are exceptions here too. (From Wikipedia, emphasis added.)

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