In December 2006 the Belgian public television station RTBF broadcast a spoof news programme that reported that the Flanders region had unilaterally declared independence. Belgian was no more. It was meticulously planned over several months, with pre-recorded interviews prepared with some politicians. In echoes of the 1938 Orson Welles’s broadcast of War of the Worlds, thousands of viewers rang the station, and even foreign ambassadors in Brussels were taken in. I am reliably informed that the end of the broadcast showed footage of US troops coming in to provide a stabilisation force.
Under criticism the station defended itself by suggesting it was a useful method to highlight an issue that could become reality. This view is being confirmed at the moment.
There have always been tensions in Belgium. The Flemish section were the underdogs in the country for many years, as the rich industrial Francophone south dominated the economy and politics of the country. Declines in the steel industry and mining, and a move towards a service economy have moved the economic centre to the Flemish half of the country. The Flemish side now feel little sympathy with the South, seeing them as a burden they could do without. One can see similar attitudes developing in the English to the devolved Scottish nation, or even in some think tanks reports on Northern England, but Belgium’s instability seems to be reaching a crisis point.
The current Prime Minister of Belgium, Yves Leterme, is a Flemish partisan, who has variously compared the Francophone RTBF to the Tutsi radio station that was involved in the genocide in Rwanda, complained about French people not making the effort to speak Dutch, and could not accurately sing the national anthem of Belgium. In fact, he sang La Marseillaise, which could either be due to ignorance and stupidity, or a possible deliberate policy of provocation.
The French-speaking Brussels, marooned in Flemish territory, may require a corridor to the French speaking South, since many of the French-speaking Southerners look to be part of France, although it is not clear France wants them or the costs associated with them.
The WSWS provide an interesting commentary, noting that NATO is now involved in more than one unstable state. It also notes the pressure from right-wing anti-immigrant groups such as the Vlaams Belang.
Perhaps Belgium has had its last mayonnaise chips.