Posted on: 2007-09-27 17:05:33
The Balkanization of Europe
by Nebojsa Malic
"The hour of Europe has dawned," declared pompously Luxembourg's foreign minister Jacques Poos in May 1991, as he led the negotiations that would begin the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Sixteen years hence, Yugoslavia's mutilated corpse is still haunting Europe, this time in Mr. Poos' front yard.
Luxembourg's neighbor to the west, Belgium, has been without a government for over 100 days. Tensions between the majority Flemings and minority Walloons have reached an impasse, and there is open talk of the country's dissolution. Politically, Belgium is beginning to look like Bosnia in 1991, before it plunged into brutal civil war.
The irony, of course, is that Belgium is the headquarters of both the European Union (Brussels), and NATO (Mons). Thus the fountainhead of "Euro-Atlantic integrations," pitched to post-Communist countries as the panacea for all their ills, can hardly keep itself integrated any more. If Belgium, a model for artificial states everywhere for over 170 years, cannot stay together, what fate does that portend for the EU? Most assuredly a grim one.
One Land, Two Peoples
Belgium was established in 1831 by the British, following a Francophone rebellion in what was then southern Netherlands. The Dutch-speaking Flemings and the French-speaking Walloons have been ruled by a German dynasty (cousins of the British royals) ever since, but their cohabitation has always been restive at best.
The most recent Belgian crisis began in June, when following the general elections no party was able to form a government. According to the country's constitution, a government must be composed of equal parts Flemings and Walloons; since the Flemings are some 60% of the population, and French-speaking Walloons make up 30%, it is clear that no government can be established without Walloon approval. The gap in policies and beliefs between the major Fleming and Walloon parties is so wide, however, they have been unable to reach any sort of agreement for over three months now.
Flemish politicians are riding the wave of popular discontent with what most Flemings perceive as Francophone oppression. Flanders contributes 70% of the country's GDP, but the Walloons consume 60% of it in welfare and subsidies. While Fleming parties are largely conservative, Francophone politicians are mostly left-liberal, and often make alliances with Muslim immigrants – which is another bone of contention in Belgium.
A protest against the Islamization of Europe, scheduled for September 11, was the only political demonstration in recent history actually banned by Brussels mayor Freddy Thielemans. Brussels police savagely attacked the protesters. Many of the demonstrators were from Flanders, and were set upon by Francophone riot police. Arguably, the brutality with which the Brussels authorities treated the protesters has further inflamed ethnic tensions in Belgium.
All this has led to Flemish politicians openly considering the dissolution of Belgium. Maps have already been drawn, covering just about every possibility, from two independent states to Flanders joining the Netherlands while Wallonia joins France.