Finally, here is the promised post on Belgium – delayed not only by personal circumstances, but even more by the time it took me to talk to a dozen of people more knowledge on the Belgian situation. Writing this post made it very clear that one should never trust one single source when he or she is talking about Belgium – chances are very high that only a partial (and thereby biased) analysis is offered. So I talked to people from both sides of the language border, spent hours on websites from both Flemish and French Belgian newspapers and other media, and tested my draft ideas on Belgians from all persuasions.
Below the fold my list of the main ingredients of the Belgian cocktail (warning: very long post!).
But I have to start with two disclaimers. First, there will be virtually no mentioning in what follows of the German-speaking community in Belgium, which comprises about 70.000 inhabitants; as far as I could see, they are not playing any significant role in the current crisis. Second, I want to stress that I am not an expert on Belgian politics, federalism, nationalism or any other of these related matters: professionally I have never looked into these issues. So what follows is written by someone who simply tried to understand what is going on, but who has no personal stake in this (such as: I have no politically active family members and have no intention to return to Belgium in the foreseeable future so don’t have to mind my words). And I am more than happy to be corrected for any factual mistakes or significant omissions by those more knowledgeable.
So what are the ingredients of the Belgian cocktail that explain the current crisis and the more structural and long-term political tensions in this country?
1. Institutional background: Belgium has a complicated institutional structure. It is a federal state with three communities and three regions: the Flemish, French and German-speaking communities, and the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital region. The federal state is responsible for all affairs that are independent of language, culture and regional territory (such as foreign affairs, justice, finance, social security and public health), the communities are responsible for all issues related to language, culture and education, and the regions for issues related to the territories (such as the environment and employment policies). Important to note is that the regions and the communities overlap but do not coincide: the French-speaking community lives in the Walloon region and comprises a very large share of the Brussels-Capital region; the Walloon region entails not only a large share of the French-speaking but also the entire German-speaking community; and the Flemish community is present in the Flemish region and also (a little bit) in the Brussels-Capital region. There is no German-speaking region: for the regional issues in the areas where the German-speaking Belgians live, the Walloon region has jurisdiction. And there is no Brussels Community: the people living in Brussels can choose whether they want to rely on Flemish and/or French community institutions, such as schools and cultural centres.
2. Demography: There are 10.5 million inhabitants in Belgium. About 1 million in the Brussels-Capital region, 3.4 million inhabitants in the Walloon region, and well above 6 million inhabitants in the Flemish region. So the Flemish are the majority group in Belgium; however, they are only a very small fraction of the inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital region. I haven’t been able to find official statistics, and have been told by several political scientists that the census no longer asks whether a person considers herself to belong to the Flemish- or Frenchspeaking community, but that the best indicator is the percentage of the votes given to the Flemish parties in the Brussels-Capital region: this would be about 10%. In short, the Brussels region belongs to both the French and Flemish communities, but the absolute majority is Francophone – although one should also not forget that a significant share of the inhabitants in Brussels is not Dutch- or Frenchspeaking at all (they may or may not hold a Belgian passport, but their primary national identities would be non-Belgian). Yet, to complicate matters further, the share of the Flemings among the people who work in Brussels is much higher: many Flemings commute daily to Brussels to work, but don’t live there.
3. A federal state without federal political parties: In Belgium, the parties that take part in the federal elections are the same parties that take part in the regional elections. There are no Belgian-wide parties: there are only Flemish, French and German parties. As a consequence, the political agenda of the federal elections is very prone to be influenced by regional interests and agenda’s. At the last federal elections, several of the main Flemish parties were running on a strong Flemish-interests agenda, and made promises that if elected they would defend some specific Flemish interests that are not in the interests of the French community (such as splitting the voting district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, see below). As a consequence, the parties that are now negotiating about the formation of the federal government are having regional interests in the backs of their heads. In addition, this also leads to some remarkable dynamics in the case of the man who got the most votes, Yves Leterme, on which more below.
4. The Flemish border communes around Brussels: Geographically speaking, Brussels is an enclave in Flanders. However, in the Flemish border communes around Brussels, the share of inhabitants who do not speak any Dutch is very high. These are not just francophone Belgians, but also foreigners who are working for the many international organisations and companies based in Brussels – and these people generally speak English and French, but no Dutch at all. The are often well-paid employees, and prefer to live in the green areas around Brussels, rather than in Brussels itself; as a consequence, the descendents of the original Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Flemish border communes claim that they are no longer able to afford living there. But it should be added that at the personal level this is as much a problem for descendents of the original French-speaking Brussels inhabitants: Eurocrats earn about double the wages of ordinary Belgians in similar functions, and thus they are crowding out the ‘natives’. Since Eurocrats are much more likely to speak French than Dutch, the area becomes more French-dominated.
Another problem is that in 1962, when the language border was fixed, certain ‘facilities’ (special rights) were granted to the French-speaking inhabitants, which formed a minority at that time. But what has happened, is that these special rights were not, as some argue they should have been, rights that would slowely fade out; instead, they have basically turned Flemish territory into an area where French inhabitants have special language rights, which took away the incentives for them to learn the official language of that territory – Dutch.
So there is resentment from the Flemings regarding the Flemish border communes around Brussels on several grounds – one being the fact that people live in their territory but don’t bother to speak Dutch; the other is that the purchasing power of some of those people is making it impossible for ordinary Flemings to continue living there. But there is also irritation from the Francophone Belgians. They argue that the local administrations in those communes are making the lives of those who don’t speak Dutch unnecessarily difficult, and are enforcing the “language laws” very strictly. These Flemish border communes have been and continue to be the stage of lots of political contestation – as the next point will show…
5. Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde/Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde: Flemish politicians do not like the fact that the increasing number of francophones in the border communes around Brussels are changing the demographic-linguistic profile. But there is more going on. According to the 2002 laws concerning the Belgian electoral system, the 19 communes that constitute Brussels and the Flemish communes of Halle and Vilvoorde (recall, in which live many Francophones), together form one election district, called Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (in Dutch) or Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde (in French). BHV, as it is often abbreviated, has become a pivotal battle ground in the current political crisis. In 2003, a Belgian constitutional court decided that the current voting legislation in BHV is unconstitutional, since the inhabitants of the Flemish communes Halle and Vilvoorde can also vote for French parties, which is not possible in other Flemish communes and hence citizens are treated unequally. So the Flemish parliament has urged the immediate split of BHV, with Halle and Vilvoorde becoming part of the Flemish electoral districts. This would reinforce (or perhaps better, restore) the Flemish character of these communes. But for the Walloon and Francophone Bruxellois (inhabitants from Brussels) this would be an unfavorable development, since it would strenghten the enclaved character of Brussels, and deny what they regard as the rights of the francophones in those communes. Of course, it is clear that something has to happen, since the unconstitutional nature of the current laws makes it impossible to organise the next elections (in 2009). Some francophone politicians are unwiling to negotiate about the split of BHV, others are only willing to negotiate about splitting BHV if the Flemish are willing to talk about compensation, for example they could give up some officially flemish communes around Brussels that are dominated by the francophones, which would be added to the Brussels-Capital region. Interestingly, the Flemish politicians present this case as if there can be no negotiations, since this is a legal verdict that has to be implemented. But that is simply not true. There are a range of different ways to solve the unconstitutional nature of the current situation in BHV, and the Flemish parties present it as if the split of BHV is the only possible solution, and doesn’t require any negotiations about compensations (I’ll spare you the dizzying details of the other legal solutions that are possible – perhaps someone with a better stomach for electoral laws will be happy to explain more in the comments sections). I’ve been surprised to see that the Flemish journalists tend to copy this view as if the split of BHV is an unavoidable consequence, that simply follows from a legal verdict; that seems to be just another instance of the uncritical attitude of the media in Belgium towards anything said by the politicans from their communes (this, unfortunately, is as much true for the French press, in my experience). The upshot of the incredible complicated case is at least twofold: first, the two communities are basically fighting for territory, and second, it illustrated the key role of Brussels in the Belgian drama.
6. Non-coinciding regional and national elections: In Belgium five different kinds of elections are held: at the local level, the provincial level, the regional and community level, the federal level, and elections for the European Parliament. But these do not coincide. Federal elections are held every 4 years, but elections for the regions and communities every 5 years, together with the European elections. Local elections are every 6 years. A possible consequence is that the coalitions formed at one level are different from those at another level: the problem of asymmetric governments.
7. Asymmetric governments: Governments in Belgium, both the federal and the regional ones, are always made up from coalitions. But these coalitions are not the same in all governments. In part this is due to the non-coinciding elections, in part this is also due to the fact that the parties do not have the same size at both sides of the language border. For example, the Flemish Christian democrats are the biggest party in Flanders, but are a rather small party within Francophone Belgium. Flanders also has a considerable extreme-right seperatist party, Vlaams Belang (which, ironically, is receiving some votes from Francophones in Brussels thanks to their security and anti-muslim agenda), whereas there is no such political factor in Wallonia. So these asymmetries create difficult situations. For examples, at the last regional elections the Christian Democratic Parties became part of the regional governments in Flanders and Wallonia, but they were part of the opposition in the Federal Government (which was made up from the (Flemish and French) Social Democratic Parties, and the (Flemish and French) Liberal Parties). This can lead to strange party-dynamics, which in the present crisis of the negotiations the federal level are also an explanatory factor why there is still no Belgian government. For example, the French Christian Democratic Party (CDH) is currently part of the government of the Walloon region, together with the French Social-Democratic Party (PS). But at the last federal elections, the PS (and its Flemish sisterparty SP) lost many seats, such that the current negotiations at the federal level are between the Christian Democratic parties and the liberal parties. This leads to the difficult situations for parties that are in different positions at the different levels. CDH is part of the center-left coalition at the Walloon regional level, but is negotiating to become part of a center-right government at the federal level. Since the voters are likely not to make a distinction between whether the acts of parties are made in their capacities as rulers at the federal versus the regional levels, it may be very difficult for any particular party to be in a center-right coalition at one level, and a center-left at another level.
8. Elections 2007 – two cartels: To make matters even more complicated, the Flemish Christian Democratic party CD&V formed a cartel with NVA, a small nationalist Flemish party (which, however, should not be confused with Vlaams Blok, the large extreme-right Flemish nationalist party which is not only nationalist but also racist, islamophobic and extremely conservative). At the French side, the French liberal party MR formed a cartel with the small Brussels French Party FDF, which is a radical party defending the interests of the French speaking community in Brussels. Perhaps this was a voting-maximising strategy for CD&V and MR, but when last month they were trying to negotiate at the federal level, these two smaller radical French and Flemish parties were making the negotiations much more polarised and difficult. Two small radical parties that are vigorously defending the interests of only one language community are now around the federal negotiation table, and cannot be simply put aside since they established cartels with large Center-parties.
9. Yves Leterme and the rest of the leadership: Another factor adding to the current crisis are the personal character and behaviour of some key politicians. The leader of the biggest party, the Flemish Christian Democratic party CD&V, Mr. Yves Leterme, was until recently the prime minister at the Flemish level. He ran in the last federal elections, and received 800.000 votes behind its name, which is (even historically) a lot for a small country like Belgium (however, he was the head of the list, which means that many people who simply want to vote on the party in general will also have voted for him). But he ran on an explicit Flemish-agenda campagain. Both his past and a range of statements he has made in the press make it clear that his heart lies in Flanders and not at the federal level; and even though the Francophone press are doing their best of only highlighting his pro-flemish attitudes, one can reasonably wonder whether someone who is so focussed on the regional level and displays very little sympathy for the perspective of the other community should aspire to be the prime minister of the entire country. But the problem lies not just with this one man: the present generation political leaders in Belgium are virtually all leaders who developed their careers at the regional level. Moreover, in the past the politicians of both communities met and talked to eachother frequently; there was a national political elite, who were trained in making compromises and putting the interests of Belgium first. Among the new generation politicians, these people are very rare – which also explains why at the federal level the current negotiations are being so difficult at present.
10. Divided socio-economic worlds: Belgium is an affluent society. But this aggregate image hides what Flemish politicians have increasingly stressed in the last years: Flanders is doing much better socio-economically than Wallonia. The previous prime-minister of the Flemish region, Yves Leterme, published a document (called Belgium is doing better thanks to Flanders) in which a number of key social and economic indicators were disaggregated by region. Here are some of these figures (all amounts are in Euros) from this report (page reference of the report between brackets):
GDP per head (purchasing power parity) in 2005: Belgium: 27.700 – Brussels 54.905 – Flanders 27.300 – Wallonia 19.800. Now this is interesting, since it gives the impression that the really rich people live in Brussels. But this is a deceiving conclusion: Brussels has many relatively poor people, but it also has many companies whose employees live in the Walloon region and, especially, in Flanders. And even this needs to be nuanced, since most large Belgian companies who have, say, 2000 offices or shops spread over the country, have their headoffice in Brussels, which is where the sales and profits are officially put into the books. So these regional GDP figures do need to be interpreted with care.
However, the fact that the inhabitants of Brussels and the Walloon region are on average worse off, can be seen if one looks at other social indicators, such as unemployment and poverty rates:
Unemployment rate early 2007: Belgium: 11.8% – Brussels 20,4% – Flanders 6.9% – Wallonia 11.8% (p. 7).
Long-term unemployment rate in 2005: Belgium 4.4% – Brussels 9.2% – Flanders 2.2% – Wallonia 6.9% (p. 26).
Poverty risk after financial transfers (2004): Belgium: 14.9% – Brussels 27% – Flanders 11.3% – Wallonia 17.7%. (p. 26).
There are also inequalities in educational performance listed in this document:
Quality of secondary education: according to the results from the PISA study, Belgium has relatively good rankings for mathematics, reading, problem solving and science (8, 12, 11 and 14th position) – but these results are much better in Flanders (1, 3, 4 and 5th position) than in Wallonia (24, 31, 24 and 33th position).
Percentage of the population between 20 and 24 years old who have finished secondary education (2005): Belgium: 81.8% – Brussels 72.5% – Flanders 85.1% – Wallonia 79%.
What should one make of those figures? It’s unlikely that they are plainly false – the only one where I know there is lots of debate about the actual size will be discussed in the next point; but what is not unlikely is that the Flemish government has only presented those figures that are positive for her own image. I haven’t been able to find a similar report on the website of the Walloon region, but invite anyone who has found interesting (and preferably non-contested) statistics to add them in the comments section. In any case, what those figures (and others that are in scholarly books that are not on-line) do indicate is that in terms of where people live, Flanders is richer than the Brussels-Capital or Walloon region, but that in terms of productive units, Brussels is the chicken with the golden eggs. Inhabitants of both Flanders and the Walloon region both profit from the employment (and thus income generating) opportunities in Brussels – which, as some argue, is one reason why neither Flanders nor the Walloon region wants to split the country if that means they have to give up Brussels.
11. Financial transfers and solidarity: Given the inequality in economic welfare, it is not surprising that there are significant financial transfers from Flanders to Wallonia and Brussels. One way to look at this issue is to look at the total personal taxation revenue collected in the different parts of Belgium: 2.8 Billion is collected from households in Brussels, 9.2 Billion from Wallonia, and 21.3 billion from Flanders (p. 34). To the best of my knowledge, this concerns tax incomes for the federal level. Not surprisingly, the Flemish parties have put on their electoral agenda a partial split of the fiscal system. In the popular political discourse, the reference is often made to the “North-South transfers” within Belgium. The figure on hears most often in the media is that the financial transfer through the fiscal and social security systems from the Flemish to the Francophone would amount to 12 billion euro annually; but this figure has been calculated by a separatist group of Flemish entrepreneurs, and its methodology is strongly contested. Yet this figure is repeated frequently in the Flemish media and thus is shaping the public discourse and political attitudes of the citizens. I think it is much safer to look at official figures. According to the above mentioned report by the Flemish government (p. 10), the transfers from Flanders would be 5.4 billion Euro to Wallonia, and 1.2 billion Euro to Brussels, totalling 6.6 billion Euro in 2003. The big question is whether these transfers should be considered large or not. Most Flemish political parties think that they are too large, and that something needs to be done about them. For American (and other) readers who may perhaps wonder what the fuss is about: these amounts may be peanuts on the budget of a large country such as the USA, yet recall that Flanders has just above 6 million inhabitants, so the “solidarity from North to South” (as it is often called in the press) amounts to more than 1000 Euro per person annually. The Flemish nationalist parties, both the democratic ones and the extreme-right one, continue to remind the Flemish electorate of this constantly. On the other hand, it is far from clear that these are excessive transfers when compared with other inter-regional transfers within Europe. In addition, there have been occasional references to transfers in the other direction in the past. But when searching for hard facts, I haven’t been able to find any reference, nor have the people I’ve asked been able to direct me to a reliable source. So it remains unclear whether this is a true fact, or rather a myth. What is certainly the case is that the Walloon region was much more economically prosperous than Flanders around 1850, and that Flemings were working in the prosperous industrial economy of the Walloon region. But there was no social security system in place that created direct income transfers between individuals and households. A final remark on the topic of financial transfers and solidarity: the Flemish political parties who are constantly reminding the electorate of these fiscale transfers never mention that Brussels is indirectly a significant source of welfare generation for both Flanders and the Walloon region, in terms of the employment it provides to flemish and walloon people. A partial discourse on fiscal transfers may perhaps look different, even politically, if it is complemented with other dimensions of the strong inter-regional interdependence in Belgium. Of course, job creation is something else than direct financial transfers, but the impression that some Flemish separatists try to create, that Flanders can do everything by itself, is dubious. If the country would split up and Brussels would no longer be partially part of Flanders, then either those companies and jobs would have to move from Brussels to Flanders, or else the economic welfare of a significant number of Flemings would depend on jobs “abroad”.
12. The politics of language: Language is a strong point of resentment and injury for the Flemish. In the history of the country, the elite was French-speaking: until 40 years ago, the Flemish students were taught by professors who spoke French. It was almost impossible to get a job in the federal public service or in politics if one was not able and willing to work in French. The message that Flemish pupils and students received until not so long ago, was that it was absolutely necessary for one’s future to be fluent in French. This situation has not been symmetrical: the French-speaking Belgians often knew very little or no Dutch. Philippe Van Parijs (p. 38) cites 1999 data on the linguistic competence of Belgians in the second major Belgian language: francophone Belgians are much less likely to state that they master Dutch compared with Flemish reporting they know French, and among younger generations this divide is only bigger, rather than smaller. There are signs, though, that the Flemish are investing less in learning French, and are much easier satisfied with their intermediate level of knowledge then in the past. And figures such as those just mentioned are always a little suspect, since self-reported data can be biased in many ways. Nevertheless, I think there is little disagreement that many more Flemish master French compared with the knowledge of Dutch among the francophone Belgians. At the symbolic level, it doesn’t help that the royal family, probably the symbol of Belgium, is entirely Francophone, and that many of the key Royals speak rather poor Dutch. The Flemish are irritated for at least two reasons. Firstly, they feel as if their language, and thus their culture, is treated with disrespect (for readers who have no empathy at all for the notion that language can be political and can be an issue of justice, go and read Philippe Van Parijs.) Secondly, the Flemings argue that the Francophone Belgians would improve their employment chances and economic prospects if they would invest more in learning Dutch. But, as one commentator on the website of Le Soir wrote, “there is nothing in the constitution that obliges us to learn Dutch.”
13. Divided worlds: According to some Belgians from both sides of the language borders, including for example Wilfried Dewachter, a Flemish professor emeritus in political science, the Flemish and French communities in Belgium form different societies. They hardly know eachother, don’t watch eachother’s television or read eachother’s newspapers, don’t know about the political and societal agenda’s of the other community. They have different celebrities, and their prime orientation is towards different parts of the world (Flanders towards Northern Europe and the anglophone world, French Belgium much more towards France). They don’t know what plays in eachother’s cities, and apart from holidays at the Flemish coast or the beautiful Walloon countryside, they do not visit eachother’s cities. Some Flemings take political affairs, such as the string of corruption scandales among the Parti Socialiste, as yet another sign that they are simply a different people from the Walloon, not just in terms of language but also in terms of political culture. In Flanders, there is a widespread perception that the public mismanagement in the Walloon region is also part of a cultural difference, and that this mismanagement is part of what causes the need for the financial transfers – which further explains why these transfers are considered a political issue.
Perhaps the different worlds in which the Flemish and the Francophone live is the greatest threat for the unity of Belgium. And it also puts the interregional transfers in another daylight, since one could argue that the key strategy for maintaining financial solidarity in culturally diverse countries is ordinary interaction between ordinary citizens of the different cultural/linguistic groups (as argued in a slightly different context by Phillippe Van Parijs, p. 385). Apart from those who live or work in Brussels, there is very little such interaction left.
14. Divided media: These worlds apart became already painfully visible in December last year in the weeks following the media-stunt by the RTBF, the French public television, in which they simulated the end of Belgium. Suddenly the Flemish and French Belgians realised that they really don’t know eachother very well. There was an initiative from two newspapers, Le Soir and De Standaard to send journalists to eachother’s offices and to report about the daily lives at the other side of the language border; but apart from that initiative, there have been few signals that Belgians from both language communities have made sustained attempts to better understand eachother’s positions. A very worrying development in recent weeks has been the reporting on the crisis in the media: the French and Flemish media given often entirely conflicting interpretations of the same events. When the first coalition negotations were aborted at the end of August, the French media blamed Yves Leterme and the arrogance of the Flemings, whereas the Flemish media blamed the stubborness and unreasonableness of the French, especially of CDH. Anyone who understands both Dutch and French should spend a few hours reading the readers’ comments on the websites of Le Soir and De Standaard: there is from both sides almost no understanding, let alone any sympathy, for the position of the other community. To me, this was perhaps the biggest surprise (and shock) when reading in preparation for this post: listening to Francophone and Flemish politicians, or to the French and Flemish media in general, or to the comments by their readers, feels like listening to two spouses who are going to divorce, and blame the other party for everything that went wrong. A politician who is making reasonable demands or a plausible analysis in the eyes of the media of one language group, is being an extremist or unreasonable person through the eyes of the others.
This fact of divided media has international implications, since there is every reason to think (as Van Parijs also argues) that the international arena gets its information on Belgium through the Francophone media, not through the Flemish media. The logical consequence would be that the reporting on Belgium in the international media is very prone to be as biased as the francophone press – very biased, that is (it wouldn’t be any better if they would only read the Flemish press, though).
15. A one-sided divorce? Yet the metaphore of the divorce needs to be adapted, since the francophone Belgians are much less supportive of the idea of regional independence or a further shift of responsibilities and rights to the regional levels. When I asked Belgian friends, one who is francophone and the other who is bilingual with a francophone spouse, both said that from the perspective of the French community Flanders is acting as if it is initiating a divorce that the francophones don’t want. Francophone Belgians are much more likely to say that their primary identity is Belgian rather than Walloon or Bruxellois, compared with the Flemish. They don’t understand at all why a proportion of the Flemish have the feeling that they are in a forced marriage from which they would like to escape. They are much more satisfied with the way things are, and don’t want to be confronted with a new wave of federal state reform every five or ten years that further deconstructs the body of Belgium, and gives powers and prerogatives to the regions and communities. Many also feel cheated by the Flemings, since every time there has been an agreement on state reform, they think this will now be the last wave – but before too long the Flemings are putting new demands on the table. Moreover, in the French press there is a strong sentiment that in the past these state reform agreements have been forced upon the frenchspeaking population – in part because their financial needs made them more vulnerable to accept political deals of a state reform that the Flemish wanted in return for financial support for the Francophone Belgians (such as investments in the Walloon economy or social infrastructure). Finally, quite some francophone Belgians no longer trust the Flemish when they say that they now want to negotiate about a state reform which would be needed to make the economy more competitive and safeguard our level of welfare; they are worried that there is a hidden agenda of seperatism which is broadly shared among the Flemish politicians, and that their current demands in the formation of the new federal government (that is, if we will get one!) are yet another step on the way to the end of Belgium.
16. Scenarios for the future: We are 101 days after the elections, and there is no federal government in sight at all. The political trust is at what seems an all-time low, and statements in the media do not show any movement towards compromises, from either side. A poll conducted yesterday by a Flemish newspaper shows that almost half of all Flemings want to split up the country, and two thirds believe that it is going to happen sooner or later. Is this the most likely scenario for the future? As far as I can judge, basically anything can happen (apart from a violent independence, which is extremely unlikely to be the case). At this moment, there is still no federal government in sight, and it remains unclear if and when this crisis will be resolved. Yet what the current political crisis did put under the spotlights are some structural factors that have remained hidden for too long – such as the growing apart of the two communities, the (unintended?) consequences of the creation of the regions and communities in the 1990s, the slow dissappearance of a truly Belgian (rather than French or Flemish) political elite, and the incredible differences in media-coverage. If we want Belgium to continue to exist in the long run, it is clear that we do need some solutions for these problems too, and not just a new federal government.
Before I go, a closing comment. Many Belgians have strong feelings about what is going on, but have often biased and partial information, and make little effort to understand the point of view and the feelings of ‘the other side’. I have tried to avoid this, by spending lot of time to get the most reliable version of all facts, and asking francophone Belgians to explain me their sensitivities, priorities, and points of view (these are the main reason why it too me so long to write this post). Yet I do not doubt that this post will nevertheless remain subjective, since so many of the sensitivities described above are difficult to understand if one is not part of this particular group. There are insights that are hard to understand if one has never lived through them. Moreover, I have no illusions: in this game one will always be suspect for some party. I invite all those who think that my views as expressed in this post are biased to correct this bias in the comments section – but please: No shouting, no insults, and no extremist propaganda that is not based on arguments. Any such comments will be removed without mercy.