NEWS:  June 28, 2010

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

THE BELLS OF SECESSION TOLLING IN BELGIUM  -  Before analyzing the situation in a country that may soon cease to exist, I have to answer a probable objection of my average American reader:

“Why should I care about what is going on in Belgium? Don’t you think that we have enough problems here? Then why should I be concerned about the problems of that faraway country?”

Let me try to answer this objection: Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but also the capital of the European Union (EU); hence, if Belgium breaks up into different parts, instead of being a center of stability ideal for hosting the EU, Brussels will enter the eye the hurricane.

Flemish separatist - flag

Above, a Flemish demonstration calling for a separate State; below, a Belgian flag burned in a separatist manifestation

Flemish separatist manifestations
Further, the break-up of Belgium into three or four different political parts would be more than just an institutional earthquake that would oblige the EU to look for another calmer city for its capital. It would immediately send a message to the secessionists in Brittany, Alsace-Lorraine, Pay Basque and Savoy in France, the Lombards in Italy, the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, and the Irish and Scots in the UK to break away as well. It could also add fire to the unending ethnic conflagrations in the tumultuous Yugoslavian Peninsula.

If we cross the Atlantic and reach the shores of the United States, one can also predict that the bells of secession that are tolling in Belgium will find a significant echo on American soil.

Wouldn’t the break-up of Belgium re-ignite secessionist sentiments in the Southern States that entered the Union in 1865 by force? It is not difficult to imagine that this kind of European turmoil could give ideas to secessionist groups in Texas and California, potentially self-sufficient States with economies greater than many European countries. In face of the increasingly chaotic national situation, they could well assume the same skeptical attitude that the Flemish are now taking with regard to the Belgian Federation, asking: “When will we stop paying for this mess?”

This is not to mention many other American States that are fed up with the growing socialist intrusion of the Obama administration into their regional affairs. They could turn a favorable ear toward those secessionist suggestions.

Perhaps now my American reader will agree that it is important to have an idea of what is going on in Belgium today to understand what may happen here tomorrow.

A quick look at Belgian history

Even though in American eyes, Belgium is a small country, almost each of its cities has a long history of autonomy and independence that goes back to the Middle Ages. Then, these were free cities governed by guilds or the upper bourgeois, many of them were turned principally to commerce. With time, small nobles sprung up in the different cities and regions. Each one of those units had its unique and complex past where traditions, privileges and treatises intermingled, giving it a personality that cannot be simply amalgamated with neighboring territories.

King Albert II of Belgium

Above, King Albert II hearing news on the crisis; below, the heir Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde risk not having a country to reign over

Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde
In many ways the same characteristics apply to all the Netherlands - Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg - the regions of Northern Europe that are below sea level.

In the 14th century, the House of Bourgogne began to strive to give certain political unity to the area. In the 16th century, Charles V, born in Ghent (in today’s Flanders) from a mother of the House of Bourgogne and a father of the House of Habsburg, brought the region under the control of the Habsburgs, a House famous for respecting the regional characteristics of their subjects.

At that time the Lutheran Reform was already promoting an exaggerated regional pride and “national” sentiments. Hence, the northern part of the Netherlands became Protestant and broke with the Catholic Crown of the Habsburgs, declaring its independence in 1568. It took the name of Kingdom of the Netherlands or the Dutch Republic (today’s Holland).

The southern part of the Netherlands remained Catholic, following the Habsburgs. Under the influence of the French Revolution (1789), it proclaimed itself the ‘United States of Belgium,’ but soon they were annexed by force into France by Napoleon. After his defeat, the Treatise of Vienna (1815) gave Belgium to Holland. In 1830, however, present day Belgium declared itself independent from Holland and adopted a constitutional monarchy, copied from France.

Since the French King was elected by the people and took the name the King of the French, in 1831 Leopold I did the same, calling himself the first King of the Belgians. Before him, a son of King Louis Philippe of France had been elected King by the newly installed Belgian Parliament, but international pressure (England’s veto) put a stop to that plan. So, the one chosen to be King was Leopold, a German noble who married Louise-Marie, the daughter of Louis Philippe. As one can see, the bonds between the new Belgian Monarchy and France were very close from the start.

When Belgium declared its independence, the southeast part of the province of Luxembourg did not follow suit. It remained a part of the Dutch monarchy. Later (1839) that territory would be recognized as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, an independent country.

In Belgium, the new political elite, strongly influenced by French and anti-Dutch sentiments, gave the control of the country to French-speaking Wallonia in the south, and not to the Dutch-speaking and most numerous and prosperous Flanders in the north. Brussels is in the Flanders territory and was a Dutch-speaking city until an effort was made during the 20th century to make it French-speaking.

The general policy of this united Belgium was to ignore and in many ways destroy the regional autonomies and organic characteristics of those old free cities. Instead, an artificial French predominance was established, generating understandable resentments in the Dutch-speaking parts.

When Belgium faced invasion by the Germans in WWI King, Albert I led a military resistance that delayed the German army and allowed France and England to prepare for the Battle of Marne. He emerged a hero. Something different happened in WWII when the Germans invaded Belgium. Leopold III took a position of compromise, which would oblige him to abdicate the throne to his son Baudouin after the war in 1951. The latter reigned until his death and was succeeded by the present-day King Albert II.

The present day political turmoil

Belgium has 10.5 million inhabitants, 1 million living in Brussels. Among its citizens, 55% are Dutch-speaking Flemish, 33% are French-speaking Wallons, 6% are Germans and 6% are Muslims.

Belgian map

Above, present day Belgium; below, a secession would bring Namur and Belgian Luxembourg to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (in yellow), the German territories (GM) to Germany, and Wallonia to France

Belgian map by regions
Flanders is in the North, and Wallonia in the South. Brussels is in Flanders, a little above the border line. Governed by a Socialist Party for decades, Wallonia’s economy is in very bad shape. To cover its constant deficit, Flanders has to bail out the South at a cost that reaches $10 billion per year.

Flanders is much more conservative, productive and politically organized. To prevent a natural Flemish dominance, however, a privilege was established giving the French-speaking Wallonia 51% of the power in Parliament and the right to veto any law that is not in its interest.

Elections were held last June 13, 2010, and the Flemish parties gained a majority in the two Houses, but not enough to govern without a coalition with the Socialists in the South.

In brief: the Flemish have the majority in population, a better economy and greater political representation, but it lacks the conditions to pass vital legislation and has to pay the annual deficit of Wallonia. The Wallons have a veto power that prevents the Flemish from gaining control of Belgium’s political arena. The fragile link that maintains unity between the two parts is the King. King Albert II is still respected and is managing to avoid one crisis after another.

In this unsteady situation, Flanders is on the brink of declaring itself an independent country.

If this happens, Wallonia has no conditions to establish itself as a new country. Most probably it will disintegrate. It is likely that the Belgian Luxembourg will merge with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, of which it was a part until 1831. It is also probable that the German territories of Wallonia - given to Belgian as a compensation for the German invasion in WWI - will feel free to return to Germany. The remaining part of Wallonia most likely will ask to become part of France. If one believes a poll taken in France in late 2007 by the Journal du Dimanche, 54% of the French are ready to accept it.

Still more complicated will be the future status of Brussels, situated inside Flemish territory, but French-speaking. Another problem is that today 25% of the inhabitants of Brussels are Muslims…

So, we are looking not only at the end of the Belgian Monarchy, but the end of Belgium itself, replaced by a new political situation born from secession.

Final appraisal

When one reads the Scripture he sees that at the time of the Babel Tower, mankind was on the brink of achieving a universal unity independent of God. But God punished those peoples by introducing into their minds the confusion of languages. With this, their plan was frustrated and came to an end.

Today we are seeing the Revolution encouraging all kinds of efforts to reach a universal unity without God. Europe as a whole is following this plan with the increasingly despotic EU. One wonders whether God will start to punish this revolutionary pretension. If this is the case, a chain explosion of regional secessions could be the beginning of a merited punishment.

Will this happen? Let us wait and watch.
Sources:
1. Almanaque Abril 2008, 34th ed.
2. "Belgian King Calls for Urgent Talks After PM's Quit Offer," The Tocqueville Connection, April 24, 2010;
3. Belgian general elections, 2010, Wikipedia
: 4. Paul Bellen, "Crisis in Belgium: If Flanders Secedes, Wallonia Disintegrates," The Brussels Journal;
5. Separatist Movements
6. "Si la Belgique Explosait," Point de Vue, December 12, 2007.
7. Philippe Delorme, "Un Royaume Mal Taille," Point de Vue, May 5, 2010.

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