Belgium... How sick art thou?

At 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, a terrible train crash happened very close to Brussels. They don’t really know why yet... Maybe a train driver run a red light. Maybe the red light was not working. Maybe the other train driver was going too fast...

Well anyway, two trains filled with commuters crashed (thank gooodness, the schools were closed). At first it was said that it had been a head-on collision. Then they discovered that the two trains got at the same time at a switch and so it had been a lateral collision. Then a third train piled up too (no one ever said which way it was going).

Tens of dead commuters. People still missing. Hundreds of mangled people. Innocent people going to work, commuting to Brussels for the day.

So there we are. You’d think this is a national tragedy for Belgium. Wrong, my friends.

Belgium has become a very sick country where dead and hurt people are not Belgians but Flemish and Walloons... Now Belgium has really become a tribal country.

The accident took place in a Flemish part of Belgium (the Flemish Brabant - by the way, there is also a Walloon Brabant). Very close to Brussels which is enclosed into the Flemish Brabant.

One train was coming from Flanders. The other one from Wallonia.

Right after the accident, the governor of the Flemish Brabant made a very official statement: «Today is a day of bereavement for Flanders.»

Thank you, Mr. Governor, for the Walloons who got killed and maimed in the accident too. Thank you for your care and mourning about Belgians who died and were maimed in this horrible accident.

I know many people wonder why I do not like living in Belgium. Well, there it is. In 1998, hatred between the two speech communities was perceptible. In 2010, it’s more than real and every once in a while, they talk about partition for language problems... actually more because of  economic problems.

Those problems go way back to the XIXth century when Belgium was created, kind of flared up from time to time during the XXth century. Now we are on the verge of explosion.

I’ll try to make it short.

Belgium is a very small country (about the size of Brittany) but it is the heart of Europe.

Belgium has a king who has almost no power but who garantees the existence of the country, sort of. 

In Belgium, unless I’m wrong, all elections are proportional which implies
long negociations between the political parties before they get a government in action. This is true from city halls to the federal government.

Belgium is a federal state made up of communities and regions.

There are 3 communities: The French Community, The Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community (-/+ 12.000 people in Limbourg).

There are 3 regions: The Walloon Region, The Flemish Region and The Brussels Region (called «Brussels Capital»).

There are 4 speech communities: the french-speaking community, the flemish-speaking community, the german-speaking community and the bilingual «Brussels Capital» community.

Are you still following? We are talking about a country the size of Brittany!

In Belgium, there are 4 governments: the Federal Government (i.e. the Belgian government over Belgium)*, the Flemish Government, both of them choosing Brussels as their Capital. Then there is the Walloon Government (with Namur as its capital). And last but not least the Brussels Capital government (and its own capital of course: Brussels again). All of them have a real government. Ok, ok, ok, mental calculation... Go! And dont’ forget the language barriers.

There was a joke in Brussels, told to foreigners like us who were appalled at the decay so apparent everywhere... «Every Belgian or so is a state employee working in an office. We don’t have time to care about freeways, roads, buildings, railways, etc.» And then a shrug. Being Belgian is being wise or resigned to his fate.

Don’t forget to add the thousands of employees of the European Community and you’ve got almost the right picture!

I think things started getting very bad, some sort of a painful awakening, in 2001.
A train crash which could have been avoided if two walloon and flemish employees had been able to understand each other and communicate. By the time, someone found a bilingual employee, it was too late.
They call it the Pécrot tragedy. No longer the worst tragedy, alas but very revealing of the deep malaise in Belgium.

I’m not saying that the problem is all flemish... When French-speaking Wallonia was rich and powerful, it mistreated the Flemish part. Now that Wallonia is getting poorer and Flanders is much wealthier, guess what happens!

There is also the fact that the governments, present and past, never imposed bilingualism (french/flemish) to Belgium (including all communities and regions)...

Somehow, it may never have worked at all. Bilingual Brussels is torn apart.

Well, this is a very short story about Belgium.
Besides the fact that this tragedy starts revealing a lot of malfunctions 
in the railway system (one of the trains was 50 years old) with no putting into practice European safety regulations, etc., it will probably lead to something much worse: the complete break-down of Belgium.

Let’s have a loving thought for the human beings and their families who were so deeply hurt yesterday. What else can we do?

*The king does hold a consultation with the winners and approves the appointment of the Prime Minister (who has to be Flemish now), to make things short.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Myrna said...

This is a scary situation. So sad. Sneetches are sneetches, whether or not they have stars upon thars. In case you aren't a Dr. Seuss fan: people are people. When will people figure that out?

Niruj said...

Its sad that there was an accident and peoples lives were lost.

But I dont necessarily agree that having 2 (3) languages, 4 levels of govt, etc is a bad thing. Why should it be ?


Mammodouy's Stories said...

I agree with you, my Indian (Tamil?) friend! But what's allright in India is not naturally right in Belgium. Too small a country and too much hatred now.

Niruj said...

Hmmm ... maybe the problem is not that belgium has more than one linguistic community but that it has only two ! If it has more, like in India, all the hostility gets diluted a lot more than having only one other to hate ! Or atleast thats my theory :)