Culture, Language, and the Law

From the NYT, this article on the clash between 2 groups in Belgium.

Jock Fistick for The New York Times: Mayor Christian Andries of Wemmel, visiting a day camp for children at the Flemish community center. Most here speak French, but Flemish prevails.

WEMMEL, Belgium — Most of the families living in this well-to-do community on the outskirts of Brussels are French-speaking. But the law for this region of Belgium says that all official town business must be conducted in Flemish.

How will the 2 groups resolve this issue?  Since Belgium doesn’t have a functioning government (no group can gain a majority, and hence elect a Prime Minister) there is no leadership which is willing to tackle this highly charged subject.   Adding to the divide are economic and resource issues:

Fueling the tensions is a change of economic fortune and a long grudge match between the Flemish and the French. Belgium, a relatively new country, declared its independence in 1830. At first, the country’s aristocracy spoke French and the country’s French-speaking regions — rich from iron and coal manufacturing — were often contemptuous of the largely agricultural north. During World War I, most Belgian officers were French-speaking and made little effort to translate for Flemish soldiers.

These days, however, the French part of Belgium — population about four million — is poorer, while Flanders, population about six million, has grown wealthy with a diverse economy. Many Flemish voters resent their taxes’ flowing south.

There is a small group that is beginning to advocate for the dissolution of Belgium and a Flemish homeland in the northern part of the country.  Will these 2 diverse groups be able to hold the country together?

The French and the Flemish have their own political parties, their own newspapers and their own television channels, which many experts blame for the current state of affairs.
“The political parties have nothing to gain from saying anything nice about each other,”said Yves Desmet, the political editor for a Flemish newspaper.

2 sides, each with their own TV and newspapers promoting their point of view……and the gulf between them continues to get wider and deeper with each passing election.

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