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Belgian blues

Belgium rarely makes it into world news, and is often stereotyped as being, well, rather dull. Belgian politics certainly elicits a gaping yawn from most observers in and out of the country. In fact, it would seem the whole government is so bored, they haven’t had one for more than six months. Ironically, the communists and other labour activists have been taking to the streets, not to bring down the government – but to demand one.

The country is in the throes of a long political and existential crisis as the Flemish and French-speaking populations fail to agree on pretty much anything except how good the beer is. The man who was expected to be the next Prime Minister after the June elections – Yves Leterme, head of the Flemish Christian Democrats – was derided for singing the French national anthem when asked to sing the Belgian one on Belgium’s national day. Having failed to make it as Prime Minister, he’s since been a sensation on YouTube.

Belgian people are desperately seeking a way out of the impasse. Some suggest the government could be a job-share with Luxembourg. Others propose outsourcing the whole lot to Sweden. Seriously wonders whether the Belgians are looking a gift horse in the mouth. How many people in the world wouldn’t prefer having no government to what they’ve got now?

The crisis has even hit the Miss Belgium beauty pageant. This year’s winner, French-speaking Alizée Poulicek, was booed by Flemish members of the audience when, in her post-win interview, she failed to understand a question in Flemish. The Flemish press have been particularly scathing. But it should be noted that Ms Poulicek is the only national representative the country has managed to elect this year. Pageant organizer, Darlene Davos, told the BBC it could have been far worse: ‘It is the least painful thing. I would consider it different if they had said: “Miss Belgium is an ugly girl”.’

New Internationalist issue 408 magazine cover This article is from the January-February 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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