Sunday, May 4, 2008

Week 8 - Belgium

The country for this week is Belgium.

The capital of Belgium is Brussels.

For such a small country, Belgium has been a major European battleground over the centuries.

Occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II, it has experienced an economic boom in the last 50 years to become a model Western European liberal democracy.

However, there has also been a growing divide between the mainly Dutch-speaking north and the mainly French-speaking south, with some even speculating that the country could break up.

Map of the regions in which different languages are spoken (click to enlarge):

Pictures of Belgium:


Jules said...

I found this on a website about Belgium landmarks...

From space, astronauts have only two reference points on Earth: the Great Wall of China and Belgium. For many years, NASA has called the glow generated by the illuminated Belgian motorway system - a tangle of strings of light - "the Belgian window".

Jules said...

Anonymous said...

* Belgium's capital, Brussels, is the headquarter of the European Union and of the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO).

* It is also known as the Crossroads of Western Europe.

* Belgium must be a girl's favorite place because it is particularly famous for its fine chocolate. :-) My brothers would like Belgium because of the wide array of beers. Drink up me hardies, yo-ho!

Kayla said...

Here are a couple articles I found about the unease in Belgium between the Flemish (Dutch) in the north and the Walloons (French) in the south.


Time Magazine: A Belgian Divorce?

For a keen sense of what ails the Kingdom of Belgium, the disarmingly picturesque town of Hoeilaart is the perfect destination. Located just a few miles south of Brussels, it has a multiturreted town hall resembling a fairy-tale ch√Ęteau, and a rich history involving Roman armies, Augustinian monks and medieval dukes. Since late last month, it also has a new law that makes proficiency in Dutch, the official language of Belgium's Flemish region, a precondition for buying public land. That puts a hard new edge on the increasing alienation between the country's linguistic communities, but Mayor Tim Vandenput is unrepentant. "I have nothing against other nationalities," he says. "But this is a Flemish region and we want it to remain Flemish."

What concerns him and other elders of Hoeilaart is the influx in recent years of people who commute to jobs in Brussels, the polyglot capital of the European Union and headquarters of nato. Hoeilaart's newcomers are mostly French speakers, but also Brits, Americans and Germans. More than a third of Hoeilaart's 10,000 or so residents do not consider Dutch their mother tongue.

Safeguarding Flemish interests is not just a local issue. It is at the heart of a national political standoff that a few days ago reached a remarkable milestone: six months after Belgium's general election on June 10, the nation still has no government. Yves Leterme, whose Flemish Christian Democrat party was the biggest winner in that election, promised more self-rule for Flanders in areas such as taxation, social security, economic policy and immigration. But French-speaking parties whose support he'd need for a majority balked at his demands. So earlier this month, Leterme abandoned his stop-and-start efforts to forge a coalition government for Belgium. The political limbo has fueled speculation about whether Belgium is heading for the sort of divorce that in 1993 turned Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

In Hoeilaart, at least, there is a sense that Belgium's two principal communities already lead separate lives. "We don't need the French. We could easily live separately," says Jean Paul Goosens, a retired builder. Jean Hennau, a veterinarian, doesn't see them coming together either: "Flanders and Wallonia don't talk to one another."

If a common economy, territory, culture and language are typical features of a nation, it's easy to see where Belgium falls short. For more than a century after the country's birth in 1830, French-speaking Wallonia — the southern part of the country with roughly a third of the population — was in an industrial whirl, thanks to its success in mining and steelmaking. Flanders was considered a backwater; it wasn't until 1930 that Flemish students could study in their own language at a Belgian university. Now, with the decline of heavy industry, Wallonia is in a slump while Flanders is one of Europe's richest and most dynamic regions. And many Flemish resent having to subsidize Wallonia's stagnant economy with an annual handout estimated at around $9 billion, or about $3,000 for each Walloon.

Last month about 35,000 people marched through Brussels to show their commitment to national unity. But others consider Belgium's unity obsolete. Leterme himself has described Belgium as "an accident of history" with "no intrinsic value," and branded the country's French speakers too stupid to learn Dutch. In September, a cheeky schoolteacher put Belgium up for sale on eBay, describing it as "a kingdom in three parts." The offering was pulled by eBay after drawing a bid of $15 million.

King Albert II has asked the country's caretaker Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, to seek a solution to Belgium's existential crisis. Yet that task seems sapped of any great urgency as life goes on without a national government. The trains run on time, the beer flows cold and plentiful, and the Belgian national soccer team still can't score. The drifting apart of Belgium's linguistic communities could augur the end for a country once hailed as a model of compromise and coexistence. Hoeilaart's elders have clearly had enough of that model. But no one knows what can replace it.

Article taken from:,8599,1691590,00.html?iid=sphere-inline-sidebar


*Russia Today: Belgium about to split?

After a power vacuum lasting 192 days, a Belgian interim government has been finally assembled. It brings a temporary reprieve to a political crisis that has prompted speculation that the country might split. The prolonged stalemate has highlighted how differently the Flemish-speaking and Francophone populations see the future of their bilingual nation.

Belgium’s 6.3 million Flemish speakers in the north and its 4 million French-speaking Walloons in the south don’t seem to be able to get along. Its two main regions speak different languages and have different identities.

It’s not only the colloquial language gap that divides Flanders and Wallonia. They don’t speak the same political language either.

In the last general elections in June, parties from the two regions failed to form a coalition. After six months without a government, the King called for an interim one. He hopes its head, former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, can lead the country out of the labyrinth.

The problem is there’s no single party that represents the whole of Belgium. The Flemish parties want more autonomy and regional powers, while the Wallonian parties don’t want their economically weaker region to lose out.

The two sides don’t appear to want to work together. The stalemate has led many to predict that Belgium’s will to split.

Members of the extreme right-wing nationalist party Vlaams Belang are convinced it’s time to kiss Belgium goodbye.

“The political visions in Flanders and Wallonia are different. Wallonia’s more socialist and Flanders is more right wing. There’s no coherence, they’re two different worlds so you have to conclude that Belgium is completely superfluous,” says Bart Laeremans of the Vlaams Belang party.

Meanwhile, others believe in their beloved Belgium.

“It’s existed for a long time. The Flemish and the Walloons have always been friends. There’s never been a war,” says Belgian diplomat Robert Van Der Meulenbroek.

Belgian artist Gerrit Six even put Belgium up for sale but it was not for lack of love. He thinks his country’s priceless.

He thinks the crisis has been exaggerated and it’s all a bit of a farce.

Bidders got to 10 million euros before the ad was shut down, but the experiment showed that there are still some people that think keeping the little country together is worth while.

Article taken from: