Posted by: sean | December 19, 2007

Ceci n’est pas un pays

Roger Cohen has an interesting little piece on Belgium in the Times:

In their grumpy way, Belgians — a majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and a few German-speaking — have been posing a delicate question: does postmodern Europe, where even tiny states feel secure, really need a medium-small nation cobbled together in 1830 whose various communities dislike one another?

Moreover, does a country whose economy is largely run by European central bankers in control of the euro really need a government?

Gerrit Six, a teacher, suggested Belgian obsolescence when he put the country, complete with its busy king and ballooning debt, up for sale on eBay. It drew bids of close to $15 million. That was on day 100 of the political crisis. Belgium is now close to day 200. Italian politics suddenly look stable.

Little Belgium has become too conflicted to rule. It has three regions, three language communities that are not congruent with the regions, a smattering of local parliaments, a mainly French-speaking capital (Brussels) lodged in Dutch-speaking Flanders, a strong current of Flemish nationalism and an uneasy history.

Dutch-speakers, long underdogs in a country without a Flemish university until 1922, are tired of subsidizing their now poorer French-speaking cousins. A successful anti-immigrant and separatist party, Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), is the odious expression of a wider desire to go it alone.

Flemish demands for greater decentralization and control (most recently over French-speaking schools in the Brussels periphery) have raised distrust to a poisonous level. “I am pretty sure Belgium will split eventually,” Caroline Sagesser, a political scientist, told me.

If it holds together, it will be because Brussels, with 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of gross domestic product, is too mixed to unravel. Like Baghdad, like Sarajevo, the capital is improbable but unyielding glue. Unlike them, it has avoided bloodshed. It also houses a modern marvel, the E.U. — and there’s the nub.

I often look at Lebanon and think, in the style of the Belgian surrealist: “this is not a country.” Or state or nation, for that matter. Belgium has been without a government for almost 200 days, and Lebanon has been without a president since late last month. But who needs a government anyway?



  1. hehehe… i once sent a similar piece on Belgium to some Lebanese friends, after having removed all the references to Belgium itself. they all thought it was an article on Lebanon..

  2. The problem is that Lebanon’s consociational system was largely based on European countries like Belgium and Switzerland.


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