What follows next, is a post which is exclusively directed at my American friends. The situation in Iraq has dominated most of my previous posts on this blog, and as my point of view on that issue is basically the same as yours, I should therefore admit that I failed you a bit on my earlier promise
to inform you about Europe and more specifically about Belgium.
Today I finished reading a book that I had bought some months ago. Only a few days ago, I started reading it, and since then, I have used every spare minute to read. It was hard for me to lay it down.
The book is called ‘A Throne in Brussels’ and basically it tells the history of Belgium since its inception in 1830 through the prism of the history of its six Kings. It is written by Paul Beliën, editor of the excellent The Brussels Journal
, a blog you probably already have heard of or visited (and which has already reproduced a few of my posts, if I can humbly, but proudly add). I strongly, very strongly, recommend you to read it. It is available through Amazon
To give you the short, well sort of, version: Belgium is a territory which French exiles-republicans wanted to break away from The Netherlands and to have annexed by France. However, the UK prevented the second step from happening (thus performing their usual balancing act for the continent). So Belgium became an independent entity and was bestowed with a King.
The new country was inhabited by two peoples, the Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south. The Flemings, who didn’t want to separate from the Netherlands in the first place, were denied the right to use their language in their contacts with the authorities, weren’t allowed to follow secondary education in Dutch, couldn’t defend themselves before court in their own native tongue, got less funds from the State for their economic development, had less chances in the military. The capital of Brussels, geographically and historically a Flemish and Dutch-speaking city, has been Frenchified. The list of injustices is long.
So this new country, which was never to become a true Nation, could only be kept together if its elites could be persuaded (read: bribed) to stay. One way to achieve this end was the establishment in the twentieth century of a national, corporatist welfare state which still exists today and which produced a national debt of 138% of GDP (figure of 15 years ago, now reduced to 90% thanks to balanced budgets (if you forget about the many accounting tricks) and low interest rates).
The Flemings, throughout history, have claimed their basic rights and used the German occupation during WWI and WWII to further that end, but after both wars were rewarded by a severe repression that turned the clock back for a few decades. After WWII, however, when the claims of the Flemings for their rights could no longer be ignored, the Belgian establishment reacted by introducing federalism, with its parity between Flemings and Walloons, thus de facto containing the growing power of the Flemings and generating an ever-growing stream of money (the “transfers”, now almost 7% of Flemish GDP) from Flanders to Wallonia which guarantees the latter’s continuation of its small socialist republic with massive unemployment and a pervasive public sector.
The book describes the contribution of the Kings to the creation of both the national corporatist welfare state and federalism, juiced with a lot of sex, intrigue and scandal. I don’t know whether this short summary already succeeds in making you sympathize with the cause of the Flemings, but I am sure that the many details and anecdotes of this well-documented book will. Belgium may be at the bottom of America’s friends’ list, but after reading this book, it will sink, if possible, even lower.
You might argue: “How might this local issue be of any interest to America?” Well, corporatism and federalism have also infected the European Union. This was also the dream of the Belgian establishment. I don’t mean to overestimate the power of little Belgium in the EU, but it is no coincidence that Belgium is the biggest supporter of a corporatist and federal Europe.
Recently, a group of respected Flemish (former) business leaders and academics have issued a Manifesto
“for an independent Flanders within Europe” in which they demonstrate, using a lot of statistics, that the transfers from Flanders to Wallonia is holding Flanders back in its future development and to face the challenge of globalization and is not helping Wallonia to leave its economic quagmire (no pun intended here) and that therefore Flanders should leave the federation. The reaction to the Manifesto has, all in all, been very mute. The Walloons and the Belgian establishment, of course, have thrown abuse at the “egotistical” Flemings. There were even signs of a new wave of repression when one of the signatories, Herman De Bode, was forced to resign
as chairman of the Belgian chapter of consultant McKinsey. But the Flemish politicians remained rather quiet. Nevertheless, the Flemings seem to have bought many copies of the Manifesto.
If Flemings can achieve independence, thus ending the present corporatist and federalist system and restoring truly free markets and democracy, maybe, just maybe, their achievement will mark the beginning of a successful movement to achieve the same goals for Europe. Then Europe will revert to the values upon which America was created, thus revert to "American" values and be a reliable ally in the unstable world of the 21st century.
Therefore, my American friends, when the going gets tough around here, we count on the support of our American friends. Support the Flemings, for their and your sake, for the sake of free markets and democracy in a dangerous world.