Global Independent Analytics
Lionel Baland
Lionel Baland

Location: Belgium

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Terrorism: Belgium, A Fragmented Country

Brussels faces new challenge

The terrorists who carried out the attacks in Paris used Belgium and particularly Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, - a municipality situated near the municipality of Brussels and one of the 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region-, as turntable. It is not a coincidence. It is the product of linguistical and political issues that undermined Belgium for decennia. The small kingdom is a place where two cultures and three languages meet and political conflicts around these were carried out in a fragmented country with different powers and a very weak state.

After the Napoleonic era, the leading countries in Europe decided to build a buffer state between England, France and Prussia: the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. But in 1830, the people of the South carried out an uprising against the central power. A new state emerged: Belgium. The language of the new country was French, at this time the world's lingua franca. The bourgeoisie spoke French and the populace spoke a different form of Dutch (Flemish), French (Walloon) or German (German and Luxembourgish) dialects. If one part of the population didn’t have problems with this, in Flanders, a nationalist and social movement started: they wanted the Flemish language to be used in the relationship with the state (administration, justice, schools) and were against the domination of French language, the parlance of the bourgeoisie. They called for social reforms for the workers too. This movement was linked with Catholic priests who were close to the populace and far from the top of the Church.

These people fought for a decennia  and obtained more and more rights for the Flemish language and its noble version: Dutch. But at the beginning of the First World War, the Germans invaded and occupied Belgium. Only a very small piece of the country behind the river Yser stayed free. The Belgian army fought there. The government went into exile in Saint-Adresse near Le Havre in France. In Flanders, the populace found connections with the Germans who speak the same kind of language. The people fighting for the Flemish language and culture in the occupied territories worked with the Germans and were stifled after the war and the ones who fought in the Belgian army were sent on risky missions and killed. Nevertheless in the interwar period, the Flemish language took on greater importance in the state. In WWII, part of the Flemish nationalists worked with the Germans and have had to face a repression after the war. The influence of the Flemish language grew step by step and the Flemish economy started to get into shape. The Flemish people obtained many reforms and rights for their language and culture. Walloons facing economic problems started to make economic claims. Flanders, which before got a lot of money from Wallonia had to start to pay for Wallonia more and more.

All these situations and political fights resulted in a weak central state that had to manage the weight of the Flemish people and the Walloons and a transfer of the powers from the central state to the regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia) and the communities (Dutch, French and German). A very complicated situation appeared. (For example, Eupen is a German speaking city in the Walloon Region. The schools are managed by the German Community, the roads by the Walloon Region and the railways by the national state. If you take the train in this city toward the coast, the personnel of the railway company speak in German at the station, on the train the train conductor speaks in German but after crossing to the French-speaking part, the conducter is only allowed to speak in French, while in Flanders only Dutch, then in Brussels, the capital, French and Dutch, then in Flanders only in Dutch.)

In 1970, people started leaving the center cities and moved to the suburbs to live in a four level houses. The immigrants arriving in Belgium took their place and concentrated themselves in the less rich areas. These places started to collapse. The immigrants at these times couldn’t vote and the politicians started stopping doing things for these areas because they couldn’t gain votes there. All the Belgian citizens who could run away moved to other places. And the immigrants and the poor Belgians were the only one left staying there. The situation was so bad that the law changed to allow immigrants to vote (they got the nationality or they can vote at the local elections). But after this, the politicians ran after them to catch their votes and the people got what they wanted (for example mosques or allowance of headscarf). In some of these areas if Belgian parents wanted to send their children to a school in the neighborhood, the director said that it is not a good idea because the Belgian children will be placed in trouble by the immigrants. In schools there are only immigrant children, part of whom speaks only in their own language. These areas are true ghettos where the weak Belgian state does not have any more control.

All these things contributed to the current situation. In Verviers, a French speaking city in the east of Belgium where the police shut down presumed terrorists some months ago, and in some places in Antwerpen, the biggest Dutch speaking city of the country, it’s the same situation as in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean and or in similar areas in the Brussels-Capital Region. It went so far and it’s so bad now that it’s very difficult to find a solution.

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