Is Belgium Breaking Up?

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All politics are local, said “Tip” O’Neill.

Not so. It is more true to say that all politics are tribal.

For the 1991 prediction of Arthur Schlesinger — “Ethnic and racial conflict, it now seems evident, will soon replace the conflict of ideologies as the explosive issue of our time” — has proven prophetic.

As Schlesinger was writing, the Soviet Union, a prison house of nations held together by the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, the Red Army, the KGB and the Communist Party, was disintegrating. Out of its carcass came 15 nations. Causes of secession: ethnicity and culture.

At the same time, Yugoslavia crumbled. Slovenes and Croats broke free of Belgrade, and Bosnia was beset by a civil-sectarian war of Croats, Serbs and Muslims. Macedonia seceded, then Montenegro. Now Kosovo, cradle of the Orthodox Serb people, but 90 percent Albanian and Muslim, is moving toward secession.

Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union came apart, after becoming free, confirming what my late friend Sam Francis said: Multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual countries are held together either by an authoritarian regime or an ethnocultural core — as the English have held the United Kingdom together — or they come apart.

Today we see agitation for secession by Scottish nationalists who wish to follow the Irish nationalists of the early 20th century out of the United Kingdom. Which brings us to the point of this column.

Belgium, created by the European powers in 1831, is the likely next nation in Europe to break up — into a Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, tied to Holland by language and culture, and a Francophone south, Wallonia, tied to France by language and culture.

What puts the breakup of Belgium on the front burner is that this nation of 10 million has been without a government for three months. In June, Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, won the general election, but was blocked from forming a government by Wallonia, which fears Leterme is a closet nationalist bent on secession.

Belgium is also divided economically and politically. Flanders is wealthy, conservative, capitalist. Wallonia is poor, socialist, statist. As the Flemish 60 percent of the population generates 70 percent of GDP and 80 percent of all exports, it is weary of seeing its taxes — the top rate is 50 percent — going to sustain a socialist Wallonia where unemployment is 15 percent. By one poll, 43 percent of Flemish wish to quit Belgium and go their own way.

What enables Wallonia to block formation of a government is a parliamentary system where Flanders and Wallonia must each assent to any government. Which means that half of the Walloons, 20 percent of Belgium’s population, holds veto power over a national government.

Not only is the parliamentary situation becoming intolerable to Flanders, there is rage over the recent socialist government’s having brought in French-speaking North Africans to give Walloons control of Brussels, which, though in Flanders, has a French-speaking majority.

Heightening the tensions, on Sept. 11, a demonstration was held in Brussels to protest “the Islamization of Europe,” featuring a moment of silence for the victims of 9-11. There, as Washington Times columnist Diana West describes the videotape, “we see black-clad Belgian policemen brutalizing a man in a light-colored suit and tie. His hands are cuffed behind his back, his right elbow is clasped in what is known as an arm-bar hold, and he is being subjected to a genital hold — a vicious grip that, a retired cop friend of mine tells me, would get any American policeman thrown off the force.”

The victim of this police brutality was Frank Vanhecke, president of the Flemish secessionist party Vlams Belang and a member of the European Parliament. Also arrested and beaten was Filip Dewinter, the leading politician of Vlams Belang, which is Belgium’s largest opposition party. This is like having Mitch McConnell beaten up and arrested at a rally on the Washington Mall to protest illegal immigration.

Seemingly condoning what was done to the Vlams Belang leaders, Terry Davis, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, issued a statement declaring, “The freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are indeed preconditions for democracy, but they should not be regarded as a license to offend.”

Are offensive ideas and speech now verboten in the European Union?

While European and U.S. leftists regard Dewinter, Vanhecke and Vlams Belang as crypto-fascist, as West writes, it was the police conduct that might better be described as “The New Face of Fascism” in Europe. Moreover, West and I have met both men, and neither was wearing jackboots. What they seek is what many Americans seek: the preservation of their country and their unique national identity.

If a party of small-government immigration reformers and defenders of Europe’s unique culture, heritage and identity can be subjected to such treatment by Belgian police and Europe’s elite, we have to ask: Just how democratic is this new European Union, when its own ideology of multiculturalism is challenged by the people in whose name it presumes to speak?

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.

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