|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||04/01/96, Volume 2, Number 01|
Will there be “less of Belgium” in December 1996 than in January 1996?
The thought struck me when, in mid-December, I attended the twentieth anniversary of the King Baudouin Foundation.
Why should I have been brooding on such dark feelings under the flamboyant chandelier of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie among a select and unctuous company of ministers, princes and top businessmen from Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels?
The well-rehearsed ceremony was the illustration of intellectual tolerance and social caring that the Belgian Establishment likes so dearly.
If all the eminencies gathered around the Royal Family really shared the virtues set forth in these official speeches, I should have floated back home on my cloud of happiness, convinced that I had the immense privilege of living in a modern Arcadia, safe from the scourge of the end of the Second Millennium: the degradation of a legitimate search for identity into communal hatred and ethnic cleansing.
Imagine indeed a country where the keynote speaker, Michel Didisheim, so respectful of all components of the nation and the audience, starts his speech in French, continues in Dutch, peppers it with a few words in English and wraps it up in German.
Imagine a monarch who on this particular day, instead of insisting on the easy solution of a classical concert, applauds Zap Mama, a group of African-Belgian singers who find their inspiration in African, Indian, Moroccan and Australian music.
Seated at the tribune among fellow panellists from France, the Netherlands and Belgium, Katalin E. Koncz, director of the Open Society Institute from Hungary, could have felt out of place.
The audience might have thought that she was out of place, coming from a region riven by ethno-nationalism. Was she? In the self-congratulatory and well-behaved atmosphere, she reminded us essentially that nationalism, as Samuel Johnson wrote, can be “the last refuge of the scoundrel”, lamented the moral bankruptcy of the West over Bosnia and sternly warned: “We have no time to lose if we do not want that history repeats itself.”
She was referring to Central and Eastern Europe, but could this warning be applied to a western country, my country?
Over the last two years, many missions abroad in territories divided and often destroyed by communal conflict and ethnic wars have made me acutely aware of - and a bit paranoid about - the dangers of nationalist propaganda and the power of tribalism.
My recurring nightmare is that the lies, the stereotypes, the half-truths, the degrading jokes and insulting caricatures that paved the way to Sarajevo's Sniper's Alley are polluting the atmosphere in my own country on both sides of the linguistic border.
A few days earlier, not far away from the glittering lights of the Royal Mint Theatre in the cold real world, the call for peace on earth had been disrupted by resounding declarations of war when Johan Van Ecke, the president of the Dutch-speaking Social Christian Party (CVP), talking about social security, bluntly stated that his party “would not tolerate that Belgium be fed by Flanders and breastfeed only Wallonia”.
Suddenly, the clichés about a lazy and profiteering Wallonia, constantly nurtured by the most radical wing of the Flemish nationalist movement, were being endorsed by the president of the main party in the ruling coalition.
I was looking at Jean-Luc Dehaene when I remembered Van Ecke's remarks. Sitting near the king, apparently enjoying the speaker's declarations on tolerance and solidarity, would he have, I wondered, the courage to take the president of his own party to task?
A leading Flemish political scientist Luc Huyse rebelled the other day in De Morgen against the claim of a “small fraction” of Flemish intellectuals and politicians to monopolise the definition of Flemish belonging.
“Whereas a study by the Catholic University of Leuven shows that a majority of Flemings are against further federalisation”, this small fraction of politicians, he added, was pushing for a sharper profile of Flemish identity, leading to an insatiable hunger for all that can promote the fabrication of such identity.
Nations, suggests Benedict Anderson of Cornell University, are “imagined communities”. At the dawn of 1996, I would like everybody in Belgium to ponder the question raised by Harold Isaacs in his famous book The Idols of the Tribe: “With all appropriate humility, one has to state what has been well known to great masses of people for a long time, but not to generations of elite humanistic scholars and strivers for human perfectibility: namely that our tribal separateness is here to stay ... The diversities are the wealth of humanity, but how can we live with our differences without, as always heretofore, being driven by them to tear each other limb from limb?”
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|