Whither Belgium?

What does your country mean to you? Is your nationality something that you feel strongly, or do you have stronger ties other levels (region, city, neighbourhood, street?) How “large” is your tribe?

Italians are known for placing their region above their nation (not surprising given that their nation is only 150 years old), and even have a specific word for it: “campanilismo”. I recently overheard a man responding to the question “Are you German?” with an indignant “No, I’m Bavarian!”. Personally, despite having British nationality, I feel “culturally” English, and I’m sure Scots and Welsh would first and foremost describe themselves in those terms rather than British.

 These questions are in my mind now because of the current Belgian political crisis which many fear will lead to the country splitting in two (or three?). For those of you who, for whatever bizarre reason, are not fully au fait with the the minutiae of Belgian internal politics, a brief summary can be found here. There’s a more comprehensive historical analysis here, and the views of some actual real-life Belgians, as opposed to foreign correspondents, here.  Seasoned Belgian politicians and political analysts have patiently pointed out that this state of affairs is not without precedent, that Belgians are masters of the art of compromise, rumours of Belgium’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it’ll all be over by Christmas, etc. This has not stopped most of the press from speculating and exploring scenarios for a post-Belgium region. How would the split be achieved? What would happen to Brussels? (most seem to think that Brussels would become an independent city-state).

Two things occur to me about this situation. Firstly, what would it mean for me personally – how would life in Brussels be were it to become independent (or, less likely, joined to either Flanders or Wallonia)? I can’t really think of any concrete ways in which my everyday life would be affected – maybe taxes would rise?

Secondly, in the wider scheme of things, would it really matter? Obviously there would be wide-ranging consequences for all concerned, but is it, per se, a bad thing if two halves of a country decide to go their separate ways? None of the things people love about Belgium (and there are many) would change. Is the world a poorer place because Czechoslovakia split in two? I know that was a completely different situation, but still my point remains—what harm did it do? If the two populations wanted to go their separate ways, what reason was there to stop them?

   So, I’ll be interested to see the outcome of the current impasse, but I’m not taking sides myself. I love Belgium, but if it ceases to exist I’ll still love it, just under a different name(s).