In this assessment, we shall be focussing upon Belgium and examining the separatist conflict that exists between the regions of Flanders and Wallonia. The study shall examine a bit of the country's history and the reasons behind the regional conflict and we shall conclude by attempting to offer some proposals for a resolution of the hostilities between the two.
I only became interested in Belgium as a whole, during the early stages of the 1990s, when I became friendly with a couple of boys from Gent/Ghent, a city in northern Belgium, whom I had met through following football. Up until this point, I must admit that I knew little of the country or its people. I was aware that their national football team made regular appearances in the European Championships /World Cup Finals and the country was famous for Inspector Poirot, Tintin and chocolate. It is also, of course, the poignant resting place for combatants of the two World Wars. I visited Gent during that period and met a lot of good people but I slowly began to learn that there were big divisions within Belgium, between the north and the south. The Flemish of the north were quite hostile in their attitudes to their Walloon compatriots and it was commonplace to hear labels such as ‘lazy’, 'welfare scroungers' and ‘workshy’ being bandied about, in reference to the Walloon people. I had heard and read similar comments in relation to the conflict between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland and was aware of similar regional stereotypes within Britain. However, I was surprised to hear of this division within Belgium, as it had always appeared a country devoid of any internal division and strife. My perception of the country was very similar to the following promotional video clip, which was produced by the Belgium government in 2010, during the run up to its EU Presidency. On reflection, I suppose I had some idealistic notion of some harmonious nation where everything in the garden is rosy.
I still keep in touch with one of the group but alas, I have never really examined the issues at the heart of the conflict. Even though nearly twenty years have since passed, I am still relatively unaware why such a situation should have materialised in the first place. When I recently contacted my friend to ask his opinion of the current situation within Belgium, he replied, "Most people don't know what is going on but basically the Flemish want more autonomy and want to split up finances and social security. The Walloons don't want this because they need Flemish money. The biggest problem for a split is what to do with Brussels?"
It appears then, that there is also a great deal of confusion within the country itself and division does exist though there is also strong support for unity in Belgium. Consequently, I am now taking this opportunity to research the topic further in an attempt to understand the divisions and draw my own conclusions. I have chosen to do this assessment via a website, as it allows the use of audio and visual files and enables the reader to click on links for further information, if they so desire. I hope it proves to be an interesting and informative account.