chapter  5
An Anomaly in Western Europe
ByWilliam Petersen
Pages 12

As with many so-called New Nations in Asia or Africa, Belgium's precise limits and indeed its very existence derive less from a unified history or a cultural coherence than from manipulation by greater powers. Though Dutch-speaking Flemings constituted about two-thirds of the population of the new state, French was again its main official language, used in all governmental contexts and also by both the mercantile bourgeoisie and the Church prelates. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, self-conscious Flemings coalesced into grouplets led, for example, by a professor of literature, a minor government official, a novelist. So long as French was the dominant medium of cultural, administrative, and commercial communication, a Fleming could rise above his father's level mainly by acquiring a facile and accentless French. Most sizable towns and even some villages have two names, one French and the other Dutch.