Does Belgium (Still) Exist? Differences Jaak Billiet, in Political Culture between Flemings Bart Maddens and Walloons and André-Paul Frognier
Belgium’s neighbours sometimes look at Belgium with some curiosity. Does that small country where Europe’s capital is based really still exist? Many observers are under the impression that Belgium is in the process of falling apart in the wake of repeated constitutional reforms. Some have the impression that Belgians ﬁnd it diﬃcult to participate in any kind of activity as one nation. For instance, in its representation in the standing committees of the European Science Foundation, Belgium is the only country to send a delegation from both language communities. In the European Social Survey, Belgium is also the only country incapable of compiling its data under the leadership of one national coordinator. Is this image of a slow disintegration played out in reality? Or is Belgium a country capable of maintaining its unity despite its cultural diﬀerences, thanks to the high level of autonomy of its composite parts and the original solutions it has found? The topics discussed in this article touch upon this question. In a number
of areas and developments, we go in search of what divides Belgians and
what unites them. In so doing, we look not only at behaviour and beliefs as areas in which the inhabitants of the diﬀerent regions are diﬀerent or alike; we also look at some structural developments which may or may not favour the preservation of a political entity. The development of two separate party systems, together with the almost complete separation of cultural life – the media in particular – are certainly trends which are gradually dividing the country. A diﬀerence can also be seen in the extent to which the citizens of the diﬀerent regions identify with the Belgian nation or the sub-nation. However, we can also see similarities. It has long been taken for granted that Flanders is Catholic and Christian democrat, Wallonia unbelieving and socialist, and Brussels liberal and free-thinking. At both ideological and philosophical levels, this stereotypical picture is increasingly being eroded. At the religious level, the diﬀerences between the regions are shrinking and de-pillarisation is increasing, although pronounced links still exist between social organisations and the political parties. Another stereotypical picture that points towards separation is the idea that Flemings are more rightwing and xenophobic, a notion that is nurtured by the existence of a large extreme right-wing party in Flanders. Francophones, then, are supposed to be left-wing and much more open, but they allegedly have less faith in political institutions and the government. We will see, however, that the reality is much more subtle. This is the common thread running through this discussion.