With a political crisis lasting more than 249 days, Belgium has beaten Iraq – it is now officially the only country in the world to have gone such a long period of time without a government.
Many factors are behind this difficult political situation, one of which is linguistic differences. Belgium is a federal state, in which there are three “regions”: Flanders in the north (Dutch speaking), Wallonia in the south (French speaking with some German speakers in the east) and Brussels in the north (bilingually Dutch and French). With three co-existing languages, Belgium is typically known as a country of great cultural diversity and compromise. But lately, these differences have been tearing the country apart – Flemish politicians want more autonomy for the regions, while French-speaking politicians generally want less federalisation of the country. This clash of opinions is causing considerable tension, and stopping the country from uniting on one government.
Initially, Belgians didn’t seem too interested in the situation, seeing the whole crisis as a politician’s problem rather than a fight of their own. However, lately more and more people have become fed up with the crisis, and are determined to show politicians just how much they disapprove. On 23 January, 40,000 protesters went out onto the streets of Brussels demanding for a government to be created.
Other protests, characterized by the typical Belgian self-mockery, have also been launched.
Benoit Poelvoorde, a famous Belgian actor well-known for his sharp sense of humour, announced his decision to grow a beard until politicians found a solution, encouraging all male citizens to follow suit.
Another protest, called The Chips Revolution (after Belgium’s renowned national dish), took place on the 17 February. It was created by a student organization and occurred in different cities in the Northern and the Southern regions of Belgium. Thousands of people gathered for this event which was intended to be both fun and powerful. With 10,000 people, the protest was at its most extreme in Ghent. The record was “celebrated” at midnight, when a pretend Iraqi delegation came to handover a trophy to Belgium for being the country to have spent the longest period of time without a government.
In addition, on the main town square, a rather more risqué protest took place, encouraging 249 people to take off their clothes. However, only a few dozen brave youngsters dared to bare their underwear in an attempt to show their disapproval.
Interestingly these protests, mostly organized by students, are all characterized by the uniquely Belgian sense of humour which delights in self-mockery. In contrast to how other nations may have reacted, Belgians have chosen to laugh about this rather ridiculous situation rather than get angry. Let’s hope the politicians, however, will take their protests as seriously as they should!
Anne-Elise from Brussels, BelgiumTweet