Tag Archives: Belgium

Wither Belgium — Divided Views?

A hundred eighty years ago, European nations created a new country named, Belgium, which was to serve as a point of separation between rival Germany and France. In creating this entity, people from French and Dutch speaking areas were brought together and a monarch was identified who would rule, Initially, French speaking areas were wealthier than their Dutch speaking people in Flanders. But, times changed, and now Flanders contains greater economic wealth than its French speaking neighbors. The latest election revealed dramatic changes set to occur. The New Flemish Alliance(N-VA) which seeks the dissolution of Belgium into two areas emerged as the largest party in Parliament with 30 of 150 seats. French speaking Socialists won 26 seats and the remainder were spread among smaller parties.

At a time of serious economic crisis with a debt-to-GDP ratio set to rise above 100% this year, Belgium can ill afford divisive politics which would prevent unified action. Recent elections in Europe and the upcoming American congressional elections reveal a confused, angry population which prefers dealing with other than important issues at times of crisis. Such is the way of the world.

Headscarved Deputy In Belgian Local Parliament

As far as this blog writer knows, the Earth is still rotating around the sun, there are clouds in the sky, and humans continue to breathe the air in peace. But, for some who hate Muslims and deplore the idea that Muslim women can freely choose to wear a headscarf, this undoubtedly is a sad day. Mahinu Ozdemir, a 28 year old Muslim woman was freely elected to a local Belgian parliament and will wear the headscarf while doing her job as an elected official. She was one of six Belgians of Turkish heritage to win seats in local parliaments. Opponents claim that pictures of the attractive Ms. Ozdemir did not portray her wearing a headscarf and the entire electoral process was an attempt to dupe the Belgian public.

The issue as to whether Ms. Ozdemir displayed or hid her headscarf is rather irrelevant since anyone knew she was a woman of Muslim background and what she wears on top of her head is really of no concern. Would opponents be upset if a man who wore a beard shaved it off during an election campaign? Why are rules different for women than for men?

Illegal Immigrants On Hunger Strike In Belgium

Groups of illegal immigrants in Belgium have resorted to hunger strikes because their applications for residency have not been granted. A doctor warned the condition of many was now entering a serious stage. The immigrants come from a wide range of the world including African nations, Brazil, and Iran. Many of them are either waiting to hear about their request for residency or have been rejected and face deportation to possible dangerous situations. On Tuesday, seventy immigrants accepted a deal under which they secured ninety day visas in return for ending the hunger strikes. Their protests have spurred church organizations and human rights groups to urge the Belgium government to grant a blanket immunity and allow them to obtain a visa. Belgium last granted such an amnesty in 2000.

As always in these situations, right wing groups want firm action and accuse the government of being soft on illegal immigrants whom they consider to be criminals. The world is witnessing a vast migration of people and the situation will become even more prevalent as European nations age and lack young people to do the work necessary in modern societies.

Belgian Women Encounter Workplace Discrimination

There is a growing feeling among many people in Europe that old fashioned discrimination against women or gays belongs to the past and in the modern world there increasingly is a commitment to equality regardless of race, age, gender or ethnicity. However, a recent report from the Institute For Equality Between Men And Women(IEBMWW) reveals the number of claims of workplace discrimination based on pregnancy has doubled in the past year. More pregnant women are facing old fashioned discrimination because of their decision to have a child and remain working. In one out of seven reported cases, discrimination was directly linked to issues relating to pregnancy, giving birth or motherhood.

According to Patrick Verraes of IEBMWW, many employers simply ignore the law and proceed with their discriminatory practices. “They don’t want to incur extra costs by taking on a replacement and assume that a woman with children is less focussed on her job.” he believes there is need for additional legislation to combat discrimination against women who seek to work and have a family.

A Story About Two Illegal Immigrants

They were nameless men who had made the treacherous journey from North Africa to the supposed safety and good life awaiting them in Europe. A meeting with smugglers, a trip across water, huddled on the banks of a sea line in a new world, mumbled words of advice, and the goodbye on some lonely road leading to nowhere. Two men, strangers in a strange land, knowing a few people but uncertain exactly how to reach them. Somehow, they made i to Belgium and tried finding work, but, they were rounded up by a police dragnet and swept into a building in a place called, “internment center.”

Weeks passed, sitting on a cot, eating food at certain hours of the day, listening to the sounds of children weeping or laughing, and exchanging hopeful dreams with other men. Summer, it was hot, the place reeked of smells that invariably occur when hundreds are thrust into something called an “internment camp.”

One day, the two nameless men could take no more. They scrambled to the top of a building and threatened to fling themselves down. The police arrived and a man who spoke their tongue quietly exchanged soothing words of hope. They came down. They could hear the sounds of people below them shouting, screaming, smashing windows and furniture.

It was just another day in an internment camp. No one died. The two nameless men sat on their cots– waiting for Godot.

Belgium Struggles To Survive As A Nation

European powers in the 19th century not only created artificial “nations” in Africa, they also created one in Europe named Belgium which was put together by combining Dutch and French speaking people. Historically, French areas were more economically advanced due to the presence of coal mines, but in recent years the high tech world has centered in Dutch speaking sections of Belgium The result is a divided nation in which Dutch speakers appear to seek separation from the economically backward French areas. Belgium has a new political crisis after Prime Minister Yves Leterme resigned when it became clear his effort to broker the Dutch and French speaking issue has been unsuccessful. “It appears,” he said, “that the communities’ conflicting visions of how to give a new equilibrium to our state have become incompatible.” King Albert II is attempting to figure out a solution.

There is increasing evidence Belgium is simply another piece of evidence of how post industrial developments either foster or fracture cohesion within nations. The Dutch speaking area do not wish to continue subsidizing the economically backward French areas and the French areas resent the shift which now places them in a secondary position within a society in which they historically were the more economically advanced. Welcome to the 21st century.

Diversity Issues In Belgium Police Force

Belgium, like many European nations is experiencing an influx of thousands of immigrants. The history of immigration is usually characterized by gaps between newly arrived people and existing power structures such as the police and judiciary systems. The European Union has launched a EUR 600,000 campaign which is aimed at increasing the number of immigrants in police forces on the continent. Despite the campaign, the Belgian police force is only comprised of about 2% of its members who derive from immigrant backgrounds. The latest recruitment of 45 officers and inspectors only has one police officer who is of immigrant descent. However, 20% of those who applied for the police force were of immigrant background.

The most crucial factor in failing to hire more police from immigrant backgrounds remains the language factor. Perhaps, Belgium can learn from the US Army language school in Monterey, California which historically has done an excellent job in developing language skills in a short period of time. Belgium might make use of this approach to handle the problem.

Bel-Gium Is Dividing As A Nation

Belgium’s chances of surviving as a unified nation took a serious blow when Yves Leterme the Flemish Christian Democrat leader, abandoned his efforts to create a government and told King Albert the situation was hopeless. Belgium has been without an effective government since June. He admitted being unable to bridge differences between the Dutch-spoeaking Flemish and the francophone Walloon communities. The more prosperous northern region of Flanders is pushing for autonomy– or even becoming a new nation– while the less successful southern area of Wallonia wants to continue the nation of Belgium. Leterme demanded power to reform the federal structure and give more power to Flanders in order to appease Flemish separatism, an action that angered his Christian Democrat counterparts in Wallonia who want a strong central government. A vote in Parliament which stripped French speaking voters living in three historically Flemish communities on the edge of Brussels from voting for French-speaking parties.

Dutch and French speakers do not communicate with one another. They watch different TV stations, read different newspapers, and sent heir children to different schools and universities. There are not even national political parties since there are things like a Flemish Christian Democrat Party and a Walloon Christian Democrat Party. During early stages of the industrial revolution when coal and iron were important, the Walloons were the wealthier people, but since technology has become dominant, wealth has flowed toward the Flemish area of the nation. Leterme has been trying to get a constitutional convention which would undoubtedly result in splitting a nation that was created by European powers in 1830.

Belgium Disintegrating Over Language And Culture

The country of Belgium has been without benefit of an effective government since parliamentary elections in June gave the Flemish speaking parties a majority. Belgium is essentially two separate areas – a Flemish speaking north and a French speaking south. Historically, the French speaking Walloon area was the economic dynamo of the nation due to its coal mines and factories. But, since Belgium became more of a high tech society, the more technology driven Flanders area has grown in wealth to the extent it pays a higher proportion of taxes and subsidizes Walloonia. A fight broke out when the Flemish tried carving out a Flemish speaking parliament district in Brussells where people of both backgrounds live. Neither side wants to budge and inch so the government is paralyzed.

Belgium is an excellent example of what happens when a society containing diverse people fails to develop multicultural education programs. People are so caught up in being Flemish or a person from Walloon that neither side is able to allow a Belgian identify to supersede regional feelings. America is a country that has been able to overcome these sectional divisions once the Civil War ended any hope the South might remain a separate nation.