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.
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.
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.
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.