A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘flanders

[AH] Five #alternatehistory maps from r/imaginarymaps: Vinland, Finns, Caribbean, Bulgaria, Benelux

  • This r/imaginarymaps creation maps the stages of an Norse expansion into North America, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence up the St. Lawrence River.
  • A “Finnic Confederation” dominating the eastern Baltic, including not only Finland and Estonia but Ingria and even the lands of the Veps is, subject of this r/imaginarymaps map. How would you get this? Extended Swedish or Nordic hegemony, perhaps?
  • This r/imaginarymaps creation is, I think, overoptimistic in depicting the ability of an independent Confederacy to expand into the Caribbean basin. It certainly would have been checked by rivals.
  • Part of a larger alternate history scenario featuring a German victory in the First World War, this r/imaginarymaps map imagines a Greater Bulgaria that has taken territory from most of its neighbours.
  • Though you might disagree with the details of this scenario, this map of a United Netherlands bringing together the Dutch with he Flemish is evocative. How could this have happened?

[DM] “Some thoughts on Dutch-Afrikaner connections”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters taking a look at the long and continued relationship of Dutch and Afrikaners, then wondering why there aren’t more Afrikaners living in Netherlandophone Europe.


Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On regionalism vs separatism

Articles like Morgan Meis’ “Death to Belgium!” (found via 3 Quarks Daily) reminds me why facile analyses of transnationalism–here, examining the consequences of Belgium’s implosion on European identities–annoy me. Forgive me the extended quote; it’s important.

Louis was smoking a cigar the size of a small tree trunk and holding a glass of tequila. He has spent a lifetime traveling the world, thinking about how it is that human beings govern themselves and one another. He peered at me across the table. “Why,” he asked, “why do you need Belgium anymore?” The question took me off guard. I hadn’t thought about it exactly that way before. Louis was right that the complexity of Belgium’s government is overwhelming. There are so many layers of governing you don’t know where to start: local, city, regional, national, federal. Adding the EU to the already complicated mix seems cruel. The question is whether the entity we call “Belgium” is really contributing anything to the equation anymore.

In more radical terms, this would mean that the nation state in general, in Europe, could become superfluous. A shocking thought, no doubt. But with the EU providing a federal role, and local and regional governments doing the rest, what good is the nation? The nation state can simply be replaced by direct regional relationships with the transnational body called the EU. If Catalonia is part of the EU, what need for Spain? If Sardinia is an EU member, why the extra baggage of Italy? This isn’t to say that all national entities must be dissolved, simply that many of them have outlived their usefulness.

That is exactly what Bart De Wever is calling for. Hardly parochial, he and his party are firm supporters of the EU. What his party supports is not the mass extermination of the Walloons, but the “evaporation” of Belgium and the direct absorption of two new states — Flanders and Wallonia — into the EU. There is no need for that extra entity, Belgium, at all. In a sense, De Wever wants Belgium to get smaller so that it can get bigger. This is not your father’s separatism, not the retreat into prejudice and closed-mindedness that the word so often invokes.

This new separatism makes for another interesting chapter in the unfolding story that is the EU experiment. The chapter has far-reaching implications for what national identity is in a global age. The withering away of the nation state means, potentially, that individuals in the EU can simultaneously identify with their local region and with the continent as a whole. When it comes to day-to-day affairs, a Flemish person can concentrate fully on being Flemish — the specific traditions, foods, language, history, stories, and anything else that makes a woman feel Flemish. But a Flem still has that EU passport. The EU passport means she is also European, and this transnational kinship allows her to go all over the continent with the freedom and confidence that such a trans-national identity provides. It also means that she agrees, in principle, to protect the greater project of the EU as the umbrella under which all the little regions of Europe get to be who they want to be.

I agree with Meis that the European Union is facilitating the ongoing political shenanigans in Belgium, by providing a safety net via the functions of the national government safely removed to the European level–the currency crisis that certainly would have hit the Belgian franc by now hasn’t hit a Belgium with a GDP that constitutes a low single-digit percentage of the Eurozone total.

I disagree with Meis in seeing this to be that notable a phenomenon. You’re not seeing a very big push towards the regionalization of national powers, and the disappearance of the central state, in regions of European Union member-states like Yorkshire, or Aragon, or Lower Saxony, or Silesia. You’re seeing this push in regions of European Union member-states like Scotland, and Catalonia, and Flanders, i.e. in places where large majorities of the population think that they live in non-sovereign (though autonomous) nations and large minorities think that their nations should become sovereign nation-states … sovereign within the European Union.

Why is this distinction important? Nation-minded regions of existing member-states of the European Union may hollow out some of the functions of some of said member-states’ governments, and non-nation-minded regions may well do the same–the competitive federalization of Spain comes to mind as an example of this–but the difference is that, for the non-nation-minded regions, the idea of independence is a complete non-starter. Is there any sizable constituency in Yorkshire that yearns for independence? Do Lower Saxons want to constitute a state independent from Germany?

If Scotland and Catalonia and Flanders and the other nation-minded regions of Europe all became independent from their parent states and members in good standing in the European Union, all that would do would be to create new nation-states as relatively homogeneous as the old: in Flanders, there might be a resurgence of the Ghent versus Antwerp rivalries that Meis starts his article with. The idea that Flemish independence could augur an era where Europeans would identify with Europe and their region of residence more than with their nation-state strikes me as so false. There wouldn’t be a decomposition of Europe’s nation-states, but rather a recomposition. The distinction matters.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 12, 2010 at 10:08 am

[LINK] Two notes from the transatlantic Romance-Germanic language frontier

  • Suzanne Daley’s “The Language Divide, Writ Small, in Belgian Town”, in the New York Times, visits the bedroom community of Wemmel to see how language conflict is complicating life there horribly. A Brussels suburb, Wemmel exists in the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district that combines the autonomous and legally French/Dutch bilingual but functionally Francophone Brussels and legally Flemish but increasingly Francophone suburbs, such that many Flemish fear that Flanders will be colonized by Francophones. Absurd language conflict follows.
  • Most of the families living in this well-to-do community on the outskirts of Brussels are French-speaking. But the law for this region of Belgium says that all official town business must be conducted in Flemish.

    That means that police reports must be written in Flemish. Voting materials must be issued in Flemish. Seventy-five percent of the books and DVDs purchased for the library must be, yes, in Flemish.

    When the mayor of Wemmel, Christian Andries, presides over a town council meeting he is not allowed to utter a single French word, even to translate, or the business at hand may be annulled.

    [. . .]

    [A] dispute over voting rights for French speakers in Wemmel and a cluster of similar villages [. . .] brought down Belgium’s last government. Unable to resolve the issue after more than three years of trying, Prime Minister Yves Leterme threw in the towel (for the third time) and the king finally accepted his resignation in April. .

    In the wake of last month’s elections, talks have begun in hopes of forging a coalition that can lead Belgium. But even the optimists do not expect a new government for months to come.

    After the country’s 2007 election it took the Belgians about nine months to form a government. Some analysts say that the main parties are even more split this time, and some wonder whether they may even be witnessing the beginning of the end of Belgium.

    “It is hard to know where this will go,” said Lieven De Winter, a professor of politics at the Université Catholique de Louvain, though like many others he believes breaking up the country would be so complicated as to be impossible, largely because neither side would give up Brussels, the capital.

    [. . .]

    Mr. Andries’s problems pale compared to three other mayors in this Flemish region, called the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, or BHV. They were elected more than four years ago but have never been officially installed. The issue? They sent voting information, written in French, to the French voters in their communities. In one of the towns, Linkebeek, some 80 percent of the 4,700 inhabitants are French-speaking.

  • Things are fortunately much less acute in Moncton, where–as the National Post‘s Kathryn Blaze Carlson reports–proposals to require commercial signage in the bilingual commercial centre of Moncton to be in English and in French are meeting with some vocal opposition. Fortunately, everyone involved seems to be more sane.
  • Moncton — an officially bilingual city in the country’s only officially bilingual province, where two-thirds of the citizens consider themselves anglophones — has long struggled with its linguistic identity. But now, an “all-out war” is brewing in southeastern New Brunswick, as Moncton’s city council considers a bylaw requiring all new commercial signs to be bilingual.

    “The tension is major,” said Barry Renouf, an English-speaking business owner and member of a local group called “Canadians Against Forced Bilingualism.” “It’s an all-out war here — a language war. If this passes, there’s more than one person who will move out of Moncton.”

    While friction between the French and English communities has lingered in the past, most famously under anti-bilingualism mayor Leonard Jones four decades ago, the prospect of the bylaw has ignited a heated and very public debate.

    A group called ‘‘Say NO to Sign Language Law in Moncton’’ has already sprouted on Facebook. And earlier this week, protesters gathered outside Moncton’s city hall, where councillors have ramped up discussions over the emotionally charged bylaw.

    “We are doing consultations in the community and then we will determine the proper course for Moncton,” said Mayor George LeBlanc. “I’d like to see more bilingual signage. The question is whether a bylaw is the proper course to do that.”

    The neighbouring city of Dieppe — where three-quarters of the population is francophone — broke legal ground in May, when it became the first municipality in the province to legislate in the area of bilingual signage. Now, the same interest group that pressed for action in Dieppe, the Front commun pour l’affichage bilingue au Nouveau-Brunswick, is pushing Moncton to draft its own bylaw.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    July 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    [BRIEF NOTE] On food and secessionism

    In the past few months, I know of at least three Belgian waffle shops that have opened along Yonge Street below Bloor. I am not sure what is going on with this, perhaps it’s related to a recessionary need for sugar-rich sweets, but they’re there nonetheless and Sunday Jerry and me sat down at one of these three locations to try things out.

    That was the most Belgian place I’ve ever seen. There were at least a half-dozen black-yellow-red tricolours hanging pennant-like around and coloured pencil sketches of Brussels scenes like the Maison du Roi. The menu answered the question of what Belgian waffles would be called if Belgium ever broke up: it showed the D-shaped Liège waffle and its rectangular Brussels counterpart, but there wasn’t a single waffle on the menu in the style of Antwerp, or Ghent, or Bruges. The Walloon waffle, perhaps?

    Written by Randy McDonald

    March 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm

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    [BRIEF NOTE] Canada, Belgium?

    agirlnamedluna has an excellent run-down on the Belgian situation,, exploring how, after months of gridlock thanks to the political parties’ inabiloity to form a government, a terribly bungled reaction to the global financial crisis is bringing the latest government. under Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, to its end.

    Leterme and his party had won the elections by pointing out the “all talk but no action” politics of his predecessor, but he himself was not capable of doing anything due to the conflicting views of his coalition partners and the sheer incompetence of several members of his government.

    When the financial crisis rolled around, it was his last chance to prove he was capable of governing the country. He came up with a plan, but was confronted with the threatened bankrupcy of several of Belgium’s biggest banks. One of those, Fortis, was the first to go. The Dutch, Luxemburgian and Belgian leaders came together to save the bank, but after the plan had been accepted the Dutch did a total u-turn and ended up only taking up the Dutch part. This left Belgium with only part of the bank, which they sold to French player BNP Paribas.

    Leterme finally had a concrete result to show, but in his haste to solve the problem he had overlooked the shareholders of the bank, who took action in courts to be heard. A first ruling stated that the Belgian government had acted correctly when selling the bank post-haste, but a second ruling in appeal froze the sale, acknowledging the shareholders and their right to vote on the matter.

    As this was the worst scenario thinkable for the government, pression was exercised on the judges who were making the decision. The past few days more and more evidence has been gathered to show that the separation between executive and juridical powers had not been respected by the government, notably by the Prime Minister’s cabinet as well as by the Minister of Justice.

    Leterme held on to power for a few days more, as he had already done the previous months, even though his position has weakened ever since he won the elections, there have been many more cases in which he showed a total lack of ability to govern and take decisions. This scandal, however, has been the last drip. New facts are still unfolding, but as of late this afternoon it is official: after Minister of Justice resigned during the day, it was now the entire government resigning.

    I can’t say how much this reminds me of the recent political tumult in Canada: the pronounced regional divisions preventing the formation of stable national governments, the general lack of trust in the good will of the aspiring governing parties, the terrible additional factors thrown into domestic political calculus by the global economic crisis. Canada, Belgium–who next, I wonder? (I’m tempted to say Italy, but Italy’s been that way for a while.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    December 19, 2008 at 8:11 pm

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    [BRIEF NOTE] La question belge, une fois de plus

    One of Spiegel Online’s more recent news roundup sfrom German newspapers was “‘Belgium Is the World’s Most Successful Failed State'”.

    The Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme threw in the towel late on Monday night, saying he could not force through a consensus between the Flemish and French-speaking coalition partners.

    Leterme offered his resignation (more…) to King Albert II, who has so far not formally accepted it. The king is now holding consultations with lawmakers expected to last several days.

    In his statement, Leterme, head of the Flemish-speaking Christian Democrats, said the “federal consensus model has reached its limits” — raising the specter of Belgium breaking up for good. The prime minister had a self-imposed July 15 deadline to come up with an agreement on constitutional reform.

    The Financial Times, The Guardian, and Agence France-Presse all have more coverage, basically boiling down to the suggestion that Leterme was frustrated by his inability to forge a workable governing coalition, and, certainly, the ongoing disputes over Brussels and its frontiers doesn’t help.

    A question to people in Belgium and in surrounding regions: Are there any other themes that I’m missing to all this?

    Written by Randy McDonald

    July 16, 2008 at 11:14 am

    [LINK] “A ‘Francophone Corridor’ to Link Brussels and Wallonia”

    Strange Maps has a small map from Belgium’s Le Soir purporting to show one part of a solution under discussion to resolve the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde language crisis (increasingly francophone uburbs of Brussels encroaching on territory under Flemish jurisdiction). In order to create a Francophone corridor to link Brussels with Wallonia, this map suggests that a narrow stretch of the forêt de Soignes would be transferred from Flemish jurisidiction to Walloon jurisdiction, possibly along with the contested community of Sint-Genesius-Rode/Rhode Saint-Genèse. By creating a direct territorial link, the thinking seems to be, a Wallonia-Brussels federal unit that would have jursidiction over cultural and terrtorial matters like Flanders’ could come into being.


    Written by Randy McDonald

    June 24, 2008 at 9:44 am

    [LINK] “De la Flandre au Québec”

    Back on the 12th of December, the Montréal daily Le Devoir had an interesting essaay-length article by writer and researcher Christian Dufour, “De la Flandre au Québec” (“From Flanders to Québec”). Speaking of his experiences in Brussels during a conference held by a Québec-Flemish friendship group, Dufour argued that the French language shared by Québécois with Walloons blinded Québécois to the similarities between the positions of Québec and Flanders over time.

    Comme les francophones au Québec, les Flamands ont été dominés et humiliés par une minorité condescendante, leur langue a été méprisée, et ils ont porté longtemps tout le poids du bilinguisme. Comme les Québécois par rapport aux Français, les Flamands ont parfois été considérés par leurs voisins néerlandais, dont ils partagent la langue, comme des provinciaux sympathiques mais un peu rustres. Comme les Québécois, enfin, ils ont joui ces dernières décennies d’une éclatante revanche, notamment économique; ils sont devenus maîtres chez eux, sans avoir proclamé jusqu’à présent leur indépendance.

    Like the Francophones of Québec, the Flemish had been dominated and humiliated by a condescending minority, their language was scorned, and for a long time that had carrie dthe weight of bilingualism. Like the Québécois with the French, the Flemish had often been considered by their Dutch neighbours, with whom they were united by language, as pleasant but rustic provincials. Like the Québécois, finally, the Flemish have enjoyed over these last few decades a sweet revenge, particularly economically; they have become masters in their own homes without having declared their independence.

    Dufour also notices a slew of differences. The complications of Flemish and Belgian history by Nazism and extreme nationalism, Dufour argues, have made it difficult for Flemish to promote an uncomplicated yet positive image of their nation for themselves and the wider world. In the end, he argues, it all comes down to Brussels.

    Si les Bruxellois parlaient majoritairement néerlandais, la Flandre deviendrait sans doute un pays indépendant. Mais la Flandre a perdu Bruxelles, on parle français dans sa capitale. L’indépendance obligerait donc les Flamands à l’impensable sur le plan identitaire: faire le deuil définitif de Bruxelles, avec une méga-enclave francophone au sein d’un mini-pays accouché sous le regard courroucé de l’Union européenne. C’est entre autres à cause de cette incontournable réalité bruxelloise que les partis indépendantistes flamands semblent condamnés à plafonner. Le Flamand moyen, lui, apparaît plus réaliste: le jeu semble consister à se retirer le plus possible d’une Belgique identifiée historiquement aux francophones, et qu’on essaie de transformer en coquille aussi nécessaire que vide.

    If the inhabitants of Brussels spoke mainly Dutch, the Flanders would undoubtedly become an independent country. But the Flemish have lost Brussels, since French is spoken in their capital. Independence would thus oblige the Flemings to confront the unthinkable on the identity level: to finally break with Brussels, to accept a French-speaking mega-enclave within a mini-country now trapped under the aggravated gaze of the European Union. It is because of this incontestable Brussels reality that the Flemish independence parties seem condemned to remain blocked. The average Fleming feels more realistic: for him, the game seems to consist in withdrawing as much as possible from a Belgium identified historically with French-speaking people, and in making a needed Belgium as an emptied shell.

    In the end, Dufour claims that the Flemish are stuck by their aforementioned inability to address identity issues directly, that the circumvention of this through the complex constitutional and institutional arrangements that have created a hermetically sealed linguistic frontier that threatens Belgian unity, hasn’t solved anything. Flanders might be quite autonomous, but without a felt Belgian identity meaningful gestures like the recent recognition of Québec as a nation by the Canadian parliament might be impossible to imagine.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    December 31, 2007 at 6:24 am

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    [BRIEF NOTE] There’s rattachisme, then there’s less likely outcomes for Belgium

    Paul Wells, writer for Canadian newsmagazine MacLean’s, was the first person I read who pointed out that Luxembourg has been asked to solve Francophone Belgians’ existential crises should Flanders leave.

    The other day a reporter asked the prime minister of Luxembourg whether he’d like to take over most of Belgium if that country should fall apart. Jean-Claude Juncker sounded surprised. He should, because his tiny grand duchy is less than one-sixth the combined size of Belgium’s Wallonie and Brussels regions. Taking them over would be like the goldfish swallowing the cat.

    The reaction of Luxembourg’s prime minister was reported in greater detail by Belgium’s Le Vif.

    Le Premier ministre luxembourgeois, Jean-Claude Juncker, estime samedi, dans une interview au Soir, que la crise politique risque de faire subir une perte de crédibilité à la Belgique.

    “La crédibilité européenne de la Belgique risque d’être mise à néant si on n’arrive pas à faire en sorte que ce pays se ressaisisse”, dit Jean-Claude Juncker. Interrogé sur le scénario qui évoquait un rapprochement des Communautés française et germanophone avec le Luxembourg, M. Juncker le trouve étrange. “Le Grand-Duché n’a pas vocation à dépanner une Belgique qui se cherche. Je crois que la réponse à la question belge réside en Belgique”, dit M. Juncker. “Sans vouloir interférer dans ce genre de débat belgo-belge, j’ai beaucoup de sympathie pour la réaction de la communauté wallonne et francophone face aux exigences flamandes. Mais il faudra que la Belgique se ressaisisse. Qu’elle donne vers l’extérieur l’image d’un pays le plus uni possible”, dit M. Juncker.

    Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said Saturday, in an interview with the Soir, that the political crisis threatens Belgium’s credibility.

    “The European credibility of Belgium is at risk of being completely eliminated if no one bothers to put this country back together,” said Jean-Claude Juncker. Asked about scenarios about uniting the French and Germanophone communities with Luxembourg, Mr. Juncker found them strange. “The Grand Duchy does not have vocation to repair Belgium which seeks itself. I believe that the answer to the Belgian question resides in Belgium,” said Mr. Juncker.

    I’d mentioned earlier, in my series of brief reports on Belgium’s recent crisis, about how the idea of a Franco-Dutch partition of a failed Belgium on language lines was quite popular in those two countries even though there was very little sign that that sort of a partition was popular among Belgians. Recently, more fantastical scenarios still have begun to appear. The suggestion that Luxembourg might take on Francophone Belgium is one. Another came from The Brussels Journal, a far-right English/Dutch weblog associated with Flemish nationalists, which recently suggested that after Flanders leaves Wallonia might fall apart. Not only, the weblog argued, was Belgium’s Luxembourg province likely to merge with Luxembourg, reversing the 1839 partition of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg between a Francophone west that became Belgian and a Germanic rump in the east that remained placed under Dutch suzerainty until 1890, but the “conservative and Catholic” province of Namur is “likely” to join the Grand Duchy, leaving only the provinces of Hainaut and Liège (and, as the blogger forget, Brabant Wallon) inside Wallonia. Like Greater Luxembourg, this second schema has also started to seep into the mainstream media, never mind that there seems to be little interest in the idea of Luxembourg reunification and I’ve never heard of Namurois separatism.

    All these scenarios for the future, eccentric as they might be, seem to reflect the scenario-makers’ common interest in predicting the futre that they would like to see. Yes, France and the Netherlands will be enriched by their new common border; yes, without Flanders Wallonia will fall apart; yes, Luxembourg will be happy to handle everything for Wallonia and Brussels. The problem with this wish-fulfillment school of futurology is that, as a rule, it doesn’t seem to work very well in the face of reality. Some might find that a pity, but that would be a mistake.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    September 13, 2007 at 6:50 pm