Yesterday, a dubious political achievement entered the Guinness Book of World Records. The owner of the new record is prosperous Belgium that has been living without a government for 311 days. The reason for that is the inability of the politicians representing the two ethnic regions of the country - Flanders and Wallonia - to agree with each other.
According to the representatives of the Guinness Record Book, the record was officially registered on March 30. By that time it had been 290 days from the day of the elections held in Belgium on June 13, 2010. Since then, the small prosperous European country has been living without a government, and the interim cabinet is chaired by Yves Leterme who has long resigned. No country has experienced such a long period of anarchy before in the time of peace.
Until now, the record of anarchy in peacetime belonged to the Netherlands that in 1977 lived without the full Cabinet for 207 days. However, the Belgians managed to even beat the record of Iraq suffering from the war. The text of the record in the Guinness book explains that this period is longer than the period when Iraq lived without a formal government - 289 days after the election before the coming of the new administration into power. Iraq still holds a record for the longest period without a democratic government in the aftermath of military action.
Armed with the information about this dubious achievement of his country, an unnamed resident of Belgium decided to react in a unique way. He put the winning party of Flanders "New Flemish Alliance" (NVA), whose leader Bart De Wever is the leading candidate for a new Belgian prime minister, on the eBay auction.
According to the Belgian, he believes that anonymous buyers will be able to find better use for the Flemish nationalists than the destructive role they play in political life now. "Free shipping. Free gift of a waffle iron. No returns," reads the accompanying description. There is no clarification as to which of the two communities the seller represents - Flemish or Walloon.
The feelings of the resident of Belgium can be understood. His home country that can boast one of the world's highest levels of well-being for its citizens has become a mockery throughout Europe. Representatives of the Guinness Book still displayed some humanity counting only 290 (Today - 311) days of anarchy. If they were so inclined, they could have recorded at least four years.
Belgium is a kingdom that has been on the map of Europe since 1830. In many respects, it appeared due to the efforts of Britain that wanted to have a buffer between France and Prussia. The representatives of two different peoples - the French-speaking Walloons and the Flemish close to the Dutch in terms of the language were originally settled in Belgium. The latter have always prevailed in terms of number, but for the time being the first and only official language of Belgium was French.
Before World War II, this state of affairs was somewhat understandable. Wallonia that had large deposits of coal and the advanced steel industry was ahead of Flanders in terms of development. However, after 1945 the situation has changed. Flanders began to develop high-tech industries, whereas the traditional basis of the economy suffered a decline in Wallonia. The Flemings to some extent could feel as the donors taken advantage of by the Walloons.
Gradually, the Flemings have increased their political influence as well. Since 1974 only their representatives served as Prime Ministers. The formal equality of their language with French was reached in 1980. However, the economic gap between the two parts of the country deepened, the French language continued to dominate, which fueled the resentment of the Flemings. They commenced the struggle for the transformation of Belgium from a unitary state into a federation, which happened in 1993.
Since then, Belgium has been a federation of three units - Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels (there are both Francophone and Flemish in the capital). Each part of the country has its own political parties. Yet, in forming a coalitional Belgium government, both Flemish and Wallonia politicians should be included. The Prime Minister was traditionally the leader of the party that has won in Flanders.
The Flemings continued to express dissatisfaction with the French language as the official language and the need to allocate too much money into the Belgian budget that in turn allocated the money to Wallonia. In addition, numerous immigrants flooded the country, and they were learning French but not Flemish. The popularity of separatist parties grew in Flanders. The crisis was imminent, and it has erupted.
In 2007 at the election in Flanders the Christian Democrats led by Yves Leterme won the race. This politician has never directly called for the division of the country, but admitted that the Flemings and Walloons were "united only by the king, beer and football." He only demanded the increase of the economic independence of Flanders and the division of a number of districts of Brussels into Flemish and Walloon parts.
Walloon politicians speaking against the increase of independence of Flanders were forced to deal with Leterme. However, the Belgian government was formed and then dismissed, intermittently. Prime ministers replaced one another; Leterme was in power three times in three years. The dispute about the economy and counties continued. Tired of the squabbling, King Albert II scheduled elections on June 13, 2010. However, they turned into embarrassment.
In Flanders, nationalist party the New Flemish Alliance led by Bart De Wever won the election. This controversial politician has repeatedly hinted at a possible breakup of the country. None of his Walloon counterparts wanted to deal with him. The attempts to rectify the situation by appointing a Francophone as the premier have also failed as the Flemish would not want to do this. Belgium has been living without a full-fledged government for 311 days. Leterme has the prefix "Acting" in his title and the contradictions between two national communities are increasing.
"Belgium is no longer functioning. Belgium is a failed country," De Wever said late last year. The polls show that not only most of the Flemish, but many Walloons agree with him. Unequivocal division of the country is supported by one-third of Flanders, but nationalists of various types secured more votes in the last year - 45 percent. This dynamics is not in favor of those who want to preserve Belgium.
Many Walloons are also looking for ways out. Recently, French-language Belgian newspaper Le Soir wrote that the Francophones were queuing for passports of the neighboring Luxembourg, fearing for the fate of their country. Walloons (largely for economic reasons) are more willing to preserve the unity of Belgium. Yet, this unity is becoming increasingly more elusive.
Surprisingly, the EU does not interfere with the situation occurring in the country that hosts its headquarters. Meanwhile, this is the case when the European officials need to intervene. The Flemish and the Walloon politicians have not been able to agree for 311 days, and the EU could become a force that is able to make them go for at least a temporary compromise.
Otherwise, it may be that the new frontier will appear right in the heart of Brussels - somewhere under the windows of the headquarters of the EU or NATO. It is not guaranteed that Belgium would collapse, but the chances of this scenario are getting stonger each day.