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Simmering ethnic tensions threaten to tear apart … Belgium?

We’re still not sure how seriously we should be taking this, but Belgium appears to be in the midst of a political crisis that has many questioning whether the country even has a future. It all started in June, when French-speaking Wallonian politicians rejected their Dutch-speaking counterparts’ demands for greater autonomy for Flanders. Lawmakers have ...

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We’re still not sure how seriously we should be taking this, but Belgium appears to be in the midst of a political crisis that has many questioning whether the country even has a future. It all started in June, when French-speaking Wallonian politicians rejected their Dutch-speaking counterparts’ demands for greater autonomy for Flanders. Lawmakers have spent the past 11 weeks trying to form a coalition government. There is apparently growing Flemish resentment that their tax dollars are going to subsidize the less prosperous French-speaking south. Pro-independence rallies have been held in Flanders and remarkably, only 29 percent of Belgians are certain that there will even be a Belgium in ten years. A full fifteen percent are certain that it will not. After a round of talks led by the head of the Flemish Christian Democrats collapsed last week, Belgium’s king has now appointed another prominent Flemish politician, Herman Von Rompuy, to resolve the situation.

Paul Belien at the Brussels Journal blog has been all over “the Belgian Crisis” like mayo on frites, deriding the international media for not covering what he calls “Yugoslavia in slow motion” and speculating about Europe after Belgium. Belien might be jumping the gun a little bit, but he’s not alone. A recent editorial in Le Figaro (in French) called for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to annex Wallonia if Belgium should split, comparing it to Helmut Kohl’s decision to absorb East Germany after the fall of Communism. Seventy-seven percent of Dutch citizens apparently favor absorbing Flanders as well.

If nothing else comes from this, it should certainly give EU diplomats some pause before chastising Albanians and Serbs, Palestinians and Jews, or Sunnis and Shiites for failing to coexist. I suppose Congolese peacekeepers on the streets of Brussels would be too much to hope for.

Editor’s note:Belgium was ranked number 167 on the 2007 Failed States Index. We’ll be watching closely to see if the country slips at all in next year’s rankings.

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