Belgian king urges reconciliation in Christmas message
King Albert II urged Belgium's French- and Dutch-speaking communities to overcome their differencesKing Albert II urged Belgium's French- and Dutch-speaking communities to overcome their differences, after months of political crisis, and strive to learn each other's languages.
"It is indispensable to develop and reinforce the contacts and exchanges,
in every area, between our difference communities and regions," the king said
in his traditional Christmas message broadcast on national television.
"Sometimes we have the impression that our relations are more organised and
structured with foreign countries than they are within our own country," he
Political parties from Belgium's two main linguistic communities -- there
is also a German-speaking minority -- have been unable to form a new
government more than six months since elections on June 10.
Their differences have focused on how much federal power should be devolved
to the regions, with parties in the more populous and prosperous
Dutch-speaking region of Flanders demanding more control over regional affairs.
On Friday, the king swore in caretaker Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at
the head of an interim government. His cabinet will handle urgent business and
give the poll winners breathing space to forge a long-term coalition.
In his Christmas message, the king -- whose first language is French --
insisted on the need "above all for our young people, to get to know the
language of the other communities."
"It is a form of civic duty that we have neglected for too long. And yet,
it is clearly a fundamental condition for the citizens of different
communities to understand and appreciate each other."
He said that so much progress had been made on ways to learn languages
"that there can be no excuse not to undertake this effort as soon as possible
in one's life."
Language differences -- and each community's insistence that they be able
to communicate in their own tongue -- are a regular source of tensions in
Would-be premier Yves Leterme -- who confused Belgium's national anthem
with that of France -- fuelled inter-communal anger last year by suggesting
that Belgium's French speakers were not capable of learning Dutch.
Unlike Leterme, who has spent his whole political career in Flanders, the
bilingual Verhofstadt has been able to build a sympathetic reputation with the
French-speaking community Wallonia.
The king underlined that "creativity, good sense and a spirit of
compromise" had helped to end the political crisis, and he said that
Verhofstadt would start preparations on "a reform and modernisation of our
"I believe that it is possible to become, in a Europe moving forward, an
exemplary society where diverse cultures live in harmony," he said. "This is
not an impossible dream."
The king underlined that at a time when peace is often raised, "the search
for peace, starts first, in our own country and in our own hearts".