Belgium plans 'chips revolution' to break political deadlock
Belgium this week snatches Iraq's record as the country boasting the world's longest recent political crisis -- an event celebrated tongue-in-cheek by a "chips revolution" honouring its favourite dish.
After boycotts on sex and shaving, Thursday's bid to bring feuding politicians back to the negotiating table is the latest proving the country at least still has humour.
On Thursday, the nation of 11 million people, prestigious home to global institutions the EU and NATO, will hit 249 days of political deadlock following election last June 13 that failed to produce an outright winner.
Already holder of Europe's record as country longest without a government -- beating the Netherlands in 1977 at 208 days -- Belgium is to out-perform Iraq where Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Muslims struck a political pact late last year after 249 days, which in December, 40 days later, saw a government sworn in.
To celebrate the dubious event, students from both sides of Belgium's increasingly large language divide plan a countrywide "chips revolution".
"We've had enough of political games," one of the organisers, Kliment Kostadinov, told AFP. "We must get a government fast and a reform of our institutions that is good for all Belgians."
Politicians from the Dutch-speaking north and the francophone south have been squabbling to strike a coalition government deal ever since the June vote.
As fears mount of a lasting divorce, figurehead sovereign King Albert II has named a succession of special envoys to bridge the gulf but all efforts have floundered.
Current go-between, caretaker finance minister Didier Reynders, is due to end a mediation mission this week amid growing fears for Belgium's future if no solution is found.
Free French fries and possibly street striptease are on the menu at events planned by Kostadinov and students from Flemish and French universities February 17, marking just over eight months of rudderless Belgium.
In Antwerp DJs will be on hand, while Liege stages a flash-mob, Louvain hands out free chips, and Ghent features 249 protestors "dressed down to the bare essentials".
Protestors in Brussels have been urged to assemble at the lawcourts.
The event has received the official blessing of five youngsters who spearheaded the country's first major street protest last month, a Facebook-organised non-political "March of Shame" that assembled 35,000 people.
Other citizens' initiatives have included a boycott on sex and one on shaving -- the latter called by Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde, star of early 1990s mockumentary "Man Bites Dog" and recent movie "Coco After Chanel."
"When a situation's dire and nothing's moving, either you become a cynic or you react with humour," said Marleen Temmerman, the Belgian senator and gynaecologist who came up with the no-sex suggestion.
At stake in the political haggling is a deal to reform Belgium's federal system, giving more autonomy to each of its regions, Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels, a bilingual region stranded inside Flanders.
© 2011 AFP