As expected, our recent editorial on Flemish-Wallon relations led to some serious keyboard bashing. But readers have also found time to sound off about other issues.
As a Flemish person here is my effort to try to explain the Walloon versus Flemish thing.
In Flanders there is a feeling that a lot of what we have accomplished here has happened despite of being part of Belgium, despite of living with the Walloons.
In the last 100 years Flanders has been busy establishing its own identity and place in the world. Belgium's roots are Francophone and Flanders has always wanted to be a Dutch speaking, self-confident culture.
A lot of the last 100 years was a peaceful fight by us to gain the ability to express our culture.
The Walloons still stuck with the idea of a happy united Belgium.
I too as a Flemish person want a happy united Belgium.
But I only see a happy united Belgium if we as Flemish people first establish our identity without being ashamed of it.
Then, as a confident culture, we can embrace Belgium.
One of the things that irritate many Flemish people is the fact that the Walloons have at many points in history hindered the establishment of a Flemish identity.
More importantly they tried to portray as extremists Flemish people who simply wanted to establish their identity.
(I am not saying that there are no Flemish extremists of course, there are always are in ethnic problems)
Maybe you will say but now you've got your own identity now, so get over the past.
The thing is, we still do not have the political power by which we can politically express our own culture.
Sometimes you can hear in Flanders, the phrase, "L'etat PS, the PS state," the PS being the Walloon socialist party and the state being Belgium.
The PS are miles away from Flemish public opinion and stand for big social security.
The Flemish want good social security too, but they hate it when Walloons boast about their social security system when it is the Flemish who pay for it.
We also hate the fact that every time we talk about this issue we are portrayed as a bunch of intolerant bastards who do not want to help our Walloon brothers who are 'temporarily in trouble' even though those brothers took such good care of the Flemish in the past.
It is when these sorts of arguments are put forward that Flemish people get angry.
The thing is, a lot of Flemish people want the ability to be able to balance social security spending with the need for economic growth.
We would be willing to do that with guarantees to the Walloon people that they would still get the same social security money from us.
But every time the subject is raised, the opposing views of Belgium clash head on.
Contrary to the Flemish people, the Walloons have not established a strong identity over the last hundred years.
They do not seem to feel the need to do this, indeed the only time they do seem united is when they argue with the Flemish.
It's like a big brother and a little brother.
The big brother has made his way in life but the little brother only wants to play with the big brother.
Big brother says, "Get your own life first and then come back to me and we can play as two equal brothers."
Little brother prefers staying home.
Those were just some random thoughts.
Maybe you will be even more confused now.
The more you know about it, the more you get confused, trust me.
As a Fleming I can understand it's not easy for a 'foreigner' to understand the Flemish- Walloon issue.
But as an expat in Belgium, I'm sure you see that Flanders and Wallonia are in fact two very different 'states'.
There is no Belgian "national" media (tv, radio, newspapers), there are no Belgian national political parties, there is no Belgian language or culture, etc.
So the Belgian "national feeling" is very weak, certainly in Flanders.
Some people say, "Flanders in Belgium is like the UK in Europe, it just doesn't feel right".
Flanders doesn't feel "threatened" as you suggest, we just don't feel comfortable in Belgium.
Take Brussels, our 'capital'.
It has become an all-francophone city.
In shops and restaurants, people don't speak Dutch anymore.
As a result of this, more and more Flemings don't feel 'at home' anymore in their own capital.
In that case, is it really that surprising we want to keep Vlaams-Brabant (area around Brussels) Dutch-speaking?
Is it really that 'terrible' or 'nationalistic'?
The "Gordel" is not anti-francophone or anything.
It's just to underline the Dutch-speaking character of Vlaams-Brabant, nothing more, nothing less.
When Flemings go and live in Wallonia, they learn French.
Why aren't we allowed to expect the same thing from a French-speaking Belgian who wants to live in Flanders?
It's sad to see Flanders is always considered to be the "bad guy" in this dispute...
What the Flemish are scared of, is going into a shop in an area they've lived in all their lives and being unable to find a shop assistant who speaks their language.
It already happens in a large hypermarket in Kraainem I could mention.
Courtesy would suggest a simple "Goieidag, Bonjour" was required.
I've never encountered even this level of linguistic dexterity at a checkout (I'm British so have never insisted on a Dutch speaker at the till, but perhaps I should!).
I think its only polite to attempt to speak someone else's language when you're in their country even if you fail miserably, and I go to French and Flemish classes for this reason.
The majority of francophones do not seem to be as polite as I am.
The slow creep of the French language out of Brussels is making it difficult to use Flemish in a functional way in areas where it has been used for generations, a linguaphonic ethnic cleansing.
Personally I don't find this very surprising that it annoys the Flemish.
Is keeping your language alive in the area you live, important?
The Welsh seem to think so.
In your article "86 000 Flems back anti-French bike ride" you say, "but it has come to the fore again recently with the suggestion that one of Brussels bi-lingual communes - Brussels, Hal, Vilvoorde - should become Flemish speaking only."
I seem to be terribly ignorant about 'Flems'. Who or what are they? Do they belong down there with 'Paddy' and 'Taffy'?
And more importantly, are your 'journalists' deliberately trying to misinform their readers or do they just never take the time to fine-tune their 'reports'?
The 'Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde' issue is not about 'communes' becoming 'Flemish speaking only' again'.
Please read up before writing.
And, the language is Dutch; to call it 'Flemish' is to take political sides.
We used the word Flems purely for technical reasons. The world Flemings would have made the headline too long to fit on the page. As we understand it, referring to a Flemish person as a Flem is no more insulting than calling someone who hails from the British Isles a 'Brit'.
If this is not the case, we of course apologise for any unintentional offence caused.
On the question of Dutch versus Flemish, again no offence was intended.
Flemish is a very common term used to describe the language spoken by people living in northern Belgium.
Perhaps this shows yet again that when it comes to foreigners talking about this particular issue, you just can't win.
So let me get this straight...while the Bureaucrats sit 'dithering' and wringing their hands in Brussels, the victims in Russia continue to suffer and die.
Something is terribly wrong here in your Belgian culture.
The world continues to criticise American policies, but they are always the first to come to the aid in disaster situations, no matter what politics are involved.
Shame, shame on Belgium.
It is appalling that we "The Consumer" are exposed to contaminated meat, which in some cases can be lethal.
Why do we let the supermarkets, butchers and so on get away with it?
The supermarkets here are the worst ever!!
I know there are a few exceptions but where is the organisation that keeps track of such matters?
Do you recall how many people died from bacteria infested meats in a village in England?
Well if you don't, then you should consider that it could happen here too!!!
The supermarkets are just putting eggs in refrigerated shelves!! My God, is it not the 21st. Century??
I am disgusted by the fact that nothing is being done, but worst of all is the fact that nothing will continue to be done as most people seem unconcerned by these problems.
I for one will not buy any more meat while in Europe.
We are still not safe from mad cow disease and who knows what they feed the chickens.
But what is sure is that anyone, even children and sick people with low immunity, can die from meat poisoned by chemicals or stored at the wrong temperature.
Is it so hare to keep things cold?
Oh, and one more thing.
Could service personnel, please use disposable gloves when handling food.
Who knows where your hands have been?
Re: Jewish Antwerp
In your article 'Jewish Antwerp' one of your paragraphs states :
"Fortunately, ordinary citizens can visit numerous retail shops all along Pelikaanstraat, which conveniently begins at the central station and goes on about six blocks."
I must say, it is not at all fortunate for a gullible ordinary citizen to go shopping for jewellery in the shops on this particular street.
These shops and their owners have quite a reputation.
Most of these shops were not even legal until recently.
Most of the crowd that you can see on this street is made up of gullible tourists, who think of Antwerp as the 'Diamond City'.
This street has absolutely nothing to do with the world's largest diamond market in Antwerp, and is at times very deceptive to ordinary people (especially tourists).
Residents of Antwerp are well aware of who they are dealing with in these shops, and refrain to go shopping for jewellery on this street.
My purpose of writing to you is to make you and your readers (fellow expats like me) aware of the risks before they go shopping for something as expensive as jewellery on this street.
So, DHL promises loads of jobs - in the future. Promises, promises.
The social burden in Belgium for employers and employees is so high I wonder how many jobs will actually materialise.
On the other hand, Leipzig is eager for new investments, the people are eager for jobs.
I was there recently and most of the young people have moved away.
Unemployment is high and those that do have jobs are refreshingly service oriented.
With DHL owned by the Germans, do you really think DHL will settle on Brussels when a lower cost, more welcoming environment plus tax breaks and a cheap workforce beckon?
I think not.
Letters may be edited for reasons of space and clarity.
The views expressed are not necessarily Expatica's.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgium, news, letters