Expatica news

Belgium’s linguistic tensions flare over election posters

BRUSSELS – Belgium’s intercommunal tensions were highlighted Friday when Dutch-speaking Flemish nationalists stopped Francophone Union supporters from putting up French-language election posters in a flashpoint suburb close to Brussels.

In front of television cameras, the French-speaking activists tried in vain to approach official regional election hoardings, prevented by dozens of supporters of the far right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interests) party and fellow Flemish nationalist group TAK.

The Flemish activists grabbed posters and glue pots from the hands of the Francophone Union members and militant Francophone Front supporters who accompanied them during the affray in the Dutch-speaking municipality of Halle, which has become an emblem for Belgium’s intercommunal differences.

Activists in the richer Dutch-speaking region of Flanders of six million people in the north of Belgium have been at loggerheads with the poorer French-speaking Wallonia region to the south, population four million, for two years over Flemish hopes for greater autonomy for the regions.

The capital Brussels — home to the European Union and NATO — is the only officially bilingual part of the country, with street signs in both languages, for example.

As there are not a single national party in the country, the French-speaking electors of Halle, along with those in a neighbouring suburb, enjoy the right to vote for French-language political parties in Brussels.

The Flemish activists now want this special dispensation to be scrapped.

Some commentators see the row as the seeds of rather larger than a linguisitic spat.

Local police intervened to prevent any serious trouble in Halle this time and, after a 20-minute face off, the francophones withdrew.

Belgium’s regional polls will take place on June 7, the same day as European parliamentary elections.

AFP / Expatica