Sunday was ‘Gordel’ day
On Sunday roughly 70,000 people took part in the annual sports event called the ‘Gordel’ ride. This time the ride had a political flavour as attempts to form a federal government have failed until now.
3 September 2007
ZAVANTEM – (AFP)- Tens of thousands of Belgian Dutch speakers, many on bicycles, encircled Brussels Sunday to mark the region’s Flemish “character” amid political turmoil between the linguistic communities.
Organisers estimated that more than 70,000 people turned out for the 27th annual “Gordel,” or “belt” in Dutch; a series of rides through and around the outer suburbs of Brussels, a largely French-language part of Flanders.
The event had a distinct political flavour this year, as divisions between the two main communities – there is also a tiny German-speaking minority – hold up the formation of a federal government.
“I’ve come for some sport but also for a bit of politics,” said one young father. “I’m not a separatist but we can’t just let ourselves be taken advantage of.”
Many of the riders wore yellow jerseys emblazoned with the lion that is the symbol of Flanders, while stickers of the same stamp adorned their bicycles.
Members of the far-right Vlaams Belang party distributed sweets.
Organisers reported some traditional acts of “sabotage” like tacks and pins strewn across some bike paths and street signs turned to confuse participants not familiar with the courses.
Belgium has been mired in turmoil since June 10 elections as the major parties have failed to overcome their differences, notably Flemish demands for more powers, and form a new coalition government.
Around six million of Belgium’s 10.5 million people live in Dutch-speaking Flanders, with 3.5 million in French-speaking Wallonia and one million in the Brussels capital region.
While Brussels is mainly Francophone, its reasonably well-off outer suburbs have been part of Flanders since 1963 and Flemish is the official language.
The “dual” nature of this area has become a political issue.
“The francophones are people from Brussels or Wallonia who have set up house in a unilingual area,” said Bart De Wever, leader of the staunchly independence-minded New Flemish Alliance (NVA) party.
“The first thing you have to do is learn the language. Everyone is welcome here who is polite enough to adapt,” he told AFP, before remounting his bike.
Among the mainly Flemish crowd, a woman who wanted only to be identified as Gloria was speaking to her children in French without any obvious concern.
“We live in the Flemish Brabant and we are perfectly bilingual. We prefer not to get mixed up in politics, we’re just here for a nice day out together,” she said.
People taking part in the Gordel had the choice between 13 cycle circuits and 10 walks, ranging in distance from seven kilometres (four miles) to more the 140-kilometre full Gordel tour.
The event attracts anywhere from 70,000 to around 100,000 people each year.
[Copyright AFP 2007]
Subject: Belgian news