[lg policy] Rattled by Attacks, Many Belgians Still Want Nation Split in Two

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Apr 8 15:38:14 UTC 2016

 Rattled by Attacks, Many Belgians Still Want Nation Split in TWO
Professed “soccer hooligans” and left-wing activists clashed at a peaceful
rally in Brussels last month, near a shrine to victims of the March 22
terrorist attacks. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

ANTWERP, Belgium — Normally, Dieter Moyaert and his soccer-loving friends
liked nothing more than hanging out at the Cafe Royal, a soccer bar
dominated by hard-core fans of Royal Antwerp, watching a match, downing
beers and, in a few cases, slipping into the bathroom for a stronger

On this particular weekend, though, things were different. Visible in the
distance, the stadium lights had been turned on, and a crucial match
against Lierse was about to start. But few people in this Dutch-speaking
city in the Flemish north of the country seemed really excited.

It was right after the twin terrorist attacks in Brussels, and politicians
in the capital had just canceled a protest march against fear, out of fear
of more attacks. That, it seemed, was more than Mr. Moyaert and the other
self-styled “soccer hooligans” in a group known as the Antwerp Casuals
could stand.

In an interview this week, Mr. Moyaert said he called the leaders of the
main rival hooligan groups and together they decided that on the day of the
canceled march they would head to Brussels, the capital, where the French
language dominates.

Dressed in black, shouting insults against the Islamic State, they arrived
waving the flag. Not the black lion of Flanders, Mr. Moyaert emphasized,
but the black, yellow and red national flag of Belgium
Onlookers watched Belgian police officers advance on protesters in Brussels
on Saturday. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“It was unprecedented,” Mr. Moyaert said. “Our message was, ‘If hooligans
can unite under the national flag, the whole country can.’ We thought we
would be welcomed as heroes.”

But they were wrong.

Left-wing activists saw them approaching and started shouting warnings that
the hooligans were fascists. Fights broke out. The riot police showed up.
The international news media had a field day reporting on the neo-Nazi
soccer hooligans. And once again, Belgium, among Europe’s most divided and
troubled countries, looked like a mess.

“It’s hard to unite the country,” Mr. Moyaert said. “But I still believe we
can keep things together.” Asked about the others in his group, he paused.
“What do my friends think? Forget it, they just want independence.”

Brussels Terror Attacks <http://www.nytimes.com/news-event/brussels-attacks>

   - Radicalization of a Belgium Student T
   - Senate Takes Steps to Tighten Airport Security APR 7
   - Blaming Policy, Not Islam, for Belgium’s Radicalized Youth APR 7
   - Belgian Police Release New Video of Brussels Airport Suspect APR 7
   - Belgium Releases Video of Terror Suspect APR 7

See More » <http://www.nytimes.com/news-event/brussels-attacks>
Related Coverage

   Radicalization of a Belgium Student Turned Bomb Maker Was Invisible
   APRIL 8, 2016

   LETTER FROM EUROPE Blaming Policy, Not Islam, for Belgium’s Radicalized
   Youth APRIL 7, 2016

   Belgian Police Release New Video of Brussels Airport Suspect APRIL 7,

   Brussels Airport’s Reopening Delayed by Security Dispute APRIL 1, 2016


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The Brussels attacks have shaken up people in Flanders, just as elsewhere
in the country. But weeks later many here are asking deeper questions:
whether the faltering, French-dominated federal government in Brussels can
cope with the difficult challenges of immigration and terrorism; or,
ultimately, whether the Flemish people are not better off going their own
way as an independent nation with Antwerp as its capital.

One obvious monument to Flemish independence, the Iron Tower, rises 275
feet over the flat landscape of western Flanders, in the town of Diksmuide
and bears at its top a row of massive letters, an abbreviation for “All for
Flanders — Flanders for Christ.”

It was built after World War I, at the start of the Flemish national
movement, when soldiers returning from the muddy trenches and blood
spattered battlefields refused to accept the prewar status quo of French
dominance. In 1946, the tower was dynamited by unknown people, though many
suspected French-speaking groups. A new, even taller one was immediately
constructed in its place, though the pressure for Flemish separatism slowly












English Channel




50 Miles

By The New York Times

But the prospect of division is never far from the national consciousness,
particularly given that the nation’s largest political party, the New
Flemish Alliance, is dedicated to gradual, peaceful secession.

Belgium was not even a country until 1830
when a rebellion of the Southern Netherlands backed by France led to
independence. French became the dominant language, and the resulting state
structure was also favorable to those from Wallonia, the nation’s
French-speaking southern region. Dutch speakers, now a majority of 60
percent, were considered peasants by the French speakers, who found their
potato stew culture nearly barbaric.

In addition to being divided between Dutch and French speakers, with a bit
of German thrown in, Belgium still lacks cohesive national symbols. There
is the “Atomium <http://atomium.be/history.aspx>,” a chrome structure made
for the 1958 World’s Fair. There is ‘‘Manneken Pis,’
<http://www.brussels.be/artdet.cfm/4328>’ a statue of a boy urinating. And,
of course, chocolate, abbey-brewed beers and the national soccer team, the
Rode Duivels, or red devils. That is about it, most Belgians, Flemish or
Wallonian, agree.

The new challenges to Belgian unity were visible inside the Iron Tower one
day recently. At its base was a small memorial for Bart Migom
a 21-year-old student from Diksmuide who died in the suicide bombings at
Brussels Airport. He had been on his way to see his American girlfriend in

“During the next elections we will see yet another move to the right,” said
Koen Coupillie, the leader of the local chapter of the New Flemish
Alliance. “People are angry and feel powerless after these attacks, so we
can expect that some will vote for extreme right parties.”

Flanders had already taken a shift to the right over the last decade, with
Mr. Coupillie’s party sweeping up most of the votes and becoming, in 2014, the
single largest political party in Belgium.
On the other side there has been no political change. The Parti Socialiste
has for decades attracted the main French-language vote.
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“Their solution for everything is completely different,” Mr. Coupillie, 32,
said of the Parti Socialiste. “They just want to keep old structures in
place, while we want to reform and improve.”

Standing on top of the tower, which affords a panoramic view of preserved
trenches from the First World War, Mr. Coupillie pointed at the new
location for a center for asylum seekers, where 200 refugees would soon be
housed. “We had a town gathering,” he said. “People were calm, but it will
take a long time for them to accept outsiders, I expect.”

Immigration has been a hot-button issue in Belgium, as elsewhere in Europe.
Between 2000 and 2010, Belgium accepted more immigrants than Canada, which
has more than three times the population. Over 25 percent of Belgium’s 11
million people have an immigrant background, and many of them, from former
French colonies like Morocco, speak French.

At a farmer’s market in Aalst, a Flemish city close to Brussels, many said
the integration of Muslims in Belgium had failed, and laid the blame with
the French-dominated elite in the capital.

“We live separated,” said Jos Wauters, a civil servant from the nearby city
of Affligem, known for its blond beer brewed in a nearby abbey. “We don’t
meet, we don’t talk. It’s not working out.”

He blamed the left-wing French parties, which had long blocked national
laws on compulsory language courses. “Meanwhile, they just continued
inviting people to come. Of course we have huge problems now.” His wife
nodded, though when she spoke her accent revealed her Wallonian background.

“We can all live together, Flemish and Wallonian,” Mr. Wauters said,
smiling and pointing to his wife, “but only in Flanders.”
>From the NYTimes 4/8/16

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