The nation of Belgium is comprised by two major regions with three linguistically and culturally distinct communities therein. The two areas are Flanders, consisting of the Dutch speaking or Flemish community, and Walloon or Wallonia, the home of the French community. A small community of German-speaking people also resides in Belgium, but they are an autonomous community distinct from the other two within the far eastern region of Wallonia. The position of Brussels a region occupied by bilingual people is still controversial.
Belgium is one of the states among the Low Countries which was originally one region before it became politically subdivided to form the three modern states of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. After the independence of Belgium from the United Kingdom of Netherlands, the antagonism between the French speakers and the Dutch speakers escalated. French became the official language, but the Dutch speakers protested demanding for equal rights. This feud led to the disintegration of the communities and in 1967 an official Dutch version of the Constitution was accepted. The country created separate regions based on the country's linguistic division leading to the emergence of the Flanders region for the Flemish people and the Walloon region for the Dutch-speaking region. Other minorities remained in the unpopular Brussels region.
The two regions differ considerably regarding language, culture, politics, identity, and consciousness. Belgium has never had a national party or national media because each of the regions prefers to have their distinct parties and media. Walloon writes its literature and conducts its education in French as the Flemish run their systems and literature in Dutch. Their ways of life also follow suite into the schism as the Flemish strictly adhere to the Dutch culture and the Walloon's to the French culture. Economically, there is a great difference between the two regions. The Flanders are richer than the Walloon. Walloon used to thrive in the earlier centuries due to mining activities but the mines depleted at the time that the Flanders flourished in business.
The Constitution of Belgium established the language areas in 1963 and refined them again in 1970. This separation was a way of minimizing linguistic, cultural and social tensions in the country. The Flanders belongs to the Dutch language area, Wallonia to the French language area, the Flemish community to the Dutch and bilingual language area, the French community to the French and bilingual areas and the German-speaking community.
After French had become the national language in Belgium, the Flemish community waged protests for similar rights and privileges and formed the Flemish movement. This movement began as a cultural and social organization but with time gained recognition as a political movement recognized by the government of Belgium. Today, it is a contributor to rising of national parties, such as the People's Union and the Flemish Progressives.
The Walloon movement arose in the 19th Century, seeking to preserve their French language and culture as a national creed. It opposed recognition of Dutch and regionalization of the country. Today the movement primarily aims to maintain solidarity between the richer Flanders and the poor Walloon. This tension between Flanders and Walloon provided the small German-speaking community with autonomous status having their government of ministers and minister-president.
The political parties that have been established for generations in Belgium avoid speaking openly in regard to the partitioning of Belgium and the nation being divided into separate regions. Although the language and socioeconomic tensions continue to exist between the regions, there is no possibility of war in the country. The conservative Belgian union party promotes stronger federal government and the return to a Belgian unitary state which expired in the 1960s other small parties also support unity since they consider the federalization of the country as an employer's attack at the welfare state and unity of trade unions.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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