Orson Welles in Belgium

It is still working! 68 years after the original radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles. Listen to the original here: RTBF, a Belgian public television station repeated the exercise. This time without aliens invading planet earth but with the political destruction of Belgium. In the version of (french-speaking) RTBF, Flanders, the dutch speaking region declared unilaterally its independence. According to newspaper reports 89% of the viewers believed the hoax which is of course the result of two years of preparation. Even international media (BBC, The Independent, Spiegel) reported about this rather special TV event.

Obviously, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was not amused and was quoted with this statement:

In the current context, it’s irresponsible for a public television channel to announce the end of Belgium as a reality presented by genuine journalists.

But the truth is that Belgium has a huge unresolved problem regarding its federal structure and the two biggest language communities. Vlaams Belang, a nationalist/conservative/xenophob party (Slogan in the last election campaign: “Secure, Flemish, Liveable”) has been very successful in the last years promoting Flemish independence and managed to double its seats in local municipalities from 439 to 800 in the 2006 elections being now one of the biggest parties in Belgium.

But thanks to the ‘cordon sanitaire’ of the other parties a public discourse about this issue is still a taboo. Maybe the brave journalists really get a public debate started that helps to reunite the French and the Dutch communities….well, wishful thinking I suppose.

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11 responses to “Orson Welles in Belgium

  1. Pingback: Nosemonkey / Europhobia » Political union (and Belgian confusion)

  2. As you point out, it might have been a tad irresponsible to announce the end of Belgium on television, but then again, so is pretending Belgium has no problems with its different linguistic regions and populations.

    Just one question: Vlaams Belang, is that the bunch of xenophobic idiots formerly known as Vlaams Blok?

  3. Vlaams Belang is the successor of Vlaams Blok. Following a controversial trial the party changed her name in 2004 (but not people and ideology!). Read more here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlaams_Belang

  4. Wikipedia: “Several polls carried out in 2005 and 2006 predict Vlaams Belang will be the largest party in the next election”

    If this comes true, the future certainly looks dark for Flanders and Belgium. Maybe the RTBF broadcast will come true in a few years after all…

  5. “Just one question: Vlaams Belang, is that the bunch of xenophobic idiots formerly known as Vlaams Blok?”
    Hrm, even that bunch of idiots you’re referring to wouldn’t use that kind of language to describe immigrants. Do you have a reason to be so intolerant towards them? I’m not ‘for’ or ‘against’ het Vlaams Belang, but I do get pretty nervous when people lower the political debat to kintergarten-level. The harrassment that is used against het Vlaams Belang, its members, and its voters is often worse than what they are saying about immigrants and Walloons. If you rubberstamp a million voters as “stupid” and refuse to have a serious debate with them (what is de facto happening in Flanders with the cordon sanitaire), I wonder if the so-called ‘concern for democracy and tolerance’ that the hardest opponents of the VB claim for themselves isn’t simple hypocrisy.
    I’m in favor of democracy, and I think that one of the preconditions of democracy is that you consider every single voter to be a person who’s capable of making political decisions, and who’s a worthy candidate for political dialogue. If you consider one million voters to be “a bunch of idiots”, where does that put you on the scale of ‘tolerance’ ?

  6. Ok, I shouldn’t have used the word “idiots”. That was a rather bad mistake on my behalf.

    I, too, am of course in favour of democracy, but when It comes to Vlaams Belang and the so-called Cordon Sanitaire, I really don’t know what to think of it. I do consider every single voter capable of making political desicions. Still, if one million voters decide to vote for a party that treats more than half the inhabitants of the country as second class human beings and wants to divide an already very small and troubled country, then both these voters and said country have a serious problem.

    While I do agree that resorting to the kind of languang I used in the above post doesn’t amount to anything positive, I am not sure if It is actually possible to have a rational debate with politicians from and supporters of a party like Vlaams Belang. They do themselves appeal to the feelings of the voters, not so much to their intellects. I am not sure if you can reach their voters by appealing to common sense, or even decency. Maybe not debating with them at all, thus refusing them media coverage, is the only answer, even if it isn’t a good one?

    And, oh, my comment about Vlaams Belang being xenophobic still stands….

  7. Michael Bauwens

    What do you mean by; ” if one million voters decide to vote for a party that treats more than half the inhabitants of the country as second class human beings” ? If you are referring to the Walloons, they form a minority in Belgium, even the french-speaking population as a whole forms a minority. Aside from that, I can’t recall any instance where Vlaams Belang would have treated them as second class citizens, they simply want Flemish independence. Could you give more info on that?

    “divide an already very small and troubled country” a lot of those troubles come from the fact that two different communities and cultures live together in it, maybe a division could actually solve some of these problems. I can’t think of anything a priori sacred or ‘good’ about country borders or large(r) countries. That first case would be nationalism, the second possibility empirialism, not the kind of ideologies I would opt for.

    “I am not sure if It is actually possible to have a rational debate with politicians from and supporters of a party like Vlaams Belang” Have you ever tried it?

    “Maybe not debating with them at all, thus refusing them media coverage, is the only answer, even if it isn’t a good one?” That seems like sticking your head in the sand. Why is it actually that you so fanatically, almost irrationally hate them? What kind of information do you or did you have about them?

    Please, just try this; replace in your posts “Vlaams Belang” with “immigrant” and I would be able to sue you under Belgian law because of racism and intolerance …

  8. Sorry. I screwed up again. Note to self: must check facts before commenting. I was thinking of the French-speaking population plus immigrants. I really thought these groups combined would make up the majority of Belgian (not Flemish) citizens, but I see now that I was wrong. According to Wikipedia, 59% of the population speak Dutch (Vlaams, Nederlands or what you prefer to call it).

    I also apologize for using the phrase ” Second class human beings”. There is no evidence that Vlaams Belang as a political party thinks of either immigrants or Walloons as second class human beings. However, the phrase ” second class CITIZENS” seems to have some validity when applied to VBs thoughts on both Walloons and immigrants. It seems that Vlaams Belang does think of the Walloons as second class inhabitants of Belgium. As a party, they seem to think that the Walloons contribute far less to the common society of Belgium than the Flemish, and that this is somehow related to their culture or their lacking the will to contribute.

    For example, the VB states in their program on their web site that “Wallonië is goed voor 52% van de totale werkloosheid, maar slechts 9% van de meldingen van werkonwilligheid komen uit Wallonië. Onze zuiderburen zijn slechts goed voor 10% van de sancties.” The VB does not try to find any reasons for this, other than that the federal and/or Walloon government somehow treat out-of-work Walloons nicer than Flemish people in the same situations. By not even trying to look into the reasons for this, for example that there might be fewer work opportunities in Wallonië, this does look to me as an attempt to picture the Walloons as lazy people getting away with being lazy.

    When it comes to immigrants, I will first draw your attention to the fact that the party Vlaams Blok was in 2000 sentenced for racism by the Hof van Beroep in Gent. This sentence was confirmed by the Hof van Cassatie. On their web site, Vlaams Belang state that the Flemish nationalist movement then formed the party Vlaams Belang, with the same political agenda and program as Vlaams Blok. While the laws have changed since then, and the Vlaams Belang itself has never been found guilty of racism by any court, I find it very likely that with the same people, same agenda and same program, the same beliefs and views that lead to the racism case are still prevalent in the party.

    If you want an example from the VB program of the party treating immigrants as second class citizens, here it comes: The VB wants to drastically restrict the opportunities for family reunions for immigrants (e.g. the possibility of your spouse or children moving to the country where you live). They want to end the practice of foreigners (and 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants) marrying foreigners who then move to Belgium. The program doesn’t state this perfectly clearly, but it seems the VB wants to stop only immigrants marrying foreigners, not to stop native Belgians doing the same thing. If (and I write IF here) only immigrants should be banned from marrying outside Belgium, this is a clear sign that VB wants to treat them as second class citizens. What else could you possibly call it if one set of rules applies if you or your grandfather were born in Belgium and another (and stricter) set if you were born in Turkey?

    While I do agree that Belgium is a rather strange conglomerate of cultures and languages, I also believe that people from different backgrounds and cultures can, should and must learn to live together in the same country. I think that Belgium benefits from the cultural diversity within its borders. While there are, as Bauwens states, problems in Belgium caused by the fact that “different communities and cultures live together in it”, i think, or at least thought that the relationship between Flemish and Walloon is improving, and I certainly don’t want Vlaams Belang or any other party to stop that process. I also believe that neither Flanders or Wallonië would make it on their own. Belgium is already a very small country as measured by a European scale, and I certainly don’t think it is a very good idea to make it any smaller.

    This will be my last reply to this thread. As Mr. Bauwens has pointed out, I do harbour strong feelings of dislike, bordering on hate, towards Vlaams Belang. Not towards their voters, neither towards any specific politician but towards their politics. Strange as it might seem, I love Belgium and the Belgians (both Flemish and Walloon, although my closest friends are Flemish) and I don’t want anyone to tear that country apart.

    As is probably clear to both Bauwens and others, these strong feelings tend to mess up my thinking and make me behave a wee bit irrationally sometimes. I am normally not a person who forget to check my facts before posting, and once again I sincerely apologize for that grave mistake on my behalf. I now leave this thread (hopefully) before making a complete fool of myself or breaking Belgian law.

  9. Michael Bauwens

    “This will be my last reply to this thread.” I regret that decision. Stating incorrect facts is not a crime, and not something to be ashamed of, if you generously admit them like you did, and I do admire you for that.

    I will post another reply however, maybe I can entice you to continue our conversation 🙂 It’s always interesting to meet people from abroad to talk about one’s home country.

    As you state correctly, the Vlaams Belang says that there are large discripancies between Flanders and Walloonia in a lot of respects, especially in economic areas, like the case of unemployment in the example you cited. I can, however, hardly see how that can be conceived as a crime or a moral vice. The numbers they use are correct, and are used by a lot of other people as well, so what’s so special about that? To be honest, I don’t know what Vlaams Belang thinks to be the root cause of the situation in Walloonia, but their solution is, indeed, clear: Flemish independence. I don’t want to take a standpoint on that issue myself, but as stated in a previous post; I can’t see anything a priori ‘good’ about certain borders or certain countries. The history of the world is full of changing borders and movements for independence (and movements to establish unions). Belgium itself was created by seceding from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, so I don’t understand how the people supporting the existence of the belgian state against Flemish independence can have any claim of moral superiority. It’s a matter of taste, of subjective preferences, of a sense of ‘belonging’, and one should simply vote on it.

    “i think, or at least thought that the relationship between Flemish and Walloon is improving”. I don’t know how or where you got that impression, but It’s not the impression that I have. Flemings and Walloons differ on some very fundamental socio-political issues, and the next elections in june promise to bring another round of state-reorganisation or “staatshervorming”.

    “The VB wants to drastically restrict the opportunities for family reunions for immigrants (e.g. the possibility of your spouse or children moving to the country where you live).” There is a real problem with so-called “schijn-huwelijken” (fake marriages), and all parties acknowledge that problem, but their solutions, of course, differ. The fact that so many 2nd and 3d generation immigrants go back to their native country to look for a spouse is also a real threat for the difficult process of integration. Again, all parties acknowledge that problem, but they differ in their solutions. Restricting the opportunities for family reunions is a possible route that is certainly not only supported by Vlaams Belang.

    “What else could you possibly call it if one set of rules applies if you or your grandfather were born in Belgium and another (and stricter) set if you were born in Turkey?” Well, ask that to the Belgian government. They officially endorse “positive discrimination”, based on both gender and origine. I think that discriminating someone is bad, no matter whether that persone is black or white, male or female, part of a minority or part of a majority. I think people have rights as individuals, not as memebers of a certain race or gender. Do you agree with me on that? If so, then there’s at least one point where you agree with Vlaams Belang. Isn’t it strange that the party that is blamed for its “discrimination” is actually (well, in their party programme, and we all know how much they mean to politicians as soon as they get to power, Vlaams Belang will be no different…) fervently against discrimination, while the other parties more or less endorse “positive discrimination”?

    “I also believe that neither Flanders or Wallonië would make it on their own. Belgium is already a very small country as measured by a European scale, and I certainly don’t think it is a very good idea to make it any smaller.” Why not? Look at Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia etc. They’re all smaller than Belgium, but they seem to be making it fine on their own. You wouldn’t dare to suggest that Flemings or Walloons would be less capable of running their own country than the Danes or the Irish, wouldn’t you 😉

    Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t sue you for breaking Belgian censorship laws, consider that as a form of civil disobedience to support free speech 🙂

  10. Michael Bauwens

    I’ve tried to post a reply to this post, but wordpress says that I’ve already posted it, thought it’s not appaering … :s

  11. Michael Bauwens

    “This will be my last reply to this thread.” I do regret that decision. Stating incorrect facts is not a crime, and not something to be ashamed of, if you generously admit them like you did, and I do admire you for that.

    I will post another reply however, maybe I can entice you to continue our conversation 🙂 It’s always interesting to meet people from abroad to talk about one’s home country.

    As you state correctly, the Vlaams Belang says that there are large discripancies between Flanders and Walloonia in a lot of respects, especially in economic areas, like the case of unemployment in the example you cited. I can, however, hardly see how that can be conceived as a crime or a moral vice. The numbers they use are correct, and are used by a lot of other people as well, so what’s so special about that? To be honest, I don’t know what Vlaams Belang thinks to be the root cause of the situation in Walloonia, but their solution is, indeed, clear: Flemish independence. I don’t want to take a standpoint on that issue myself, but as stated in a previous post; I can’t see anything a priori ‘good’ about certain borders or certain countries. The history of the world is full of changing borders and movements for independence (and movements to establish unions). Belgium itself was created by seceding from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, so I don’t understand how the people supporting the existence of the belgian state against Flemish independence can have any claim of moral superiority. It’s a matter of taste, of subjective preferences, of a sense of ‘belonging’, and one should simply vote on it.

    “i think, or at least thought that the relationship between Flemish and Walloon is improving”. I don’t know how or where you got that impression, but It’s not the impression that I have. Flemings and Walloons differ on some very fundamental socio-political issues, and the next elections in june promise to bring another round of state-reorganisation or “staatshervorming”.

    “The VB wants to drastically restrict the opportunities for family reunions for immigrants (e.g. the possibility of your spouse or children moving to the country where you live).” There is a real problem with so-called “schijn-huwelijken” (fake marriages), and all parties acknowledge that problem, but their solutions, of course, differ. The fact that so many 2nd and 3d generation immigrants go back to their native country to look for a spouse is also a real threat for the difficult process of integration. Again, all parties acknowledge that problem, but they differ in their solutions. Restricting the opportunities for family reunions is a possible route that is certainly not only supported by Vlaams Belang.

    “What else could you possibly call it if one set of rules applies if you or your grandfather were born in Belgium and another (and stricter) set if you were born in Turkey?” Well, ask that to the Belgian government. They officially endorse “positive discrimination”, based on both gender and origine. I think that discriminating someone is bad, no matter whether that persone is black or white, male or female, part of a minority or part of a majority. I think people have rights as individuals, not as memebers of a certain race or gender. Do you agree with me on that? If so, then there’s at least one point where you agree with Vlaams Belang. Isn’t it strange that the party that is blamed for its “discrimination” is actually (well, in their party programme, and we all know how much they mean to politicians as soon as they get to power, Vlaams Belang will be no different…) fervently against discrimination, while the other parties more or less endorse “positive discrimination”?

    “I also believe that neither Flanders or Wallonië would make it on their own. Belgium is already a very small country as measured by a European scale, and I certainly don’t think it is a very good idea to make it any smaller.” Why not? Look at Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia etc. They’re all smaller than Belgium, but they seem to be making it fine on their own. You wouldn’t dare to suggest that Flemings or Walloons would be less capable of running their own country than the Danes or the Irish, wouldn’t you 😉

    Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t sue you for breaking Belgian censorship laws, consider that as a form of civil disobedience to support free speech 🙂