December 19, 2007
Few of the really big purported cases of cultural incompatibility have much to do with race or language. The real catalyst, as in the current crisis in Belgium, is something else.
In the case of Bosnia-Herzogovina, it was not just a matter of different languages and religions. The indifference that soured into violence had more to do with different lifestyles: the Bosniac Muslims are mainly townspeople whereas the Serbs tend to be rural smallholders. So they have few affinities in a number of respects.
Something of the kind applies here in Belgium. The enmity that the Flemish show toward French speakers is rooted in history. The people of what was to become Belgium got on well enough until the 17th and 18th centuries, when a French-speaking elite installed itself in the country’s big cities – not just Brussels, but such traditional centres of the Flemish culture as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp.
Superficially, the difference was one of language but, deep down, it was a matter of class. The French elite, which dominated much of life at the creation of the Belgian state, went out of its way to make Flemish speakers feel inferior. Those of the latter who then wanted to get upwardly mobile, and took the trouble to learn French, only made matters worse by turning against the rest.
It was only in 1873 that the Flemish were finally allowed to plead their case in court in their own language. Up to WWI, army orders were only given in French: the stories of Flemish foot soldiers dying because they couldn’t understand the commands of their officers may not be true, but the moral violence inflicted was just as destructive.
Of course money comes into it too but, deep down in terms of both history and human emotions, it’s something much more serious…Author : Richard Hill