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Linguistic differences expose tensions in Belgium

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Linguistic differences expose tensions in Belgium

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There has been another tremor along the linguistic fault lines that divide Belgium. On this occasion it was the use of French rather than Flemish at a number of council meetings that caused the tensions. Flemish extremists vented their fury on francophone politicians attending the meetings in three suburbs of Brussels.

Flemish extremists vented their fury on francophone politicians attending the meetings in three suburbs of Brussels. The three areas concerned are in the Flemish Flanders region but are majority French-speaking. Councillors had gathered to vote on three issues.

Firstly; the nomination of mayors not recognised by Flemish regional authorities because they had submitted their electoral papers in French. Secondly; a demand for the three communities to be included in the mixed-language Brussels region. And thirdly; to proclaim the right to speak French in council meetings.

When one councillor began to read these demands in French he was interrupted by an opponent from the hardline Flemish party, Vlams Belang. He said he was acting to uphold the law. Belgian administration operates along strictly- defined linguistic lines. Flemish is the only official language in Flanders. In Wallonia it is French and in the eastern cantons, German. Only the Brussels region is bilingual.

It is in six Flanders communities bordering Brussels that the situation is most-hotly contested. Here there is an exemption and both Flemish and French are officially spoken. It is a right written into the constitution but whether it is subject to time limits is open to interpretation, says analyst Vincent de Coorebyter. He said according to the Flemish, the law was intended to allow communities to adapt from generation to generation and that it should no longer apply.

As the Francophone population increases around Brussels, they are coming under increasing pressure from regional Flemish authorities to use their language. It is one of the issues that has contributed to a political stalemate in the country as a whole.