French-speaking Belgians feel beseiged in Flanders

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French-speaking Belgians feel beseiged in Flanders

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Rhode St. Genèse is in the eye of the political storm raging across Belgium. On the outskirts of Brussels, it’s one of six communities geographically in Flanders which historically enjoy special bilingual rights. The Flemish have made a move to claim them for their own. Most people in Rhode St. Genese are French-speaking and feel betrayed by the recent vote aimed at reducing their rights.

The Decroly family feels beseiged. “They’re trying to encircle Brussels,” says grandfather, Pierre Decroly. “The Francophones, who are in the majority, will be marginalised within Flanders.”

Residents of the bilingual communities have always had the right to vote for French-speaking or Flemish candidates come election time.

All official documents have always been in French and Dutch, and the towns all have two names. The Flemish want to put a stop to that.

“We have a French library in the town which is well stocked and used to receive a subsidy from the French community,” said Lilianne Decroly, Pierre’s wife. “Then, from one day to the next, the Flemish decided that the French community could no longer contribute money to libraries in communities like ours.”

The Francophones say they’re determined to prevent the shrinking of the political borders around Brussels. They fear it could spark the break-up of the whole country. But some analysts think people are over reacting.

“It’s clear that this has been a provocation of the Flemish political parties for the first time, using their numerical majority against the French-speaking community,” said Stefan Fries, a political expert at the Catholic university in Louvain. “Does this mean that this will split the country. I don’t think so.”

The Flemish claim it is the French who resist integration and that they need to be forced to accept Flemish culture.