Thousands of people have taken part in a cycling tour around Brussels that has once again exposed the deep divisions between the country’s Flemish and French-speaking communities. Flemish leaders said the event highlighted the “Flemish character” of the area. Kris Peeters, Minister-President of the Flanders regional government said: “It has always been a sporting event with a Flemish flavour. I’d like to encourage dialogue with francophones and I hope they’ll have a warm welcome.”
The linguistic friction between the two sides is at its most intense in the region around Brussels. The capital is dominated by francophones but is surrounded by municipalities where the majority are Flemish speakers. The number of French speakers in those areas is growing however, heightening tensions. Francophones complain the bike tour has been unnecessarily politicised.
One French-speaking politician said: “You only need to see the concentration of politicians taking part to understand that it’s a political event. That can’t be hidden.” One francophone protestor watching the bike ride said: “We want to promote an image of openness to Europe because we’re the capital of Europe. It’s very important to be multicultural and to accept the differences of others.”
The “Gordel”, as the event is known came against the backdrop of political deadlock at a national level, over the issue of devolving powers to the regions.