There is a sign of further tension in Belgium over politics and language. Authorities in the small Dutch-speaking city of Hal have announced that road signs will no longer be bilingual, with French translations banned. A political deadlock after elections in June has reignited debate about a possible break-up between the country’s French and Dutch-speaking regions. Experts say that scenario is unlikely, but Hal’s ban on bilingual signs ups the tension.
“It’s fair,” said one local woman. “French-speakers in the Wallonia region don’t have to put up signs in Dutch. I’m no extremist but I think it’s fair.” “It’s idiotic,” said another woman. “There are tourists and they also need to be able to read them.”
Behind the ban is a deputy mayor from a party that supports independence for Flanders. He says he is simply applying a local law that already exists. He maintains the country has good linguistic laws but they are ignored. “The consequences are grave,” he said, “and the rest of Flanders should also realise the social implications.”
Belgium is divided up into three regions: French-speaking Wallonia, Dutch-speaking Flanders and the bilingual region of Brussels. There is still no new government in sight three months after elections. The Belgian King has been holding talks trying to find a political agreement.
On Monday, in the Flemish parliament, the far-right Vlaams Belang party failed in its bid to force a debate on the question of independence.