L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

04 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

The Belgium Problem

The Beligian motto is "L'union fait la force" in French and it can be usefully misunderstood to refer to trade unions- especially when, as the Torygraph's David Rennie points out, the Belgian military turtns out to have a highly influential trade union:

Initially, the union, the “Centrale générale du personnel militaire », had been a bit wary of sending troops to join United Nations peacekeepers, because the mission reportedly might involve trying to disarm Hizbollah. And - as union official Emmanuel Jacob pointed out to VRT Flemish broadcasting - that sounded rather dangerous.

Thankfully, now they have been reassured that their mission will not involve taking on Hizbollah, the Belgian unions are ok with the deployment. A rough translation of Mr Jacobs’s remarks: “Belgium does not have enough soldiers to carry out an operation like disarming Hizbollah. But, now the conditions have been changed, this current plan works for us.”

This is, I think, symptomatic of the failures of the Belgian state. Mr Rennie has a number of similar piece but, although good at pointing out the problems, is rather poorer at identifying solutions and I suspect that is because he is worried about conventional wisdom. A good example is his discussion of the upcoming local elections, where he rejects the Vlaams Belang, calling it the "Dirty Right". This is, I think, classic conventional wisdom and unwillingness to look beyond the claims of the establishment.

Conventional wisdom is that the Vlaams Belang are right-wing racists and that therefore they should be shunned by any means possible. It was, I believe becasue of the existence of the Vlaams Belang's predecessor - the Vlaams Blok - that Belgium got its knickers in a twist so much with Austria when Jorg Haider was invited into the government, and it is because of the VB that the rest of the Belgian parties have effectively formed a rainbow coalition in Flanders and divided out the municipal jobs between them.

The result is that voters have a choice between grubby status quo and the VB. Or, to put it another way, the only way to protest the current government is to vote VB and I suspect that the result of this manoevering is to gratly increase support for the VB amongst the disaffected. There is in fact a lot to be disaffected about in Belgium, all of which boil down to a critical, indeed hypocritical, difference between the words and the actions of those in authority. One other example of this is the recent disclosure that records of Belgium's Nazi-sympathizing past have been destroyed at various times up until the 1990s.

Another manifestation is corruption. I know a number of residents and former residents of Belgium, particularly of the Flemish north, and they are universally clear that the local governments are corrupt to a level that approaches that of Southern Italy with pretty much every mayor on the take, the police apparently paid to ignore this corruption and so on.

Still another manifestation is a denial of the integration failure of primarily N African Muslim immigrants, who seem to be unemployed, unemployable and generally speaking responsible for much petty crime, and the creation of unemployment blackspots, particularly in Wallonia, due to government regulation and excessive taxation. Just as in France and Italy I'm told that pretty much every one prefers to pay by cash for builders, gardners etc. Many prefer to actually buy their cars with cash and very few are willing to declare their entire earnings to the state, prefering to hide it away in one form or another.

All of these issues are things that Belgians talk about over a few drinks, and none of them are issues that any "reputable" political party will discuss. In fact the only party that will discuss them is the VB. The core VB voters are Flemish speaking private sector workers who object to seeing their income being taxed heavily and the taxation then frittered away on stuff that doesn't benefit them or their family. However given the general failure of the rest of the political scene they also attract other voters who agree with some of their platform and those who think that "kicking out the incumbents" is a good thing no matter what. So the question is are the VB really racists?

I'll answer that with "Probably Not". The fact that the VB says that there are parts of Wallonia where entire groups have lived on the dole for decades or that the majority of street crime in Antwerp is caused by immigrant youths is not racist per se since these are documented facts*. I have no doubt that some of the core membership are racist. But then I have no doubt that some conservatives in Britain or Sarkozy supporters in France are racist and I'm positive that much of the European left as well as the right is anti-semitic so the fact that some VB members might agree with statements from the BNP or FN is not an idication that the entire party is racist. Racism is the epithet used by the mainstream political elite to try and discourage people from actually looking at the VB or taking it seriously and most such claims, particularly the one used to ban its predecessor, were ones that failed to stand up to critical examination.

Perhaps more to the point - and summed up well by a comment on Rennie's blog entry which concludes (about Antwerp):

... The reasoning here is quite often: the current bunch of half-wits has made a glorious mess of it, so why not give that other bunch of tits a chance? And I must say, the more time I spend in this city, the less silly that reasoning sounds.

The only way we can actually find out whether the VB are actually racist or merely not lovy-dovy-multi-culti is to see them govern something. Let us hope they get the chance.

* or rather since I'm quoting from memory here what the VB says about these two subjects is factual, I may be misremembering what they say.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin