?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 Belgique mon amour… - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

Belgique mon amour…

April 13, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

Belgium appears as a small replica of the European Union. A nearly perfect embodiment of modern fears, phobias, uncertainties, and ambivalence, Belgium can break all kinds of conventional wisdom as a house of cards. To engage in cliche dropping when trying to portray this small, albeit ambitious and critically important to the EU, country is a pointless undertaking.

Belgium is both down-to-earth and cosmopolitan, depending on which aspect of its rather nebulous identity structure and multifaceted reality we discuss. It may well be described as fiercely nationalistic and leaning towards populism if we keep in mind its notorious culture wars and political animosities between Flemings and Walloons or such dangerous forces as the political party Vlaams Belang (that is, Flemish Interest). At the same time, Belgium is strikingly and powerfully European, open, multicultural, multilingual, and sophisticated.

Belgium is both a dream and a nightmare of the EU. It is a dream so far as an ability to live in an interconnected world of multiple identities and several languages is concerned; yet it is also a nightmare, once we start thinking about a siege mentality or an intense loathing of a neighboring people, its culture, language (even if you happen to be elegantly fluent in it), never-ending culture wars, stereotyping, and scapegoating. Belgium easily covers two possible scenarios of the EU and its further integration, the best-case scenario and the worst-case one.

If the EU succeeds, it will bear much family resemblance to Belgium, although the scale will be different. Yet if it, God forbid, fails for some reason, we will end up in similar feuds and family quarrels that have already become a distinct mark of present Belgium. To refer to their terms of endearment, “Frogs” and “Waffles” are the ethnic, cultural, and political equivalents of the feuding clans of Montagues and Capulets, who force you to find yourself in a troubled and divorcing family where you like both sides without being able to help them find a way to live together.

What results from this world of fear and loathing, intertwined with the ability to conceal them through the elegance and power of judgment, is creative vitality, unpredictability, and a good deal of cynicism. A vibrant economy, a rich cultural life, a stunning beauty of old Flemish towns, and an incredible cuisine go hand-in-hand with the aforementioned mutual animosities and hostility to the European Commission and other EU institutions (an extended middle finger at the building of the European Commission is not a uniquely rare episode from Brussels’ street life, if you take the word of an eyewitness).

Putting aside the miracles of Flemish art history, ranging from Jan van Eyck and the Flemish Primitives to Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and other giants of Flemish Baroque painting, or such cultural icons of modern Europe as Rene Magritte, Belgium rightly merits the name of the heart of Europe due to the high level of its political class.
This small nation has an ambitious political class, whose members in the European Parliament are committed to the EU and especially to the federalist vision of Europe, more than their counterparts from far larger delegations. The names of Belgian liberals Guy Verhofstadt, Annemie Neyts or Louis Michel are known to anyone more or less familiar with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

Like in the social sciences, where it is impossible to expect the rise of political science and sociology without the country’s major role in shaping modern life and our modern sensibilities, the political class can hardly mature without being able to meet the serious challenges of modern life. The center of the unholy trinity of modernity, that is, uncertainty, unsafety, and insecurity generated by a wealthy and industrial nation, rather than by a poor country with a kleptocratic and authoritarian ruling clique, Belgium may well be said to have become a litmus test case of European integration.

Belgium can become instrumental in changing our key concepts and terms when observing modern political life. On February 18, 2011, the country marked 250 days it has spent without a government, thus breaking the record of Iraq. Now it is approaching the mark of 300 days. And guess what? Nothing happened. Life goes on.
The news that Belgium can convey to the world is that the country, with a well-functioning system of local governance and with strong municipalities, can live without a government. It can do so successfully avoiding anarchy, social unrest, anomie, fragmentation, deterioration of public services, and the like. Needless to say, it would have ended up in social unrest, looting, and anarchy had the EU institutions been just an empty sound.

Having moved from a rather awkward country and a battlefield of major European powers to a pilot project, if not the playground, of European politics, Belgium has the new raison d’etre. We can be reminded by Belgium of the fact that the cultural diversity of Europe may succeed where its politics fails.

To share a culture of belonging, at the same time managing an immense political and cultural diversity and accommodating the lands where every fifty kilometers we can find a new language and a unique culture, is itself a great lesson of wisdom. In fact, a more homogenous cultural milieu combined with a centralized state can hardly teach it.

This is why Belgium is a place where the twentieth century ends and where the twenty-first begins.


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.. is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.

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