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DavidV

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[Low_Countries_1700] 

Twice in the last decade, the Kingdom of Belgium took many months to form a government, fuelling speculation about the division of the country with the emergence of Flemish nationalism generally opposed to the Belgian monarchy.

Flemish nationalists have been successful in gaining a voice in international circles who have become sympathetic to their arguments, namely that Belgium is an artificial state forced together by historical circumstances, furthermore that it is a sclerotic state in which an economically depressed Wallonia is a drain on the more prosperous Flanders. Yet because of the current orientation of Flemish nationalism, it seems to attract more opprobrium from some corners than Scottish, Irish and Catalan nationalism.

So why should we keep Belgium together besides keeping a reigning monarchy alive? Because Belgium is, as this 1999 piece from the FNB party states, in fact not an artificial country. It can in some ways be seen as a successor of sorts to the Holy Roman Empire in the area.

The Netherlands and Switzerland are two nation-states existing today who trace their institutional origins to rebellions against the Empire, in the same way as the USA does in rebellion against Britain. The territories making up Belgium and Luxembourg today - Flanders, Brabant, Limburg, Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg and the prince-bishopric of Liege - remained part of the Empire. Indeed, as the Southern Netherlands under Spanish and then Austrian Habsburgs, they were largely self-governing up until the French Revolution and occupation of the Low Countries, which was indeed resisted in those parts. In this respect, Belgium is thus a country whose territories have a long history together.

Flemish nationalists invoke the Battle of the Golden Spurs in which Flemish forces defeated France in 1302. Furthermore, they like northern Italian separatists invoke an imaginary Golden Age of prosperity and self-rule which was certainly true, but is also distorted and misappropriated.

Today you have Flemish nationalists, Walloon nationalists, Belgicists, Orangists (who favour union of Flanders with the Netherlands) and Rattachists (who favour union of Wallonia with France). The Francophone Right tends to be anti-separatist, putting them at odds with Flemish nationalists.

In this we can say that threatening to break up Belgium is actually playing the same game as threatening to break up the UK and Spain. Don't do it. You're only making for weaker countries more easily at the mercy of internationalists.
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