Tonight, Belgium play Argentina in the quarter finals of the World Cup and a lot more than football is at stake. A win will definitely have a progressive political effect in Belgium and may actually be instrumental in stopping the country splitting in two. Confused? Read on...
Just before I started as Attila in 1980 I spent quite a while in Brussels playing bass with a brilliant punk band called Contingent and we still do occasional gigs today. I’ve always liked Belgium a lot — wonderful beer and the awesome Jacques Brel are two obvious reasons why — but in general terms that country’s “boring” tag you hear a lot is bollocks.
It’s a lovely and often very silly place. Any anarchists reading this will be amused by the fact that it spent 589 days in 2010-11 without an elected government! Why? Because of the continual Pythonesque linguistic quarrel between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonie.
The country is divided into communes, areas designated as officially speaking one language or the other, and each guards their linguistic identity with fanatical zeal.
Even major cities have two names. This makes for confusion if, for instance, you are a monolingual Daily Mail reader making a scary journey into Europe via the Dover-Ostend ferry, heading for Liege or Mons. You’ll start off in Flanders on a motorway where they are called Luik and Bergen. That’s just amusing. But there is a sinister side to the division — the rise of right-wing Flemish nationalism.
It’s always been there, snarled at by Brel in his great song Les Flamingants: “Nazis durant les guerres et catholiques entre elles/vous oscillez sans cesse du fusil au missel” (Nazis during the wars and Catholics between them/you constantly switch from the gun to the missal”) but in recent years it has grown enormously.
The French-speaking part of Belgium, which has a strong socialist tradition, is much poorer than the Flemish. It’s mainly reliant on mining and heavy industry, now in decline, and has much higher levels of poverty and unemployment.
The right-wing, free-market obsessed Flemish nationalists, an absolute mirror image of Ukip, call the French speakers “scroungers.”
They hate the very concept of Belgium — they want to secede from it, a bit like the Confederate states in the US, and create an independent Flanders.
To their right, the noxious Vlaams Belang scream more extreme versions of the same thing. The French speakers have been becoming increasingly isolated in their defence of the whole concept of Belgium and a lot of people have been predicting that it will soon split.
If it does, that will be a victory for xenophobia, greed and small minded, pinched-faced selfishness — a bit like a Ukip win in England. At its core is a group of unreconstructed fascists who celebrate the Flemish collaboration with the nazis during WWII.
But something really funny is happening at the moment and it’s all down to the World Cup.
Logically, since they hate the concept of Belgium, Flemish right-wingers should be cheering for the team’s opponents. But they seem to have forgotten their slogan “Belgie barst” (“Belgium, split”) and they are joining their Walloon counterparts in cheering on the best football team the country has ever had.
The nationalism associated with football can often have a reactionary edge but in Belgium, in my view, it’s entirely positive.
I know it sounds ridiculous to claim that football could save a country from a bunch of right-wing dickheads but if Belgium were to win the World Cup, I honestly think the Flemish nationalist movement would disappear up its own arse. And the team play in red. Enough said, really.
So come on you Diables Rouges/Rode Duivels. Do it for anti-fascism and national unity, the “Belgitude” of Jacques Brel. And, in a totally non-nationalistic and progressive way, do it for the Hand of God in 1986.
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