Category Archives: Flanders

Centripetal and centrifugal forces in doomed Europe

CONTINENTAL PARADOX

The centripetal forces, writes Dalrymple,

are those that would lead to the ever closer union proclaimed to be the purpose of the EU (eventual total union),

while the centrifugal forces are such as the following.

  • Flanders nationalists want independence from Belgium. The status and prestige of the French and Flemish languages created resentment: the Flanders aristocracy or haute bourgeoisie spoke French not Flemish; the educated Flemish speakers learnt French but the French-speakers did not learn Flemish. Many Flemings have neither forgotten nor forgiven that while Belgian army officers in the Great War were French-speaking, the Belgian infantrymen, the cannon-fodder, spoke Flemish and could neither understand the officers nor be understood by them. (Today the Flemings subsidise the Walloons.)
  • Scottish nationalists want independence from Britain. (Scotland receives subsidies from London.) Unlike the Irish, the Scots have little to complain of at the hands of the English, at least in the past two centuries. The Scots were among the greatest advocates and beneficiaries of the British Empire; and far from being an anti-imperialist movement, Scots nationalism is a consequence of the decline and fall of empire rather than a rejection of British imperialism.
  • Catalan nationalists want independence from Madrid. Catalonia is more prosperous than the rest of Spain, and its taxes subsidise other parts of the country. Catalans felt oppressed by the Franco regime.
  • Basque nationalists want independence from Spain.
  • In Wales within living memory, children could be punished for speaking Welsh on the playground. There were Welsh-speaking parents who did not want their children to grow up speaking Welsh (those of Dylan Thomas, for example) — they felt that speaking Welsh was not merely useless but harmful to the prospects of young Welshmen. The experience of being punished for speaking one’s native tongue in one’s native land is bound to create resentment. (Cardiff is a recipient of subsidies from London.)
  • Corsican nationalists recently won local elections. (Corsica receives subsidies from Paris.)
  • A northern Italian movement wants to disembarrass that prosperous part of the country of its perpetually impoverished south, which it must subsidise.
  • Many Bavarians want independence from Germany.

SEARCH FOR IDENTITY

Dalrymple points to factors in the rise of separatist movements.

  • People dislike their near-neighbours more than they dislike distant ones. Since hatred is by far the strongest political emotion, it is not surprising that people in search of an identity find it in distinguishing themselves, usually with dislike, from their nearest neighbours.
  • There is the search for identity in modern conditions, in which even in supposedly small countries, large cities make anonymity the normal daily experience of the majority. In such conditions nationalism, like tattooing and piercing, becomes a shortcut to personal identity.

MEGALOMANIA OF PETTY POTENTATES

Why are the separatist movements strongly pro-EU? (This appears strange in so far as the EU would destroy or replace national sovereignty.) Why are nationalist centrifugalists so eager to form an alliance with EU centripetalists, who wish to efface the very thing the nationalists claim to be seeking? Dalrymple examines three hypotheses.

  1. The nationalists might not be aware of the contradiction. Few of us are logical calculating machines who work out the full implications of our beliefs, let alone always act in our own best interests.
  2. Out of the frying-pan into the fire: nationalist dislike of immediate neighbours may loom so large that it overcomes thought.
  3. Leaders of the nationalist parties or separatist groups want there to be more places at the top table—vacancies that they would then fill. They might even rise to the dizzying heights of the former prime minister of Luxembourg, who has long bestridden the world, or Europe at any rate, like a colossus. This he could never have done without the existence of the EU. In other words, personal ambition and the megalomania of petty potentates.

EUROPE OF REGIONS

What should be the attitude of leaders of the EU towards the potential fracturing of the EU member states as they are at present constituted? Dalrymple explains.

In the short term, EU leaders have to pretend to support the current arrangements, because for the moment power is concentrated in the hands of the leaders of those member states. If the power in Madrid or London begins, however, to seep away, the path to a Europe not of the nations but of ‘the regions’ is cleared.

La peine européenne forte et dure

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 08.53.20Dalrymple writes:

‘Europe’—in the Soviet-style usage of the word now so common—does not mean peace, but conflict, if not war. We are building in Europe not a United States but a Yugoslavia. We shall be lucky to escape violence when it breaks apart.

  • Europe is, so far, the consequence of peace, not its cause
  • multilateral agreements have always been possible without the erection of giant and corrupt bureaucratic apparatuses that weigh like a peine forte et dure on Western European economies
  • the maintenance of peace does not require or depend upon regulating the size of bananas sold
  • the notion that were it not for the European Union, there would be war, is inherently Germanophobic—no one believes, for instance, that Estonia would otherwise attack Slovenia, or Portugal Slovakia.

Take Belgium. The country is composed of two main national communities—the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemings.

The division between the two is sharper than at any previous time, to such an extent that the country recently had no government for more than 500 days. No one in Belgium explains, or even asks, why what has not proved possible for 189 years—full national integration of just two groups sharing so much historical experience and a tiny fragment of territory—should be achievable on a vastly larger scale with innumerable national groups, many of which have deeply ingrained and derogatory stereotypes of one another.

‘Europe’

lacks almost all political legitimacy, which will make it impossible to resolve real and growing differences.

Belgian diagnosis

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 07.12.36Flemings, Walloons and a failed European project

In the course of a discussion of the implosion of the European Union, Dalrymple cites Belgium, stating a fact that is obvious to all but the West’s political and intellectual leaders:

What has not worked in two centuries in a small area with only two populations will not work in a few years in a much larger area with a multitude of populations.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 07.44.36Belgium has existed since it was cobbled together in 1830.

In all that time, it has not been able to create a durable national identity.

The country is divided into populations with incompatible politics: Wallonia and Flanders. Belgium is officially bilingual, yet you will not see a word of Flemish in Wallonia or of French in Flanders.

Not pretty

But it’s not pretty

The division could not be starker if barbed wire separated the two provinces. Only in the capital, Brussels, does one find any concession to bilingualism.

Wallonia,

though it contained a minority of Belgium’s population, long dominated its culture and economy.

Even upper-class Flemings spoke French at home, while Flemish was the language of the peasantry; until recently, Belgian schools forbade children from speaking Flemish in class.

With the decline of Wallonia’s coal and steel industries and the economic rise of Flanders, the pattern of dominance changed. Flanders

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 07.54.21went from being the poor relation to being the rich one, albeit with something of an inferiority complex. It started to make large transfer payments to Wallonia, which suffered from comparatively high unemployment.

Such payments

rarely promote goodwill between groups. Resentment is common among both the donors, who harbour suspicions that the recipients are exploiting them, and the recipients, who indulge in mental contortions to explain their dependency away.

The largest political parties in Flanders

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 08.01.59are either nationalist or free-market; both philosophies lead to reducing or stopping the transfer payments.

The largest political party in Wallonia

is socialist and wants the payments to continue or increase. The Wallonian socialist party’s patronage powers in its territory are almost feudal in nature and extent; the last thing that the party of social change wants is actual change.

Binding the Flemings and Walloons together

Binding the Flemings and Walloons together

The Walloons

want higher taxes to maintain the current arrangements.

The Flemings

want lower taxes and reduced spending to promote long-term growth.

A masterpiece.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 08.11.56