Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Divide between Flemings and Walloons deeper than we thought

Translated from this article at
Flemings are farmers who know French but don't want to speak it. Walloons are lazy and arrogant bon vivants. That is roughly how we think of each other according to a detailed study from Mark Elchardus (VUB) and Olivier Servais (UCL). 
"We look at each other using clichés. And the negative ones are prominent. Thus, the language conflict is not a question of the media or politics. It's about common people. It's about sharp contrasts anchored in history. 
The survey 'Eén land, twee talen' (=one country, two languages) was ordered by the P&V foundation. It is not a quantitative survey, but was based on a survey of a panel consisting of 70 people: men and women equally, evenly distributed across age groups and regions. Different sessions focusing on different topics were conducted. The panellists were encouraged to tell 'their own stories'. 
Remarkably, more negative than positive stories were told. The stories in the latter category also tended to be less specific.
If Flemings and Walloons are going to keep looking at each other as if they were from totally different parts of the world - instead of inhabitants of the very same country - it's only a matter of time before we have two countries in place of one.



  1. I haven't got anything against the Walloons, but I don't like how everyone speaks French in Brussels. Brussels is supposed to be bilingual - and there are a lot of employees in the public services that don't speak a SINGLE word of Flemish. I think that's a bit of a shame. Also, if you go to a book store or if you want to buy a DVD, the French selection is remarkably bigger than the Flemish and English. But you've already heard me ranting about that today :p

  2. If you ask me, that's because the francophone population is so protective of their own language that they never see the need to learn another. And if they do, it's not Dutch :P

  3. People need to realise what different cultures really mean. Such thing does not exist in Western Europe. Regional accents maybe, but no different cultures. I've lived in 7 countries and the only one where I realised there was a truly different culture, was Turkey, and even there the differences weren't that big as some would expect. Flemish and Walloon people share so much, they have the same culture, the same background, just a different language. People need to realise that and think in terms of "we are Belgians" again. I always get annoyed when people here in Spain call me "Flemish" and will politely correct them: "no, I am Belgian and wish to be refered to as such."

    Brussels is bilingual but people move and relocate. Over the years a lot of French-speakers found jobs in Brussels and settled there. It was a natural evolution, just like the growing of the Brussels Capital District. All big cities sprawl and eventually absorb the suburbs, it happens in all countries who have really big growing cities. It is absurd that communes like Wemmel and Kraainem are not absorbed in the Capital District yet when those communes are totally orientated at brussels: the overwhelming majority of the people go working, studying and shopping in Brussels. It is time people accept this is just reality that happens everywhere. 100 years ago, Kartal and Maltepe (the part of Istanbul where I lived), were small rural villages. Now they are heavily urbanised parts of Istanbul proper. Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, ... have all grown and during this process absorbed neighbouring villages. It is a natural process and there is no reason to stop it.

    I always speak French in Brussels. It's a good exercise to keep my French at decent level, and I don't have any emotional or patriottic issues with speaking French anywhere (or German -- let's not forget this is an official language of Belgium too!)

  4. Small sidenote: Flemish is not a language, it's a dialect of Dutch. If people consider Flemish to be a separate language, then I demand the Ghent dialect to be recognised as an official minority language too :) Belgians speak Dutch, French or German. Flemish is an adjective refering to a region ; it's not a language.

    PS: the reason why French speakers will often learn English as second language instead of Dutch is quite logical I'd say. Dutch is spoken in 5 countries of which it is a majority language in only 2. English is spoken worldwide in countless number of countries. So I understand why a Walloon finds English more handy as second language. That said, recent trends show that especially amongst young Walloons, the number of Walloons speaking Dutch decently or fluently is increasing! In a way, no language known is ever a waste of time, and Belgians are praised in many countries for our multilingualness. Many Belgians speak 3 to 4 languages fluently. We can be proud of that I'd say!

    1. Correction Gerrit, but Flemish and Dutch are regional variations of the same language - Nederlandse to be precise. In fact it could be said that if the Northern provinces hadn't broken away from Spanish rule unlike the Southern Netherlands (Belgium) then Dutch people would undoubtedly be speaking Flemish as Brabant and Flanders were the centre of Netherlands population, culture and finance. The Spanish colonial period saw the balance of Netherlands power and influence move north and Dutch and not Flemish became standard Nederlandse. All countries have regional accents and dialects eg. Frisian Dutch is further removed from Standard Dutch than is Flanders Dutch.

      The reason so many Flemish families in Brussels routinely speak French as their first language is historically due to necessity, If you didn't speak French you couldn't advance in life, it was as simple as that. You could say that Flemish/Dutch was driven from the Capital by successive regimes. There are very few Walloon families in Brussels, instead there are plenty of French speaking ex:French, North Africans and Congolese speaking the language along with French speaking Flemings. Brussels is a traditionally Flemish City as evidenced by number of Flemish family names in the phone book, preceded by French first names.

      You could say the Flemish language has survived a kind of language holocaust in Belgium and this is most greatly accentuated in the Brussels region.

    2. Please excuse me for using the word holocaust which is of course inappropriate, what I was attempting to say was the Flemish language in Belgium and in particular Brussels has survived what was a systematic campaign over centuries to replace it in favour of French. With the majority of Belgians speaking Flemish, I think it's not unreasonable for anyone moving there to at least respect the traditions of the Country and of Brussels.

  5. "It is absurd that communes like Wemmel and Kraainem are not absorbed in the Capital District yet when those communes are totally orientated at brussels: the overwhelming majority of the people go working, studying and shopping in Brussels."

    I suspect that there are political reasons behind that.

    Indeed, learning a new language is never a waste of time! Can't wait to start learning some new ones. :)

  6. The reasons behind that is that Flemish communities would become Brussels Capital District communities. And the "flaminganten" don't like the sound of that. Whereas it is only natural that a metropolis grows and sprawls out and thereby absorbs surrounding towns. De facto these towns like Wemmel, Kraainem, St Genesius Rode and such are totally orientated towards Brussels, so it is absurd to stop a totally normal evolution. Sooner or later people hopefully realise this and Brussels can further expand as a city without absurd protests.

  7. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

  8. It's okay for a Norwegian and a Turk to consider what's reasonable for Belgium, but not for the Belgians themselves? You have to see the history of Belgium ans the South Netherlands as it was known before that. Yes South Netherlands not North France.
    Well there has been a systematic campaign by French speakers & Walloons to kill off the Flemish/Dutch language and I quote this by Charles Rogier a French born Belgian Prime Minister of the mid nineteenth century:


    The efficiency of an administration is based on the fact that it uses only one language and it is clear that that language in Belgium can only be French. To make this possible, we have to make sure that all civil and military offices are reserved for Walloons. The Flemings, who, because of this, will have to miss the benefits of such positions, will feel obliged to learn French and in such a way, we will gradually be able to destroy the Germanic part of Belgium.

    [source: Willemyns 2003:207]"

    Quite shocking really. So we've seen that the French drove the Flemish/Dutch language from Brussels and now the capital is a magnet for the French speakers of the World. In fact 25% of French speakers in Brussels are not even Belgian nationals and now these and other francophones are finding Brussels to be a bit of a ghetto and what to move out into Flanders. That would be okay if they were demonstrating an acceptance that the Flemish region is exactly that and attempted to assimilate but history proves that while Flemings will always attempt to speak French in French districts the reverse is not true.
    It's a shame that francophone intransigence has caused the Flemish community to move to protect their heritage. But who do you blame? Surely not those who have borne the brunt of it historically.