Five Reasons Belgium Should Continue to Exist
Lists: It's been suggested that the plucky -- and it's almost always described as plucky -- European nation should split in two. Alexander Basek comes to its defense.
10.18.07 | 3:19 PM ET
Can’t Belgium just be Belgium? Last month, the Economist published an article suggesting Belgium should split in two. A construct of the 1830s, Belgium had served the purpose of buffering France and the Netherlands. Now, it’s unable to elect a government thanks to a division between French-speaking Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders in the North, and the Economist has suggested the two regions go their separate ways.
Surprisingly, there was little media pushback against Belgium’s breakup. Dave Barry described Belgium as a “screen door country,” and so they must be accustomed to a lack of respect after all these years, but I personally felt the need to stand up for the plucky—and it’s almost always described as plucky—nation. So, herewith, a rebuttal: Five reasons that Belgium should continue to exist.
1) It’s Surreal. Like chocolate and peanut butter, Belgium is a mash-up of two disparate elements into a superior whole. Don’t lament the nation as an artificial construct, but applaud how liberating that artificiality can be. Citizens unconcerned with a national banner will unite under the freak flag instead. After all, only a nation that doesn’t take itself seriously would promote a urinating boy as a national icon. And only a really weird one makes visiting world leaders dress that boy in cute little outfits.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your head at once is the mark of great intelligence, and the opposition inherent in Belgian existence has made for some great, intelligent art. Magritte’s paintings synthesized the real and the absurd in ways that few others could, and even Hergé sent Tintin to countries that, far from being depicted accurately, existed mostly in his imagination. Belgium is, defiantly, the weirdest country in Europe—sorry, Lithuania, the Frank Zappa thing isn’t gonna cut it—and artificiality isn’t a hindrance, it’s inspiration.
2) It’s Heady. You don’t have to believe me that beer unites Belgium—just ask the King, Albert II, who cited it as one of the few things the two regions share. As it stands, Belgium’s 125 national breweries make some of the best brews in the world. So why divvy them up among two new countries? Left with less impressive national rosters, it would foment endless, tedious arguments about the relative merits of Orval versus De Konnick (even more than before). It’s like breaking up the 1927 Yankees and sending the players to the Florida Marlins and the Washington Nationals. Would you get rid of Murderers’ Row to do that?
3) It’s Tuesday, it Must be Belgium. That phrase harkens from the days when visiting Europe was a one-shot deal, and American kids would breeze through as much of the continent as possible at a breakneck pace. Surely “It’s Tuesday, it must be Wallonia” doesn’t have quite the same ring? Belgium is there as a reminder to visitors that they should sloooow down—you too, German Army—and enjoy the finer things instead of fretting about ticking yet another country off the list. Coincidentally, a country packed with chocolate is a great place to slow down. Plus there’s ample parking!
4) It’s Bureaucratic. Plans to split Belgium inevitably struggle with the intractable problem of Brussels. Physically in Flanders but psychically in Wallonia, if not the 8th arrondissement of Paris, Brussels would likely exist independent of the two new nations; think of it as a cross between Washington D.C. and the Vatican. There’s already quite a bit of animosity directed at this beautiful city for hosting NATO and the EU Parliament, and peeling it off would leave it exposed to Euroskeptic and anti-American ire. Sure, nobody likes bureaucracy, but if it became Brussels’ only raison d’etre, it would ruin one of Europe’s most “European” cities, tilting the municipal balance away from the pleasures of a late-night stroll on the Grand Place and towards budgets and business.
5) It’s Delicious. The disappearance of “Belgian” cuisine would be a huge loss from any split. The interplay between North and South on the plate is makes Belgian food so delectable. More cheese? Yes, please! Ask a Frenchman, who, in a moment of quiet weakness, will tell you that Belgian cuisine is superior to the French—and then go right back to calling Belgians simpletons and pedophiles. The preparation of their trademark frites encapsulates the beauty of Belgian cuisine. The potatoes are fried twice, with a period to rest in between, giving them a trademark creamy interior and a crisp skin. What perfect collaboration between the industriousness of Flemings and the pleasure seeking of the Walloons! A Belgium rent in two? That’s like a once fried potato. Sure, it’ll do in a pinch, but you know it could be so much better.