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. 

Tags: Europe, Belgium

Alexander Basek is a food and travel writer based in New York City. He is the Best Deals reporter for Travel + Leisure. His writing has also appeared in the New York Post, Time Out New York, and Fodor's.

15 Comments for Five Reasons Belgium Should Continue to Exist

henk stock 10.18.07 | 5:28 PM ET

Well, as a Belgian living in the USA, i can truly applaud your article… I had read the article in the Economist and it truly offended me to the core, i have replied to them already, but god forbid they would publish it. All in all your article puts some different ideas forward then mine, but all in all they go to the same essence.. Belgium is a pretty nice country in all and has a lot of things to be proud off..

Sheila at Family Travel 10.18.07 | 5:33 PM ET

As they say, the Belgians eat as well as the French and as much as the Germans (you didn’t even talk about how well their mussels go with their beer!)

Great food in good quantity—can’t beat it.

The whole BENELUX area is wildly underrated, I think.

Elisabeth 10.20.07 | 4:13 PM ET

Mr. Basek, you’re a man after my own heart. Your piece is both funny and to the point.
Although I’m a naturalized American now, I was a Belgian long enough to observe this quaint fact about my ex-compatriots: Belgians seldom appreciate all the good things their country has to offer until they have to do without, e.g.(as in my own case)after they emigrate.
As the editor of America’s only Belgian newspaper, I call myself a born-again Belgian. Keep the Sansevieria flying!


I’m a Belgian residing in the USA, and I’m very proud of my countries’ accomplishments at world level, way beyond it’s actual size. The Orient Express and the Club Med had Belgian founders, not to mention the many Nobel prizes granted, the painters, cartographers, or the inventor of the dynamo, Zenobe Gramme, without which your car would not start, or the inventor of the first synthetic material called Bakelite, by William Baeckeland, as used in the early telephones.  Belgium is saddled with three linguistic regions that mutually curse each other, and the only way that can be avoided is to intensively teach ALL Belgian kids from their two years on, the three main languages, Dutch, English and French, and even German.  My parents, thank God, took care of that, and at age five, I was perfectly trilingual.  If I could do that, any kid can.  I think it is the destiny of Belgium to abandon it’s policy of linguistic apartheid, become one country, or instead become three nonentities, Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels as the Federal capital of Europe.  I am for multi-lingualism, It gives Belgium far more clout versus its’ powerful neighbors.
Do not forget a coalition of Belgian tribes fought the advancing Roman Legions of Julius Caesar to a standstill, causing him to invade Great Britain instead, and making him record in his memoirs: “Of all the Gauls, the Belgians are the bravest”.  This is the first thing they teach a Belgian kid in Middle school, at least in my day…  That makes me a Brave, Julius Caesar said so.

Frederic Broelinckx 10.22.07 | 1:53 AM ET

I think it was the chef (Pierre Romarin)and ex-owner of the three-star Michelin restaurant in Brussels, the Villa Lorraine who stated: “If you want to eat really good French food, you have to come to Belgium”, but maybe he was preaching for his own chapel.  He caused an uproar in the Belgian Parliament by selling his restaurant to the Japanese,just like what happened to New York’s Rockefeller Center, and had to explain on National TV, that he was only selling the building, and renting it, so he could concentrate on his menus.

Jason 10.23.07 | 11:52 PM ET

Eliminating Belgium would also deprive us of the beauty of Douglas Adams’s joke about the word “Belgium” being the rudest word in the galaxy, an excerpt of which follows:

In today’s modern Galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that, were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme cases shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech and writing is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed and totally un****ed-up personality.

So, for instance, when in a recent national speech the Financial Minister of the Royal World Estate of Quarlvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another and the fact that no one had made any food for a while and the king seemed to have died and most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called “one whole joojooflop situation,” everyone was so pleased that he felt able to come out and say it that they quite failed to note that their entire five-thousand-year-old civilization had just collapsed overnight.

But even though words like “joojooflop,” “swut,” and “turlingdrome” are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the Galaxy except for use in Serious screenplays.

There is also, or _was_, one planet where they didn’t know what it meant, the stupid turlingdromes.

Eric 11.01.07 | 4:13 PM ET

I have always thought that Belgian food fulfilled the promise made by the French!

MLLA aka mariella bonnivert 11.18.07 | 6:00 PM ET

How pleased am I to read such demonstration of love to my country.
The things I enjoy the most about Belgium is its food and the idea of the surreal which one can live daily in Belgium.

Mariella from Brussels.

Riable 11.22.07 | 7:28 PM ET

I thought “Belgium” was actually little Morocco now ??

MLLA aka mariella bonnivert 12.05.07 | 4:34 PM ET

Its like saying “the US is little redneckland” just because you happend to see lots of them at one place really depends where you go in Belgium. Some parts of Brussels or Antwerpen makes you feel like you are in Morroco or some other countries like Poland or even an other continents like Africa but that’s about it. We have so many different cultures in Belgium. No wonders that we have NATO and the EU on our soil.

ALBERT G. DELUCIEN SR. (USMC) 12.12.07 | 8:54 PM ET


Claire Walter 12.23.07 | 12:12 AM ET

All nations to one extent or another are artificial constructs. Combinations are forged for political reasons at some point in history and split are apart (or Balkanized) for sentimental ones for cultural harmony/uniformity (he former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, the former Czechoslovakia). Like labor and childbirth, some breakups are easy, others are difficult and painful. No one knows in advance which will happen. I just find it ironic that some European countries have broken apart to establish their own cultural identity, and no sooner do they do so but then apply for membership in the E.U. and a measure pan-European unity.

Claire @

Elly 12.28.07 | 10:51 PM ET

Let us honor the homeland of Tintin et Milou… :D
Thanks, Mr. Basek.

John M. Edwards 01.24.08 | 5:25 AM ET

On my first trip to Europe, I was shocked and appalled to meet a group of suds-soaked American college students on a multimonth bus tour of the Continent, who summed up the entire country, after only a one-night stay in Brussells, like this: “Belgium suuuuuuuuuucks!” They gave it the Roman thumbs-down, yelled “whooooooooo!” and were off to the next country to cause great mischief to our dream of a United Europe.

Without Belgium, we wouldn’t have “The Muscles from Brussels,” none other than Mr. Jean Claude Van Damme, my vote for most appealing action hero who, with a little coaching, could actually “be” a Shakespearean actor. It’s no fun hearing about wars in other countries, without trained mercenaries from Belgium coming to calm everybody down with their ample linguistic (French, Dutch, English, German) skills, and colorfully setting themselves up as secret dictators of a puppet regime.

Also, Bruges is one of the most beautiful cities in the world; waffles and fries taste better there; the Belgian brews are so especially delicious that it would bring tears to the eyes of Checkov’s “Lady with the Lapdog” (I sense a misapplied analogy, but hey. . . .)

Here’s the point. Let’s get down to the bare bones. Belgium invented Tintin, and Tintin is a god to me. As one of the self-appointed US presidents of the “Tintin Club,” open to humans of all persuasions, all one has to do to join is repeat, “Tintin is a god to me!” three times, and mean it! A Walloon friend of mine summed it up, “I feel lost without the camaraderie of Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and the Thompsons.” Yes, while Tintin is abroad supporting the forces of good, you begrudege him the simple pleasures of his ancestral mansion, Marlinspike Hall. Who cares how many dames Tintin has bagged on the sly (with an ample tip to help out on groceries)? He might look gay, but he is indeed the ultimate “ladies man.” No starlet in her right mind would turn down the advances of a millionaire newspaper reporter who has been everywhere on the planet. So what if he stole King Ottakar’s Sceptre: it matches with the decor of his resplendent bedchamber. Ouch! The cowlick is in. Spielberg and Jackson will need Belgium as a backdrop for their upcoming Tintin movie (the idea poached outright from the Tintin Club).

No way can we lose Belgium. Come on, divide it like a Snickers Bar? Bashi-Bazooks!!!!!!!!

I guess I shouldn’t blog when I’m drunk. . . .

S. Zaza 08.12.08 | 3:51 AM ET

I love, love, love every bit of Belgium.
I spent a good part of my childhood there, and miss it terribly.

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