How come the French and Flemish don't get along in Belgium?

Discussion in 'History' started by Lusitania14, Jan 10, 2012.

  1. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Club:
    FC Porto
    Country:
    Portugal
    Just wondering.

    Can anyone explain it?


  2. ceezmad

    ceezmad Member+

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2010
    Location:
    Chicago
    Club:
    Chicago Red Stars
    Country:
    United States
    That is how the French roll!
  3. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    Belgium is divided into 3 political units (German/French speaking Wallonia, Dutch speaking Flanders, French-Belgian speaking Brussels). Brussels is surrounded by Flanders, but because French is the most important language there nowadays (historically it was a Dutch speaking town), and it is so expensive, French-speaking inhabitants move to the (Flemish) suburbs, where you know have villages and towns that are in practice French speaking, but part of the Dutch-speaking political unit, meaning they have to learn Dutch for political participation on the municipal level, which they don't want to. (so a somewhat unusual immigrant problem.)

    Add to that that Wallonia used to be the economically more important part, but with the economic shift from manufacturing to services Flanders became richer all of a sudden.

    Now many Flemish want more autonomy for Flanders, but then the Walloons are afraid of losing out economically further (by getting less money from Wallonia). Unlike in Switzerland, where all the political parties are mutlilingual, the political parties are then doubled along the language lines, making politics really really difficult.

    Historically, by the way, Belgium had a French-speaking bourgeoise and Walloon and Flemish speaking peasants. The Walloons took over French as their language, while the burghers in the Flemish towns shifted to Dutch. (with the exception of Brussels where only ~15% of the population still speaks Dutch.
  4. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Club:
    FC Porto
    Country:
    Portugal
    @96Squig

    So the problem/conflicts is mainly due to language rivalry?

    I thought it was more deep (having to do with culture, way of life, etc.)


  5. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    It's linguistic, financial and political. Culturally the differences between Northern and Northeastern France, the West of Germany (not Western Germany, but the areas close to Benelux), Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands are not more different than New Englanders and upstate New Yorkers.

    You could try to make a case about immigrants from Northern Africa, who usually are also French speaking, but that is a different problem altogether that similarly also exists in the Netherlands, but without the language barrier. Mind you, I am not a Belgian, so they may have a different view on this, but that is how I see it.
  6. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands

    Well in the end it's about equality of course. The French speaking group never considered to really learn the Dutch language. I have been to the Belgium Ardennes many times but never have been able to speak Dutch with anybody. Not the older or the younger people, except one high manager who had a second house there but worked during the week in Brussels.

    The Walloons just pushed the French language higher up until a point the Flemish said enough of this expansionism (read: disrespect). You can then say it's language, but the basis problem of course is equality.

    Now the Flemish are richer they ask themselves why would we pay every year so much for a part of Belgium that does not want to speak our language (sign of equality for them), have not treated us with respect in the past and still behave as if the French language is "it".

    Haven spoken with Belgiums a lot they also like to smear each other (result and sign). This French manager loved bringing up how the Flemish collaborated with the Nazi's in WW2 and was tired of hearing how well the the Flemish part was doing economically. Like he had to hear it all the time and didn't like to hear his Wallonia being brought in a conversation as a problem. That's very tiring for people. If your culture/region of origin is always brought into conversation as a problem. Of course there is a lot of "let's enjoy this turn of the tables" behind that talk on the Flemish behalf.

    I can see Belgium split, but I don't see a reunification between Flanders and the Netherlands. No reason for (Euro and the European process going on) and unwise from a Dutch perspective looking at the debt Flanders would carry and bring in. But most of all Flanders just wants to be independent and not go through a cycle of merging with another region that will treat them with some arrogance (though the provinces of Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland, Limburg, Noord-Brabant, Zeeland, maybe even Flevoland (partly) would feel more close to the Flemish very fast and vice versa then both with the Randstad (the western provinces in the Netherlands). I am always amazed how Flemish politicians can't look through that simple distinction that exists in the Netherlands when they talk about Dutch big mouths.

    From a football perspective at the moment it would make a lot of sense though :D
  7. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    I don't think it's about that. Nobody bothers learning Swiss German, not even the French- or Italian speaking Swiss; among younger generations, just like in Belgium, they would converse in English rather than any of their own language, and yet you don't see them having a big discussion about respect and that kind of stuff... I think this is rather put forward as an excuse by the Flemish to show that they are reasonable ones, and the Walloons are not. Historically speaking the Walloons would not speak French, but rather Walloon , a romance language like Occitans or Catalan (not to be mixed up with Walloon French, which is the accent Walloons have when speaking French). They took over French (just as many Lower-German speaking people took up High German and forgot their Low German roots).
  8. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands
    The dimension of the linguistic expansionism the Walloons have displayed in the eyes of the Flemish and how that made them invest in resilience to defend their language/culture to rational and even irrational levels is a big factor. The Flemish very much have felt that the Walloons for a very long time have found it almost a silly idea to speak Dutch and even considered it inferior. Their financial power has left but the attitude still exists to some extend.
  9. Naughtius Maximus

    Naughtius Maximus Member+

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2001
    Location:
    Shropshire
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    Country:
    England
    I was gonna say, has the guy met any French people? :D
  10. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    So say the Flemish. The German community is doing fine for example, by the way. Maybe because they clinge to actual borders, not historical ones.
  11. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Location:
    Belgium
    Club:
    Club Brugge KV
    Actually French was the language of the bourgeoisie even in Flanders. Flemish is the language for "les domestiques", as the upper class twits would say.

    The sad thing is that some Walloons still drag the discussion down to that level, discussing the linguistic merits of Flemish/Dutch. That's just pathetic.

    But the core of the problem nowadays is socio-economical. Billions of Euros move from Flanders to Walloonia every year. A big part of that was the insistence of the Walloon community to cling to some branches of industry for too long. But there are attitude differences as well. They say that Belgium lays on the break-line of Southern and Northern Europe, and this can be seen in the attitude towards work.
  12. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands
    The village I went on vacation in the Ardennes had an elementary school where kids learned Dutch, I don't know how things are now but 15 years ago they certainly thought it was important to understand each other language, however there was never an attempt to speak it from one of the kids or parents.

    I also remember a train disaster where the accident could have been prevented if the railway operators/workers would have spoken each other language. They were not able to switch to English as they didn't speak that language either like still a lot of (lower class) people. That did cost many human lives IIRC.

    I also don't understand how it doesn't make sense to speak each others language. If you are in a country together for me that would be the minimum if it concerns two really big groups. Or at least have some fun in picking up some words of the other an use it. Where I went on vacation in Belgium it was almost like they made a point of not speaking it (I know you speak Dutch so I will say: alsof ze hun kont tegen de krib gooiden) or even like it was sin to speak it. That's just no basis for any sense of unity IMO. That has more to do with proving you are resisting to become anything like them.

    Now the Flemish have to pay up every year a lot of money, but how come they experience it as paying for "them"? In the Netherlands Limburg has also received a lot of money after closing the mines, it has been mentioned in the press, but nobody gets into a "we are paying for Limburg-mode" and "we have to separate them". that would be silly. So how come the Flemish experience it like they are paying for the Walloons and not just helping out poorer parts of Belgium? Apparently there is a strong "us" Flemish and so this money issue comes naturally after "identification with". Language is an important part of that IMO.
  13. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands
    This is indeed what I experienced too. The resistance of them to just be a bit helpful when I tried with broken French to explain myself as a kid. Even full grown adults made a point of not speaking a single word of Dutch. I never understood already as a kid how two parts can coexist when the other part acts like the language of the other is "infected".

    A bit like how the French were never capable of speaking and even resisting to speak proper English until the current generation of youngsters.
  14. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Club:
    FC Porto
    Country:
    Portugal
    So basically, the Flemish feel oppressed because the French speaking people in Belgium consider their language as one of more importance and don't really care about the Dutch language. The Flemish feel this is a sign of disrespect towards their community. As a result bitter feelings have arisen between the two communities. Is that about right?

    Historically, French was one of the most important languages in the world ,and at one point, was the language of European diplomacy. After the start of the Industrial Revolution which originated in England, the English language started to grow and become more important. Later, with the emergence of certain Anglo-Saxon powers like the US, the English language grew and eventually became the Lingua Franca it is today.

    Not long ago, in Portugal, French was considered to be at the same level of importance as English. Kids could choose between these two languages and usually there was a little bit more students learning French because it was easier to learn (closer to Portuguese). Today, of course, if you want to learn only one language, people will choose English.

    I was a year in Alliance Française and my teacher who was from Lille, told me that year after year, there were less students enrolling and she was getting worried about loosing her job. The opposite was happening in the English institutes who were receiving more and more students.

    I've been to France and most French still feel they don't need to learn a foriegn language. I suppose they still have the feeling that French is the most important language.

    Perhaps, this sentiment passed on to the French speaking community in Belgium?
  15. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    That was ma sentiment.

    From a Dutch or Flemish point of view the same could happen to you in rural Germany. Almost every West German under the age of 70 had English in school, still many do not feel comfortable speaking it. And, let's face it, it's not like we will be able to force the French out of their self-imposed exile from a world that is growing together through an increased use of English.

    Of course there is. And it stems from culture. But this idea of looking down on Dutch-speaking people has been quite engraned in the history of Belgium, and it is not like Dutch is the only reason that happened. In the 18th centuries most courts actually spoke French, and in the 19th century low German disappeared from the area I live now, just as Nedersaksisch is replaced with Dutch around Groningen nowadays, or Silesian replaced with standard Polish in upper Silesia, because many people look down upon those languages. It's not a unique French/Walloon thing to do, and while it is worth to fight against it, it is not the main reason there are problems in Belgium now. Those are of a political and economic nature, as well as due to the specific language problems in the areas around Brussels. The rest is imo more or less a scapegoat.

    Again: Of course the Walloon unwillingness to speak Dutch plays a role. But it is certainly not the main reason.
  16. JBigjake

    JBigjake Member+

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2003
  17. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands
    Comfortable speaking is not the issue here. It's about resisting to speak it, deeming it beneath them or just the mindset of you have to come to me, I am not moving to you. That's takes away from a "us" feeling. Language in this case is a window through which we can see the readiness or preparedness to integrate or just enjoy the other.

    You are flirting here with a straw man fallacy. My point is that Walloons have pushed forward an agenda for a long time that put their language over that of the Flemish. That has nothing to do with your ideas of feeling uncomfortable to speak the other language. That's just expansionism. The Flemish put a hold on it and through the years became the economical powerful group in Belgium. Now we can say yes that group has to pay so much for the Walloons and so it is logical that we see disintegration. However how come the Flemish experience it as paying for "them" and not helping out poorer parts of "Belgium"? there is something going on previously to the paying part. The Dutch would never say we are done with Limburg after they took so much money after they closed the mines. Well, the Walloon mindset is still existing and that makes people tired (do we still have to deal with this petty stuff), distrustful (if they would gain more (economic) power and we would stop resisting, they would just continue where they left with their expansionism) and indifferent (Well if you insist, we don't need you, we can do things on our own).

    What I then say is that the agenda and mindset to constantly try to favor your language over the other is for me a window through what your intentions are and how you think and this is where we land at equality (look back at the first sentence in post #6 of this thread). There is just distrust surrounding this important value. There is a huge difference of being uncomfortable speaking another language or making it a thing to be proud of not speaking it. Having fun toying with it or making it almost sinful. If the Walloons make such a big deal out of this then how can you not expect the Flemish saying well then have it we go our own way? When you already start making so much fuzz over that, how do you ever want to really integrate as a country? Where is the basic attitude and fertile ground to keep things together?

    When I played some teams in Friesland I was directed not to "kleedkamer 2" but IIRC "box 1" and that's wonderful. We laugh some and ask them if they have other worlds for us to pick up. There is an ocean between the two attitudes. The bigger the blocks the more natural to me it is to have some basic knowledge of the other language. If both can speak English then that's great. However this rapid expansion of the English language on all levels is not that old and just being able to speak the others language is excellent for what we shall call the emotional/relational bank account.

    Being so forceful to not move to the other, will make the other ask himself what exactly do I have with this person? Then money gets into the issue and of course we will see cracks as the cement was never that strong to start with.

    The Walloon agenda of expansionism has forced the Flemish to resist them and with that to distrust them. They have experienced that the value of equality is not in save hands with them and they start walking over the Flemish when they lower their guard or become weak. That goes at the cost of the "us" feeling of Belgium and strengthens the "us" feeling of Flanders. Language is a point where the rubber meets the road. There we can see if they are willing to integrate or want to put forward a certain agenda and force their ways on the other or stay in a cocoon. So it offers a window through where we can see if equality is in the mind of the Walloons if it comes to the Flemish mindset, culture and way of life. The language has become very much a thing on itself in Belgium.
  18. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Club:
    FC Porto
    Country:
    Portugal
    My question is "Can the average Flemish person speak French more or less fluently?"

    I assume from the information on this thread that the average French speaker knows little to no Dutch.
  19. DRB300

    DRB300 Member+

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2007
    Country:
    Netherlands
    I intervened here as I thought there was not enough emphasis on the language whether that be a distinction criteria for group forming (the "us" and "they" idea) in itself and triggers tendencies of thinking that way or some kind of battle ground especially on the borders in the big city's like Brussels and Leuven. We haven't touched in the role of the Catholic church that was powerfull and keeping the Flemish low class stupid and was biased towards the Walloons as the royal family was. The Walloons were rich and Flemish poor and the Flemish elite also spoke French. Actually we had good relations with a middle class women living in Brussels who's grand parents were Flemish but could only speak French with us.

    For me emancipation (on all levels) and so equality is right at the center of many things and that hasn't lead to a stronger sense of Belgium but a weaker one with a better sense of "we the Flemish."

    From how I look at it from (maybe a Dutch point of view) is that of course you see cracks in the cement when financial pressure arises when there has not been done serious investments on the emotional/relational bank account. Being raised in a country and in a family where learning quickly the language of people you do business with as something that is maybe the biggest investment vs return thing to do, it is clear to me that when two groups that live in one nation where the other part don't even attempt to learn the others, it creates trouble. I heard somewhere that they are now going to force 200 public servants in Brussels to speak Dutch. I mean, why the hell is there no initiative from themselves? When I first visited Brussels I thought I could speak Dutch also with some French people, but no way. When I mentioned this to a group of older lady's to ask directions they made faces like "don't even start about it".

    Now we can point obviously to the the big transfer of money from Flandre to Wallonia but it doesn't explain how they experience it as money to "them"instead of money to poor parts of Belgium. Or we can go further. If Flandre becomes Independent and one of those provinces become dirt poor are they than also going to talk about seperation? No.

    IMO when there are different mindsets and different cultures then the way to integrate and brake into that culture is starting to speak the language. It is as much as a prime instrument as an group trade that trigger people to think in certain boxes.

    I can't be sure, but my hunch is that it has a lot to do with already speaking a big language. The French have always followed a policy of culture expansionism and with that comes spreading the language. That (arrogant) attitude can certainly have dripped over.
  20. Lusitania14

    Lusitania14 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2010
    Club:
    FC Porto
    Country:
    Portugal
    I agree. In order to achieve a sense of unity and mutual respect between the two communities, both should learn and try to understand the other language and perhaps even try to speak it on occasion.

    Canada is a bilingual country and the central government has, over the years, enforced a true bilingual policy for the country.

    In school, it is mandatory for English speakers to learn French till a certain age (I think till grade 9 or 10, not sure). Same thing happens in Quebec.

    Every product in the market, from cars to bubble gum, brochures to billboards, inquiry forms to applications, is translated into both English and French.

    So, you would think everything would be OK between the two communities, but ironically it is not.

    In practice, the English speakers don’t care about the French language and can´t speak it fluently. Sure, they know some words and expressions they learnt in school, but can’t maintain even a simple conversation in French.
    However, in Quebec, the majority of the people can speak both languages fluently.

    There has been for a while, social tensions between the communities and a certain portion of the Québécois want to separate from the rest of the country.

    So, my point is, even if you try to do everything right in terms of language equality policy, there will always been some problems/tensions when one of the languages is considered to be internationally more “important” than the other.

    This is similar to the Belgium situation. Although French has been losing importance over the years, it is still considered by most, to have a higher importance than the Dutch language due to the total number of speakers worldwide.

    Canada’s situation is a little different than Belgium’s because, besides the language thing, there is also a cultural difference. In Quebec you feel like you’re in Europe, whereas the rest of Canada is culturally more similar with the US. Nevertheless, you can find similarities with the Belgium situation.
  21. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    While this is happening, I spoke to too many Walloons too really think that that is the main problem of the whole controversy.

    What do you see as a long time? A century ago most the Walloons spoke Walloon, which is not the French dialect the have nowadays, but a language on it's own. Just like in Flandres only the Bourgeoise spoke French (but unlike in Flemish Walloon was a romance language, and the French for a long time treated it like a French accent, just like Spanish with Catalan). So yeah, there is a kind of French expansionism in the history of the whole story, but I doubt that nowadays that is the main driver behind the whole problem.

    You have it in Germany, with Western Germans complaining they are paying too much for the ex GDR, and with Southern Germans complaining that they are paying too much for Northern Germany (and there are voices in Bavaria that want to have autonomy or break away from the GDR, and voices in Baden-Würthemberg that want to join Switzerland, even though those are much smaller groups than the Flemish or Catalan independence movements). But that is natural in a way. Limburg is a much smaller part of the NL than Wallonia is to Belgium, or the ex-GDR to Germany.

    Again, I think the Flemish overstate how much this 'looking down' thing is. A few years of a language in school don't make you fluent, and of course a lot of them don't try. Have you ever tried speaking any language than English to a Brit? Most of them had French, German or Spanish in school. Most Americans are more interested in other languages than the average Brit.

    We'll, that person is your neighbour, for a start. So even if you declare you independent, you will still have to deal with him on economic terms, help him financially through the EU, deal with immigration, and deal with the French speaking persons that live in and around Brussels.

    Dude, they are asking city councils consisting only of French-speaking persons situated in the part of Flanders south of Brussels to do their work in Dutch. If I had a similar situation with Danes or Turks or Poles in Germany I would never ask them of that (even though admittedly there are many Germans who would). That's akin to Serbians claiming that Kosovo has to be theirs, because it once was, or Germans claiming that Silesia should go back to speaking German.

    Yep. I think most Flames know French (heck, even every Dutch person has to learn a bit of French in school). But you have to keep in mind that the average European had to learn two foreign languages in school, it is much more important than in the US (or England for that matter). Belgium only recognized the Dutch language community after WW2, so it was expected of every Belgian to know French, and Dutch was surpressed. That has changed now, most young Flemish I know prefer English to French, that was certainly different in the 60s and 70s, so French lost a lot of statud and use.

    I think the French backed away from their cultural expansionist policy and are now quite defensive about it, actually. Almost isolationistic.
  22. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Location:
    Belgium
    Club:
    Club Brugge KV
  23. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Location:
    Belgium
    Club:
    Club Brugge KV
    Oui.

    All Flemish people get French in school from the age of ten until they finish HS.
    Whatever branch of HS they choose, French is always one of the main subjects.
  24. Belgian guy

    Belgian guy Member+

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Location:
    Belgium
    Club:
    Club Brugge KV
    I don't really understand this reasoning. Those communities are part of Flanders. The official language for government employees in Flanders is Dutch. By your reasoning, an American town with a large population of Chinese people should hire civil servants who speak Cantonese instead of English. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that this can never work in practice.

    The issue is such: for reasons of economics and standard of living, many of the French-speaking folk who work in Brussels prefer to live in the Flemish communities in its periphery. They want to live there, shop there but they do not want to learn a word of Flemish. By your reasoning, they should be rewarded for this lack of flexibility by hiring strictly Francophone civil servants in a Flemish municipality... :confused:

    To make myself clear, if I moved to the US or Germany, I wouldn't expect to find a civil servant who can help me in Dutch, I'd make sure to improve my English or German to the point that I can become a fully integrated citizen ASAP. My dad came here from Portugal and learned both French and Flemish, you're telling me they are incapable of learning one of the two?
  25. 96Squig

    96Squig Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2004
    Location:
    Hanover
    Club:
    Hannover 96
    Country:
    Netherlands
    I am not saying everything they do should be in French, and everybody should cater to that. I am saying that if they have a town meeting, and everybody is French-speaking, I don't see a problem with them holding that in French. Obviously, once they have to operate with someone who is not part of that French majority they should switch to Dutch. Just as if there were a village full of Dutch or Turkish or Danish or Low German or Bavarian or Polish speaking people in Germany they should be allowed to held their own meetings in that language. Language is nothing that is fixed to a piece of soil, and pieces of soil are not fixed to a language, no matter how much the propaganda of the 19th and 20th century wanted us to believe that. Our societies should be flexibel enough to understand that.

    If the French come into a Dutch-speaking village then they should learn Dutch obviously. But the world won't end if they don't, they'll just be limited in the way they can interact with their surroundings.

Share This Page