Belgian schism is no laughing matter

Yes, I’m a belgian ! No, we haven’t had a government for almost four months. And yes, it would seem that some people would like to bury Belgium, not praise it. But still, I’d like it to continue, at least for my time. Here’s why (from the Sidney Morning Herald with a tip of the hat to soon-to-be-expat Hans D.

With its two halves unable to agree on the formation of a new government, Belgium stands on the verge of disintegration. So should Belgium continue to exist? The answer is yes. Here’s why.The first reason is linguistic. If Belgium does break up, two new nationalities will be born: Flemish and Walloon. Belgian chocolates will become “Flemish chocolates”, and Belgian beer cafes will give way to “Walloon beer cafes”. Belgium owes it to the world to prevent us from having to use either of these unspeakably silly adjectives on anything like a semi-regular basis.

There is a reason no business has ever succeeded with the word “Walloon” in its title, and it is the word “Walloon”, the Oompa-Loompa of national adjectives. To inflict a word like that on the world would be intolerably cruel.

The second reason is historical. Belgium, as many of you will know, was established in 1830 for two reasons: to host the main international conflicts of the 20th century; and to provide a viable, long-term basis for Belgian jokes.

After World War I, Polish jokes briefly threatened to overtake Belgian jokes in popularity, but at Yalta, where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met in 1945 to negotiate the division of postwar international comedy, it was decided that Belgian jokes would go to the West, while Polish jokes were left to the Soviet Union.

If Belgium were to cease to exist, this would create a potentially fatal vacuum at the heart of Western comedy. “Did you hear the one about the Walloon ..?” just doesn’t have the right ring.

The final reason is sexual-culinary. America was built on a noble ideal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Belgium was founded on a far punchier plea: “Give me your bureaucrats.” But when people complain that Brussels is “stuffed with bureaucrats”, what they really mean is that everyone who lives there gets to knock off at 5pm every day and spend the rest of the night gorging on wheat beer, mussels and chips. That doesn’t sound like anything to be ashamed of to me.

Belgium long ago abandoned all hope of being a presence on the world stage and gave itself over to the pleasures of alcohol, chocolate, sex and seafood. To this day, it remains a nation untouched by nutrition. These are ideas worth fighting for.

In its almost total lack of ambition, in its unrelenting sense of existential dread, in its drunkenness and in its gluttony, Belgium is the most inspiring of nations. If the Belgians have tired of being Belgian, it is up to us to take their place. If Belgium will not be Belgium, it is up to Australia to be Belgium.

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