Speaking as a former Belgian resident, I thought this was good news:
Socialist Elio Di Rupo took the oath as Belgium’s first Francophone prime minister in nearly 40 years on Tuesday, formally ending a record 541-day government impasse.
In a ceremony at the ornate royal palace, the son of Italian immigrants completed a remarkable personal journey that took him from an impoverished childhood in Belgium’s rustbelt south to become the leader of Belgium.
Amid small talk and jokes with King Albert II, the 13 ministers and 6 state secretaries took the oath, much to the relief of the nation of 6.5 million Dutch speakers and 4.5 million French speakers frustrated with lawmakers’ inability to form a government over linguistic differences.
Of course, it’s hard to say what the Belgians think about it. When you go a year and a half without a government, and your quality of life really doesn’t suffer (and for the most part improves), why would you want a functioning bureaucracy anyway?
There were two events that struck me when I first moved to Belgium years ago. One was an incident in the U.S. where the new diplomat from Francophone Belgium ended up having to fight the former diplomat from Dutch Belgium who refused to move out of the ambassador’s residence in New York when he was assigned to the U.N. The second was the fact that the two top women’s tennis players in the world at the time, Justine Henin (French) and Kim Clijsters (Dutch), hated each other, which seemed odd, because what were the chances of two Belgians dominating women’s tennis at the same time? You’d think they would have been best buddies. But one spread stories that the other was on steroids.
And here’s another thing I noticed about the new government. The new Socialist prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, is a French speaker, the first Francophone to head the nation in three decades, but he’s the son of Italian immigrants. It wouldn’t surprise me that neither side wanted someone pure French or pure Dutch as the leader.
- New Belgian government sworn in, ending crisis (seattletimes.nwsource.com)