Friday, January 23, 2015


The land of chocolates, but also the host of NATO and the EU. Ethnic divisions have always defined Belgium, with French Walloons in the south, Dutch-speaking Flemish in the north, but also Dutch-speaking Dutch, and a few Germans (the distinction between Dutch and Deutsch is small but historically significant). They tend not to fight, and Jacques Brel recorded many of his best songs in both French and Flemish (though never Dutch or German), and they still argue over which language he wrote them in first ("Mijn platte land, mijn Vlaanderland" is from the chorus of his song "Marieke", whose verses are entirely in French – the sort of compromise the Belgians are good at).

One mark against Belgium is that they are still a monarchy, though a particularly innocuous one. A former colonial power, especially in Africa, Belgium is now considered a minor player in the European game, and Bruges, though beautiful, is fake, like Warsaw, a latter-day rebuild pretending to be the original mediaeval.

There are many ways that you can tell how well a country is doing. One is to look them up in Human Rights Watch and to discover that, in the case of Belgium, they are not even listed; and then to go to the Amnesty International site, and find that they are listed, but only in order to provide the contact details for Amnesty's Belgian office. Another is to go to the list of Nobel Prize laureates and see how many a country has - Belgium has ten, five in the sciences, four for peace, one for literature. Not bad for a country of just over ten million people. The Flemish school of painters were of course Belgian, and Jan van Eyck is regarded as the inventor of oil painting - contentious that one, but no contention that the inventor of the saxophone was Belgian, as was the author of Tintin, and fictional detective Hercule Poirot. Do not discount their soccer team either.

Marks For: 6

Marks Against: 1

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