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Typically, there are three communities that make up the country. The northern part of the country is Flanders, where the language is close of Dutch. The southern part, demographically speaking, is the minority, and they speak French. To the east, there’s pockets of German speakers that live along the borders. The history of Belgium, basically, is the history of tension between the Wallonians and the Flemish. The last major flair up between the two came in the form of language riots in 1968. And now, the instability is back. Sure, nobody is rioting in the streets. But the specter of a split, however unlikely at the moment, is still hanging over Belgian heads. Care of The Wall Street Journal:

Now, Belgium’s Flemish majority, numbering six million, is pushing for further constitutional change, driven not least by resentment at the large annual transfers of their tax money to French-speaking Wallonia, in the south. The transfers amount to between $3 billion and $6 billion a year, according to a 2006 study commissioned jointly by the regional governments of Flanders and Wallonia.

Flemish political parties also want each language-based region to run its own health care, unemployment insurance (unemployment is 15% in Wallonia, 7% in Flanders), courts and other functions. And they want the multilingual suburbs around Brussels to vote for candidates in Flanders. They vote in the capital now — a boost for French-speaking parties.

When Mr. Leterme threw in the towel this past week, he told reporters: “The federal consensus model has reached its limits.”

Even if King Albert’s task force fails to reach an accord between the two sides, analysts say a decision to split up and create separate nations of Flanders and Wallonia — as the Czechs and Slovaks did in dissolving Cezchoslovakia in 1992 — is unlikely, barring a calamity such as a severe economic depression, or assassination.

“Czechoslovakia had mutual agreement between Czechs and Slovaks, and clearly defined capitals in Prague and Bratislava,” says Benoit Rihoux, a political scientist at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve who specializes in comparative studies. “After Soviet rule, it had nothing to lose; it was simple.”

Dependent on Belgium for identity and in recent years solvency, Wallonia is fiercely attached to the state. “An independent Wallonia would not make historical or economic sense,” says Pascal Delwit of the Free University of Brussels. “And there is a Belgian identity,” he adds. “It’s by default: We’re not French, and we’re not Dutch.”

Flanders prides itself on a rich history as an economic and military power during the Middle Ages. Flemings still celebrate the Battle of Golden Spurs in 1302, when a Flemish militia from Bruges defeated the army of a French king. Around half of Belgium’s Dutch speakers would like to see a Republic of Flanders, according to some opinion polls.

Yet, “no political party except the extremists supports a split,” says Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium’s economy minister and a Flemish conservative. Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), a far-right party that does advocate independence, generally polls a quarter of the vote in Flanders.


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