Do you see the current events in the northern and southern parts of the country differently? We try to answer that question in our weekly chronicle by Alain Narinx (L’Echo) and Wim Van de Velden (De Tijd), which is published simultaneously in L’Echo and De Tijd. This week the theme is again the history of Flanders and Wallonia.
In your previous column, you talked about ‘Historien om Flandern’, the ten-part historical series that has recently been broadcast on VRT. If you ask me, RTBF will not easily follow that example by broadcasting ‘A history of Wallonia’.
Such a program would only concern a part of the television viewers. This is important to know because many Flemish people still mistakenly assume that all French speakers are Walloons. Many French-speaking inhabitants of Brussels have no affinity with Wallonia. Residents of Brussels and Walloons are different. If you write about the ‘Walloons’ while talking about the French speakers, you miss the point. It is precisely because of this complex situation that an institution like the French Community exists. Furthermore, Wallonia is not exclusively French-speaking because it also includes the German-speaking community. Just as Dutch speakers also live in Brussels.
Furthermore, there is a little ‘Walloon-mindedness’ in the southern part of the country. In general, people there feel Belgian first of all, then Liège or Carolo if they live in Charleroi, and only then the Waal. Although the influence of French culture is great, the idea of aligning Wallonia with France is rarely discussed.
Some have aspired to do so, but Wallonia has not built a ‘national history’. That the region of Wallonia is not an immediate success story is undoubtedly one of the explanations. Such a ‘national history’ can only arise from a sense of pride, and it is hard to find in Wallonia. The region’s economic decline has become embedded in the minds of its residents.
We can easily be Flemish, Walloon, Belgian, European, world citizen or whatever at the same time. The different layers reinforce each other.
Telling the story of Flanders in a TV documentary doesn’t seem like a problem to me. However, I have reservations about considering the events that took place in the current territory as the history of Flanders. In the distant past, concepts such as country, region or state had little or no meaning. The situation was different from today, which can lead to anachronisms. National identities have also been forged over the years by what those in power told citizens.
History can also be twisted and rewritten. The ‘History of Flanders’ is largely supported by the Flemish government, which is led by the N-VA. And it raises eyebrows here and there. It is feared that the party will stimulate Flemish nationalism, and thus also Flemish independence. After all, that is the mantra of N-VA and its main program point.
You asked me about the history of Wallonia, Wim. Is that a real question? Or do you want to subtly point out that our history is different from Flanders’ and that we have little in common? We might as well make a documentary series about the ‘History of Belgium’ and show that we are more alike than many people think, right?
I believe that an identity should not be formed by opposing others. It should not be exclusive, but should have several layers. Otherwise she risks becoming ‘murderous’, if I may refer to ‘Les identités meurtrières’ by Amin Maalouf, my favorite author. We can easily be Flemish, Walloon, Belgian, European, world citizen or whatever at the same time. The different layers reinforce each other. That identity develops throughout life, both individually and in groups. It is the exact opposite of nationalism and returning to oneself. Such an open mind is a precious commodity, don’t you think, Wim?