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Ian Birchall

The Notebook

[Trouble in Belgium]

(Summer 1966)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, p.6.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ian Birchall writes: The Belgian situation of the last few months, with prolonged Parliamentary crisis and spasmodic outbreaks of nationalist violence, has been a complex and confused ones but the economic factor is a unifying thread.

It is ironic that, while the Common Market presents the main challenge to European workers, the Fleming-Walloon split still persists with such violence in Belgium. But the interpretation in purely racial terms is a superficial one. It is true; that the linguistic question is taken highly seriously by many, including students; true that neo-fascist groupings like the Flemish Volksunie have a marked influence; true that many Flemings still regard Nazi collaborators with affection.

But the real conflict is to be explained historically and economically. The Southern, Walloon area was industrialised nearly half a century before Flanders. It has a deeper socialist tradition, and provides the backbone of support for the social-democratic Fédération Générale des Travailleurs Belges. It has also given birth to movements like the left-wing but ambiguously nationalist Mouvement Wallon Populaire. Flanders, without the same socialist traditions, is under Catholic influence, and furnishes die strength of the Centre Syndical Chrétien. The situation is complicated by the rapidly increasing Flemish population, which will be twice that of Wallonia by 1980; and by the presence in Belgium of over half a million foreign workers (six per cent of the total population, ten per cent of the population of Brussels, and 14 per cent of that of Liège.)

The, violence at Limbourg in January, when two miners were murdered by the police, arose From the overproduction of coal in Western Europe (which affects Germany, NOW facfcdu with a stockpile of 16 million tons), as well as Belgium. In the days before the Limbourg incident, pit closures cost the jobs of 60,000 Walloon workers, and of only 4,000 Flemings.

At the same time, Belgium faces economic problems. The high level of public expenditure and the budget deficit threaten inflation; the national debt is expected to rise by 15 per cent in 1967.

While taxes for workers increased, the doctors took advantage of the situation to demand 25 per cent increases in medical charges. This was the immediate cause of the fall;of the Socialist-Social Christian Cabinet. Mr Van den Boeynants’ Liberal-Social Christian coalition confirms the basic law for Social Democratic parties; no reforms can be won by entering coalition governments, and you finish up out anyhow.

Many years ago, Rosa Luxemburg urged the workers of Europe to team to ‘speak Belgian’; it is now even more urgent that the workers of Belgium learn to speak European.

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