I signed this manifesto, because I totally agree with its content and I do feel that something has to be done about our Belgian situation in the positive sense.
Belgium is a wonderful country and I don't feel the need as such to let it split up, but the marriage of two people can only stand when there is mutual respect for everyone's rights.
(I should take some time to have a personal introspection and look into my own marriage, I admit, yes, that too, but ...)
Foreigners living in Belgium, all too eager to support the unity of Belgium, should have considered learning a bit more about the Belgian problem, before emotionally joining the plea for Belgian unity.
I can understand their fears and their eagerness in wanting to keep Belgium as it is. I can also understand their troubles with understanding the labyrinth that a small country like Belgium apparently has turned out to have become, but with regards to the Flemish cause, I couldn't help but feel somewhat offended by the rather inconsiderate and emotional stanza a lot of immigrants have taken in due course of events throughout the past half year, led on by partial information and particularly not enlightened by any awareness of Belgian or Flemish history.
I would like to forgive them all in doing so, they only love my country as any foreigner would love another country "where chancing to be is at its best" in their situation.
Here comes the actual Manifesto:
"The people signing this manifesto, calling themselves the Gravensteengroep (or Castle-of-the-Countsgroup,)
These people have been worried by the fact that, with the recent debates about Belgian state-reform, the impression seems to arise that reasonable and justified Flemish demands repeatedly seem to become associated with extremist right-wing ideologies. To clarify all this, they wish to propose their points of view.
Ever since the start of Belgium in 1830, the francophone bourgeoisie has taken every chance to preserve its priorities, by installing a regime which mainly favoured social inequality and discrimination of the Flemish population and its Dutch language. This socio-economic discrimination saw itself obliterated in due course of time owing to an active and engaged trades-unionism. The Flemish people however, had to force their rights to obtain their own language and culture by a large number of extremely complicated political compromises. This resulted in a labyrinth-like structure of Belgian institutions with seven parliaments and six governments.
The damage to the Belgian image, in the perception of other countries, has not solely been done by the political crisis, but is also a result of the political patchwork, which has characterized Belgian politics over of the past 177 years. The results of the election-polls on June 10th 2007 in Flanders have evoked the discontentment about this historical conjunction and these seem to take an irreversible option on a new future.
It seems highly unthinkable that a large part of the Flemish cultural establishment should lack the intellectual courage to make this analysis. That exactly this establishment seems to cling on to the traditional Belgian status-quo, along with the old Belgian elite, is unacceptable. This self-proclaimed ‘progressive Flanders’ is taking a conservative stanza and is about to miss its appointment with history.
Our point of view does not stem from an old-fashioned Flemish Romanticism, but from the philosophies connected to the age of Enlightenment, the democratic principle of equality, a modern vision on decentralisation, subsidiarity, and the tendency towards scaling down and development of regional autonomy which as an issue is currently very much alive from Scotland to Kosovo and from Catalonia to Estland.
Crucial to this is the principle of territoriality. In 1962-1963 the definitive borders had been set out to define Flanders, Wallonia and Germanspeaking Belgium as linguistic and cultural environments within the Belgian federal system. This happened after 1932, and with strong pressure from the Walloon community, the regions acknowledged and accepted their own single language. In this context, a language border obtains a similar importance to a state-border.
Defining spaces implies defining different rules, quintessential to a healthy social climate.
Throughout the world, it is commonly accepted that an immigrant will do his best to adapt to his new social environment by taking on the language of his new country. This does not deny him of his human rights within his ethnicity and within choosing his own religion and speaking his own language in his own private and personal atmosphere.
Badly educated immigrants seem to succeed in their efforts to blend in with flying colours, whereas much better educated native French-speaking intellectuals in Flanders refuse to do so out of principle, encouraged by the political support from their own politicians. Some people tend to think that it will suffice to acquire a majority in a border-community to alter and adapt a border. In doing this, they are putting the principle of political solidarity in between the cultural communities under pressure and by consequence they are questioning the entire Belgian federal structure. One should stop and wonder to think how the French would react whenever a German-speaking majority in a French village would be wanting to alter the border of both countries in favour of Germany.
Therefore, the people who sign this manifesto believe that any discussion about socio-economic solidarity is rendered impossible if political solidarity is not being observed and this implies mutual respect for boundary and cultural space.
A change in mentality with French speaking politicians is therefore a necessity: we do not need to buy respect. The Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde split, is just another implementation of the territorial principle as it is stated in our constitution. Furthermore, the recognition of Brussels as bilingual capital region, retains Belgium’s last chance for survival.
For as long as a consensus about these crucial principles is not being agreed upon, any debate about a new state-reform is futile. This would force us in the direction of having to prepare our separate regions for entering the European Union as separate independent states.
Apart from this, interregional solidarity in the post-Belgian context of European cooperation could still remain a major factor. We want, as an economic quite wealthy region, to ensure interpersonal and interregional solidarity. With our minds and within our hearts, but not with a blatant unjust feeling of cultural imperialism, unhealthy parasitism and hidden party-political agenda’s.
This Belgium, which would lack any clear and absolute open agreements on these stated issues is unworkable; whoever would refute a reform on democratic grounds, indirectly is pleading for the decay of this country.
In the light of our tendency to modernize political life, we request clear transparent political structures, more autonomy for local authorities, the implementation of democratic basic rights and we demand more respect for the integrity of the language borders. We would like all this with our French-speaking friends if possible, but we will take this without them if we have to.
Everyone will benefit from more autonomy. It is a positive thing to see an increase on both sides of the language borders in the notion that French-speaking Belgium is destroying its own chances on economic growth if it allows itself to be kept hostage by politicians not wanting to abandon their status-quo.
These old hostile fixations should make way for new and groundbreaking forms of cooperation, based on a balance between solidarity and responsibility. Wallonia as a befriended partner-state to us is much more appealing than a political system dragging itself from crisis to crisis.
On behalf of the Castle-of-the-Countsgroup
Piet van Eeckhaut
Paul De Ridder
Peter De Graeve
Jo de Caluwe "