20 april 2008

The trenches of communautarian strife revisited (Brigants)

A lot of words have been wasted on the Flemish Wooncode, the BHV electoral district, the non-nomination of 3 mayors. Elements that have been published in the international press which generally speaking has a bias in favor of the French speaking community. Time to attempt to provide some counterbalance.

Institutional Intermezzo.
Before I continue, I have to quickly sketch out the Belgian structure. Belgium is a federal State consisting of a dual system based on Regions and Communities. There are 3 Regions, the Flemish and Walloon region, the Brussels Capital Region which doesn't have the same status as the Flemish & Walloon region. The border between the Flemish & Walloon region is the Linguistic frontier/border, a 1960s compromise, running East to West. The Brussels Capital Region is situated almost in the middle and just to the North of this border. Belgium consists of 3 Communities: The Flemish Community, the 'French' Community which represents the French speaking community in Belgium, the German-speaking Community. The Flemish Community is territorially primarely situated on the territory of the Flemish region and in the Brussels Capital Region. The French Community is situated in the Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region. The German-speak Community is situated in the Walloon region, bordering Germany.

The Flemish and Walloon region are administered in ONE official language: Dutch & French respectively. Except in the territory of the German speaking community in Walloonia, in some Flemish towns/cities bordering the Brussels Capital Region (bilingual status) labelled as 'Linguistic Facility Towns'. The Brussels Capital Region has an administrative Bilingual status, Dutch & French. This means that when you live in Flanders only Dutch is the official language to be used when communicating with the Flemish administration, except in those exceptional bordering towns/cities around BCR.

The Wooncode revisited.

Recently the RTBF - Belgian Francophone Public Television & Radio - made a trip to Halle, a Flemish city, to check out the implementation of the Wooncode. A report that I can't find back on the RTBF website, unfortunately.

The Wooncode has been a subject in the enduring communautarian strife. The Belgian French community and basically the entire 'Belgian French' (Walloon) political community complained about the Wooncode labelling it as discriminatory and an aggressive Flemish act.

The reason why the Flemish wooncode received international interest and criticism is because of its Dutch linguistic 'demands'. The Flemish Wooncode requests that persons seeking public or social housing, in Flanders, prove their knowledge in Dutch.

-You do this by submitting your educational degree (if you studied in Flanders) or another certificate of Dutch linguistic schooling, this is step A.

-If you do not have such a certification then you're asked to go to the 'House of Dutch' where once takes a small linguistic test to examine you knowledge of Dutch, step B.

-If you have a basic knowledge then you'll probably pass, if you don't have a basic knowledge then the Flemish government requests that you follow a Dutch language course (step C) before you are eligible for Public housing...there is NO requirement to succeed in exams.

Every single person requesting Public Housing have to go through this process, even FLEMINGS. Regardless of your age, ethnicity, cultural or linguistic background you have to comply to this requirement. If you can't comply with step A, one has a second chance at step B where a linguist will determine the level of your Dutch knowlegde, Step C is last resort and only demands that you FOLLOW the course not succeed - it is deemed that one will have a basic knowledge required just by following. If I'm not mistaken the Dutch language course is provided and financed by the Flemish government.

The Belgian French political community has branded the Flemish Wooncode as discriminatory. Except, this rule is to be applied to every single person even Flemings. A person has 3 chances and even the possibility of following a language course without a requirement to 'pass exams'. There is no discrimination on any basis.

So why are they complaining? Because they feel 'targeted'. The problem is situated in the Flemish area surrounding the Brussels Capital Region. A portion of the French speaking electorate moves to Flanders, some require Social/Public housing (which is a regional matter). These persons move from a Bilingual administered region to a unilingual Dutch administered region.

What they are doing is infringing the Flemish political sovereignty by trying to influence Flemish policy. This is not a humanitarian disaster or a critical situation requiring a humanitarian intervention. There is no basis for infringue one's sovereignty for this policy. So hiding behind a humanitarian wall and claiming to do this for the good of all people/mankind is a smoke screen.

There is no discrimnation. They are complaining in the name of their electorate. They would love to have an exemption from having to comply to the Wooncode, another privilege. That -they- as French speaking wouldn't need to have a basic knowledge of the local language. There resides the real discrimination: the right to not-integrate into the local community by not having to learn the local language (in case for a durable stay, not for a temporary) but still profiteer from its public policy. Their protests is an aggressive political act certainly in a country wherein communautarian strife is quite vivid.

Is it normal that one moves into the region of another community, with a different language and culture, and not learn to use the local language? Any sound person would say that this is not normal. He or she would think that it is only normal to learn the local language if one is planning a prolonged stay of several years.

BHV, revisited.
The same can be said about the Brussels Halle Vilvoorde (BHV) electoral district. It is an unconstitutional electoral disctrict because electoral districts are situated on the provincial level.

In the province of Flemish Brabant there still are two electoral districts: Leuven and BHV, they are not united because of the specific frontiercontext for BHV. Brussels Capital Region is not part of the province of Flemish Brabant, so when the electoral district of Flemish Brabant should be formed then the Brussels Capital Region will not be part of it as it has been territorially withdrawn from it. The Brussels Capital Region does not form a proper province on its own, despite having a provincial governor.

In order to be constitutional the Electoral Disctrict of BHV has to be scinded so that the Halle Vilvoorde part can be unified with Leuven, leaving Brussels (BCR) behind. However this means that Walloon political parties will have to introduce an electoral list seperately, meaning that the weight of the French speaking electorate is not added to that of the electorate situated in the Brussels Capital Region.

One compromise was that their constituency would be able to enroll in BCR to vote, without reciprocity for Flemings, which would mean another privilege. Scinding the BHV is being blocked, if new elections are to be held today then they would be unconstitutional. So, in order to prevent the loss of their electorate who moved just across the border into Flanders surrounding the Brussels Capital Region, their voters should have the privilege to vote in the BCR region instead like any other average citizen. So far, this problem has not been resolved.

3 refused mayors.
The mayors of three Flemish towns bordering the Brussels Capital Region - with an exceptional bilingual status (Linguistic Facility Towns) - have not been nominated as mayors. They are French speaking politicians who have not followed 'the Peeters note'. The note further explains how the linguistic laws have to be interpreted in Flanders. It is a legal note. Unfortunately those three mayors decided not to abide to the interpretation given by the Peeters note on purpose.

For this reason they are punished and the towns have to put forward other candidates to be mayor. These towns refuse to do this, they have a French speaking majority, and feel that their 'democratic rights' are being violated but their mayors purposely violated the linguistic laws in Flanders. They claim that the Peeters note is invalid, so far not a single court has said it was.

The 'Peeters note' is a reaction to the infringing of the linguistic law by the 19 cities that form the Brussels Capital Region...all dominated by Walloon political parties, something that has been going on for nearly 40 years.

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