Friday, September 21, 2007

Et tu, Belgium?

I posted the other day about similarities between Iraq today and Yugoslavia 15 years ago, and how I hope (certainly naively) that Iraq will go the way of Czechoslovakia more than Yugoslavia. The other major split-state crisis in the world, of course, is Israel/Palestine, but now it turns out (h/t Volokh Conspiracy) that another potential separation may occur in Belgium, of all places.
“We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer,” said Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Bloc, the extreme-right, xenophobic Flemish party, in an interview. “It’s ‘bye-bye, Belgium’ time.”

Radical Flemish separatists like Mr. Dewinter want to slice the country horizontally along ethnic and economic lines: to the north, their beloved Flanders — where Dutch (known locally as Flemish) is spoken and money is increasingly made — and to the south, French-speaking Wallonia, where a kind of provincial snobbery was once polished to a fine sheen and where today old factories dominate the gray landscape.

“There are two extremes, some screaming that Belgium will last forever and others saying that we are standing at the edge of a ravine,” said Caroline Sägesser, a Belgian political analyst at Crisp, a socio-political research organization in Brussels. “I don’t believe Belgium is about to split up right now. But in my lifetime? I’d be surprised if I were to die in Belgium.”

With the headquarters of both NATO and the European Union in Brussels, the crisis is not limited to this country because it could embolden other European separatist movements, among them the Basques, the Lombards and the Catalans.

Since the kingdom of Belgium was created as an obstacle to French expansionism in 1830, it has struggled for cohesion. Anyone who has spoken French in a Flemish city quickly gets a sense of the mutual hostility that is a part of daily life here. The current crisis dates from June 10, when the Flemish Christian Democrats, who demand greater autonomy for Flanders, came in first with one-fifth of the seats in Parliament.
Turns out there are ten languages spoken in Belgium, but the vast majority speak either Dutch or French (slightly more speak Dutch). I'm one of those geeks who finds the Ethnologue fascinating--the USA has 238 languages listed. Not all of those languages are exactly equal: English has 210 million speakers in the U.S., while Eyak apparently has one (who is 89 years old, lives in Alaska, and should probably be writing everything down and/or offering classes--although I wonder if she would have any takers).

Back to my original point, though--the trend in the world for some time has been for distinct ethnic and/or national group to want to form their own countries. It has happened in places like East Timor and the aforementioned Czechoslovakia. There are often rumblings about independence in Quebec and Puerto Rico. It's hard for people born in the U.S. to understand this, I think, because (except perhaps for Minutemen types) the basic idea of being "American" is constantly being redefined. The Flemish people were Flemish long before "Belgium" existed, and the same is true for Kurds and other groups in Iraq and other countries. We are in way over our heads, is all I'm saying.

6 comments:

tODD said...

I feel like countries and corporations go in cycles in this regard. For a while, all the world was about empires. And at times, hugely vertical (am I using that right?) megacorporations have been all the rage as well. And at other times, it's all about divestiture and "core competencies". Similarly, the world seems to be going through a phase of defining countries down to the "common culture" level, as you noted.

I feel that this tendency, along with the large influx of Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, has also contributed to the rise of far right-wingers in Europe. Which is always scary, you know.

Also, we in the U.S. aren't totally unfamiliar with independence movements -- see Cascadia. Yes, it's mostly a joke or a shrewd marketing tactic, but there is a shared identity out here (mostly west of the Cascades), based in part on unique natural features, liberal/green values, relative separation from the rest of the country (the closest major city outside of Cascadia is San Francisco, at least 10 hours away by car), and a general distaste for the federalists in Washington. (When did liberals become all about states' rights?)

Finally, I really don't feel that Europanto should count as one of Belgium's languages. It's more or less centered around one person who invented it as a "jest" and no longer uses it. And no one "speaks" Belgian Sign Language. Bigot. :)

Anonymous said...

Here a couple of interesting articles.



SAN FRANCISCO – THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, a genre spy-thriller by Robert Spirko, is now in its second printing and was fourth on the best-seller list at Atlasbooks, Inc., a national book distributor. Ingram Books is the worldwide distributor.

Spirko, a financial and geo-political analyst who has given his advice to the National Security Council, turned his attention to the Middle East in 1987, after discovering several common elements related to the Middle East question. He wrote down his analysis, and when he was finished, he not only had a solution to the quagmire, he had a story to tell. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY foreshadowed the Persian Gulf War by three years, and the resultant Iraq War followed by the Sept. 11 attack.

Spirko states, "The chief threat in the region I see right now is the threat to Saudi Arabia by Iran and Al Qaeda. If Al Qaeda were to overthrow the present royal family in Saudi Arabia, cutting off the oil supply to western nations including Japan and China, it would bring down entire world economies. France and Germany would be begging us to go to war to retake those oil wells. It would be World War III."

“If such a scenario were to occur,” he reiterates, “France and the European economies would collapse in a matter of weeks.”

“Another looming concern is Iran which wants to develop nuclear weapons to couple with their Shahab 4, 5 & 6 missiles on the drawing boards which have a range to hit London, Israel, all of Europe, southern Russia and the United States. Also, the Iranian government has said it initially had 300 centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons grade material. They have increased that to 3,000. They will soon increase that again to 10,000 centrifuges,” Spirko says. “They have the additional capacity to add another 20,000 centrifuges in mass production techniques that will enable them to produce at least seven nuclear bombs in about a year. Where did they get these centrifuges?”

Spirko answers that question by stating an Arab proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Simply put,” Spirko explains, “they probably got them from Saddam Hussein before the Iraq War started and were probably smuggled out of Iraq and into Iran just like he did his air force of 600 Soviet fighter planes. In other words, he gave them to his former enemy rather than let them be destroyed on the ground.”

“Why would he have done any differently with the 30,000 centrifuges he supposedly had on a decentralized basis inside Iraq before the war?” Spirko asks. “Isn’t it strange that Iran could come up with a nuclear weapons program in about six months to a year when it took the United States six years under the Manhattan Project with 5,000 of the world’s most brilliant scientists like Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Seaborg, Einstein, Fermi, and others working on it?”

Another point Spirko makes on the Mideast is that, “It is time for the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the Camp David Peace Talks or some other place, resume where they left off and "freeze in place" the already-agreed-upon negotiating points,” Spirko says.

"And, it's all related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which I said back in 1987 was the crux of my book. It always has been, and always will be until it's settled,” Spirko says. “That linkage is exactly what Osama Bin Laden stated in a taped message aired the weekend before the election in November of 2004. Whether you believe him or not is beside the point. That's what's he told us, and we'd better take that into account."

The novel is a mass market paperback produced by Olive Grove Publishers, and can be purchased at area bookstores through Ingram Book Group, New Leaf Distribution, and Baker and Taylor, priced at $14.99, ISBN 0-9752508-0-9. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY can also be ordered on the web at www.atlasbooks.com, or email orders from: order@bookmasters.com, or from Barnes & Nobles, Border's, Dalton's, efollett.com & Follett bookstores at colleges and universities, WaldenBooks, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com and other popular retail bookstores. Or, readers and store managers can call 1-800-BOOKLOG, or 800-247-6553 direct, to order.


-30-






SAN FRANCISCO - When it comes to spy novels and Middle East intrigue, after 16 spell-binding years, the gripping story behind the Middle East quagmire - its issues of nuclear weapons and the quest for a Palestinian State - is finally being told in a ground-breaking new book entitled, THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY.

Author Robert Spirko created the work in such a way that every reader in the world would understand all the intricate issues in the Middle East and how close the region actually came to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, a genre spy-thriller by Robert Spirko, was fourth on the best-seller list at Atlasbooks, Inc., a national book distributor. Ingram Books is the worldwide distributor.

Mr. Spirko has a unique way of holding the reader in his grasp as the plot of THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY unfolds. He literally takes you from your armchair and immerses you into the lifestyle of the Bedouin, the Israeli, the PLO and the mindset of the Middle-Easterner.

THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY is not just another spy-novel; it is the quintessential spy-thriller because it forces the reader to understand how both sides "think" and why that thinking ultimately led to repeated wars in the Middle East.

Spirko, a financial and geo-political analyst, turned his attention to the Middle East in 1987, after discovering several common elements related to the Middle East question. In working for peace, and after several frustrating years, he put down his analysis in writing and when he was finished, he not only had a solution to the quagmire, he had a story to tell.

But, nobody was listening.

Today, all that has changed, thanks to Olive Grove Publishers who decided to give his book a chance.

When the Palestinian question came to a festering crisis in 1990, he had already predicted several of the actual events before they occurred. For instance, Spirko predicted the Intifada and Persian Gulf War, missing the actual invasion date of Kuwait by only one week. He did this through spectacular supposition, analysis and prediction based on what he was "seeing" in the region.

When Spirko typed his manuscript, he set the work to fiction, about what he thought might occur soon in the Middle East involving weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation, the Palestinian uprising before it occurred, and how the Palestinian question begged to be answered, little did he realize that every event he described in the book would eventually transpire.

His story of what was really happening behind the scenes in the Middle East is truly astounding and remarkable, and his contribution to the Camp David Peace Talks in 2000, formulated a solution to the Jerusalem question. When the BBC got wind of it, they termed it "as nothing short of brilliant" - Jerusalem becoming the simultaneous capitals of both Israel and Palestine in congruous or concentric zones.

Spirko originally copyrighted his book on October 20, 1987, in the U. S.
Library of Congress where intelligence agencies reviewed his work.

Today, finally, somebody is listening.

Spirko feels that both sides must return to the Camp David Peace Talks and resume where they left off and "freeze in place" the already-agreed-upon negotiating points.

“It's like a marriage where both spouses storm away mad in an argument.
They don't divorce and then try to resume their relationship, they come back together, settle their differences, and resume their marriage. It must be the same for the Middle East Peace talks," Spirko says.

The story begins in Beirut, Lebanon, once a great financial capital of the Middle East, which lay in ruin, having been systematically blasted to rubble during 20 years of inexhaustible civil war and siege by Israel, the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and Lebanese factions. Soon, the quest for a Palestinian State would be framed by these events; namely, the invasion of Kuwait by a neighboring rogue state, Iraq, with Saddam Hussein's goal of seeking nuclear parity with Israel.

In Mr. Spirko's story, Rick Waite, a forgotten UPI correspondent, and Adrienne Waters, a Pulitzer Prize journalist from the London Times, meet-up in Beirut with a PLO operative named Ahmed, who discovers a secret intelligence memo about a secret plan to destroy Israel.

In the ensuing chase to find the answer to this secret communiqué and what it means, a deadly race against time begins as the unlikely trio tries to halt the launch of a secret weapon from a hidden PLO base camp in the Syrian Desert. U. S. and British intelligence operatives have their own agenda, and attempt to stop whatever is going on to save the entire region from a nuclear holocaust.

Spirko weaves a tale of chilling duplicity and thrilling action, as the characters evade and devise a method to announce the discovery of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles to the rest of the world - all while United Nations' delegates bicker endlessly.

An executive at BookMasters, Inc., says, "The book is absolutely stunning in the manner in which Mr. Spirko, tells his tale. He is truly a master as an analyst, and it's totally unlike anything else we've ever read in a spy-thriller. It keeps you turning pages and won't let you quit - until the very end. And, what an ending it is! If you crave twisting plots, thrilling spy-action and intriguing characters, then this is the book for you."

Spirko, whose own background includes a stint in the U. S. Air Force and has given his advice to the National Security Council in Washington, D. C., has a degree in journalism and knows first-hand about the newsroom and what it takes to be an intelligence field agent. His knowledge of the trade makes the story real, daunting, and strikingly similar to "The Year of Living Dangerously."

"THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY drips with reality," quips a book reviewer from Olive Grove Publishers. "If books were rated by Siskel & Roeper, it would be given a two-thumbs up."

Not since, Casablanca, do characters as earthy as Rick Waite, or as beautifully mysterious as London Times reporter, Adrienne Waters, or as desperate as PLO operative, Ahmed, bring fresh characters to a story that will be remembered by readers for a long time.

The novel is a mass market paperback produced by Olive Grove Publishers, and can be purchased at area bookstores through Ingram Book Group, New Leaf Distribution, and Baker and Taylor, priced at $14.99, ISBN 0-9752508-0-9. THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY can also be ordered on the web at www.atlasbooks.com, or email orders from: order@bookmasters.com, or from Barnes & Nobles, Border's, Dalton's, efollett.com & Follett bookstores at colleges and universities, WaldenBooks, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com and other popular retail bookstores. Or, readers and store managers can call 1-800-BOOKLOG, or 800-247-6553 direct, to order.

For readers who want to know what was really going on in the Middle East prior to the Persian Gulf War, Sept. 11th, and Iraq War, THE PALESTINE CONSPIRACY, is a must read.

Omedian said...

Hi, I'm from Belgium and I'd like to give you some insider view on this... The situation isn't as bad as it seems, we're over the 100th day without government but it doesn't mean that the country is not alive. I don't know how it will end but I've got faith in some decisions which would improve the way separatists see the government without actually having Belgium torn apart. One thing you have to know is that there are only politicians spreading that point of view, I know many flemish people and they aren't into it at all. I would really like them to give people more importance, they seem to be stuck and they didn't even think about asking what the people are thinking of this.
Democracy is a weird thing...

Some Go Softly said...

Those were heavy comments - I'm just here wondering if this is going to change anything about my beer (Stella, the only thing I know about Belgium)

tODD said...

Some Go Softly, if the only thing you know about Belgian beers is Stella, I feel bad for you, son. That is by far the most boring beer Belgium has ever produced. It is part of the grand conspiracy out there to sell you the same watered-down bilge under different national flags to make you think you're special: Foster's, Corona, Tsing Tao, Kirin, Red Stripe, and pretty much anything Canadian. It is the equivalent of going to New York and only eating at Sbarro's. For the love of all things Flemish/Wallonian, please try a good Belgian beer!

Some Go Softly said...

:( I also like Tsing Tao, and Corona. I must be so classless!! Thanks for the tip, I'll investigate. With heavy, heavy research.