Sunday, December 17, 2006

Barking Dogs and Hypocrisy

You may not know about this. Likely you don’t, unless your attention was caught by a paper in the Washington Post or in the New York Times earlier this week, but French-speaking Belgian TV played a masterful coup on Wednesday night. In a fantastic remake of Orson Well’s 1938 hoax of little green men invading Earth, the TV network announced the end of our country. The end of Belgium.

And the fictional documentary was so well done, that many people were fooled. Politicians and ambassadors included.

To explain how this could be believable, you’d have to know that our country is an extremely divided one; that’s it’s comprised of two major parts which are culturally very different: French and Dutch speaking. Latin and German. Wallonia and Flanders. For decades, there’s been a deep political movement in Flanders to get autonomy, greater and greater autonomy, to the point of emptying “Belgium” of all substance, and turning the state into an empty shell.

Politicians in the Dutch speaking part of the country overplay this, helped by media which only present one side of the coin, the side in favor of a country-split, while politicians of the French-speaking part of the country downplay it in the extreme. Those French-speaking politicians usually like to pretend they’ll be united when it come to discussing these themes with the Flemish part of the country. They like to pretend they’ll be holding fast, and nothing will happen.

All this has contributed to lull the population into a state of boredom and “couldn’t care less about this bunch of stupidities they spew out”. The problem being, of course, that this is not a bunch of stupid things. This is reality, and a very, very serious threat. The Flemish politicians and media are in deadly earnest about this. They’ve been pursuing that goal for decades, and they will hold on to it, until they reach it.

So, the RTBF, the state French speaking TV network, organized a very elaborate fictional documentary, helped by real politicians who did false interviews, to put people in the situation of “it’s done, Flanders has unilaterally declared independence” in introduction to a thorough debate on these questions.

People were fooled. That’s okay, I guess, people aren’t used to checking their sources and tend to believe unconditionally what figures of authority tell them, even though what they're being told is, if you analyze it, completely incoherent and outrageous (it’s a bad failing, but understandable). Politicians and ambassadors on the other hand, are unforgivable in the sense that they bought it, without even trying to double-check, and to turn to news agencies like the Associated Press, Belga or Reuters to confirm the news. Heck, I got a phone call from France that evening, and I, little I with no international connections, managed to reassure the caller that, no, Belgium wasn’t splitting into two parts. So if powerful people with powerful connections got fooled, they have only blame themselves to blame for it.

At first, people were angry at having been fooled and having been frightened so. Then they started to think, and soon, people were very happy this happened. People were happy for the shake in the daily routine, for the shock which reminded us of the essential issues to come in the soon-to-be federal elections.

Within a day, several thousands of people signed a petition of support for the RTBF. Yes, a petition for support, because, now, politicians want heads to roll. They want the RTBF to pay for shaking them out of their comfy little nests. And, amusingly enough, among those hypocritical dogs who had known about the project for months but had never cared enough to do anything about it (several politicians appeared in the show and they knew they were being interviewed for the show)), the ones who bark the loudest are those who had expressed interest in discussing more disemboweling of the Belgian state in the future negotiations that will follow the federal elections next June.

Oh yes, Mr Didier Reynders, head of the oh-so nice MR party, the very same Didier Reynders who said that discussing splitting of job policy between the regions might be interesting, even though all the French-speaking parties, the MR included, had earlier declared there would be no other discussion on the subject of splitting up federal domains of competence. In doing so, Mr Reynders weakened Wallonia’s position, but then who cares? Not him.

And now, now that the RTBF has reawakened the population and resuscitated the debate, now that the RTBF has managed to re-unite the Wallonia population behind this goal of preserving the federal State, now Mr Reynders is angry.

Now Mr Reynders barks.

Now Mr Reynders demands that heads roll on a silver plate.

Well, Mr Reynders, please, start with your own head, and shut up.


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