Connect to share and comment
On National Day, Belgians barely lift a flag.
In mid-September 2007, just three months into the crisis, Belgians found their country up for auction on eBay. “For Sale: Belgium, a Kingdom in three parts. Possible to buy it as a whole, but not advisable,” the listing advertised. It went on to throw in delivery, but pointed out that it was not only a secondhand product, but came with an additional cost of $300 billion in national debt. Bidding got up to 10 million euros (about $14 million) before eBay took the listing down.
The posting was the work of Gerrit Six, a former journalist turned independent social commentator who says he wanted to show Belgians that their country was valuable and that they should want to keep it. By offering it up to the highest bidder? “That’s just my ambivalent way,” Six chuckled in a recent interview, saying that he’d written the description “in 12 minutes … on a Saturday evening after half a bottle of Bordeaux.”
That’s how, but why? “Nobody was interested in Belgium. I did a great job for this country — and for free!” he said. “I should still send the bill to the ministry of foreign affairs.”
But Six is very serious about the problems facing Belgium as an entity. “Maybe I’m a minority but for me language doesn’t matter if we understand each other. When no other essential issue is discussed because we first have to settle the linguistic conditions, that’s a very sad situation,” he said. “It could be different if we had politicians with more imagination. You tell me where to find them.”
He said he wishes for someone like U.S. President Barack Obama to come along and make Belgians say “yes, we can” instead of “no, we can’t.”
If Belgians bragged, they could point out that they have “a fabulous country,” he said. “We could be a little bit more proud about the fantastic things we have in culture and film and music, fashion, our kitchen, which stands up with a French kitchen.”
Back at this year's National Day celebration, Laurent Bogaert was celebrating with his wife and two young children. Bogaert personifies Belgium. He has a Walloon mother and Flemish father and grew up speaking French at home but was educated in Dutch. Married to a French speaker, his children will learn both languages.
Bogaert finds the political fighting over language “so annoying,” but beyond that is not pessimistic about Belgians’ perception of their country. He said most Belgians actually do appreciate what a great quality of life they have. “As long as we can enjoy it, why make publicity about it?”
As for the importance of National Day, Warrant Officer Alexandra Baes, on duty at one of the Army publicity activities for children, said she wishes Belgians would accord it more significance. “It’s one day that we can all feel part of the same country,” she said, then noted that there’s only one military and nobody questions who they are defending. “The feeling in the Army is: We are Belgian.”
More on Belgium: