Connect to share and comment

Belgium's unlikely patriots: Flemish pop stars

The Flemish group Clouseau's song "Long Live Belgium" rivals hits by the Pussycat Dolls and the Black Eyed Peas.

Citizens take part in a march in central Brussels calling for the unity of Belgium, Nov. 18, 2007. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The demise of Belgium sometimes looks inevitable.

Intractable differences between Flemish- and French-speakers have paralyzed the national government and Flemish voters are increasingly turning to secessionist politicians intent on tearing the little kingdom apart.

So a political uproar was to be expected when Flanders’ best-loved pop group decided to buck the separatist trend.

Clouseau’s new single is the rousing "Long Live Belgium," which urges Flemings and Walloons to live together with “a single passion and a single dream” in “one big union.”

“Pure propaganda,” fumed Geert Bourgeois, the nationalist deputy leader of Flanders’ regional government. “They are calling for more misgovernment, because Belgium just doesn’t work any more.”

“Flemings and Walloons together on the same side? What planet are these guys living on?” asked the far-right Flemish Interest party.

The controversy seems to have done Clouseau little harm. A day after its release, the group's catchy patriotic ditty stormed into the Belgian iTunes top 10 alongside the Black Eyed Peas and the Pussycat Dolls. It peaked at number 3 on the Flemish charts.

The group’s first live performance of “Leve Belgie” at the end of an international athletics meet in Brussels last month brought a roar of appreciation from the crowd of 50,000. The cheers rivaled those for Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt.

Fronted by brothers Koen and Kris Wauters, Clouseau have been scoring hits in Flanders with their Dutch-language pop since the 1980s. Their albums are sure-fire No. 1s and routinely sell out the region’s biggest venues.

The song is something of a risk for the Wauters brothers who, after hits like “You are the most beautiful,” “Passion” and “Eye contact,” were not exactly known for their hard-hitting political lyrics.

“We’re musicians not politicians,” says Kris on the band’s website. “But we’d feel terrible if Belgium split up. I’ve been a Belgian all my life and I want to keep it that way.”

Are they worried about alienating Flemish fans?

“Why? It would be harder to find people more Flemish than us,” said Koen. “We are proud Flemings, but also Belgians. I don’t think one excludes the other.”

The release of “Leve Belgie” comes three months after parties advocating Flemish independence scored a total of 36.4 percent in elections to the regional parliament.