High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

From Armed Peace to Permanent Crisis. Cracks in the Belgian Consultative Model
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From Armed Peace to Permanent Crisis. Cracks in the Belgian Consultative Model

(Marc Hooghe, Luc Huyse) The Low Countries - 2009, № 17, pp. 227-233

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Belgium's political system is by definition notably divided. There are, of course, the traditional differences between labour and capital, and the associated socio-economic conflicts. And as in many traditionally overwhelmingly Catholic countries a conflict also developed between the Catholic Church and those who sought to reduce that church's impact on public life. A third fault line is of course linguistic-political, with a sometimes sharp division between Dutch-speakers and French-speakers. Despite the presence in the Belgian political system of these three fundamental antagonisms, we have to state that the country has never descended into extreme violent unrest. That in itself is relatively exceptional; other divided societies, such as Lebanon, Cyprus or Northern Ireland, have indeed suffered this type of conflict. However, the differences did not disappear in Belgium, they lay dormant under the surface. But at least the pacification mechanisms did manage to prevent a complete implosion of the political system. The fundamental question now is whether these trusted pacification rules have lost their meaning. It does indeed look as if the old mechanisms are now a good deal less self-evident. So, is the Belgian pacification model finished? To answer that we must first look back and see why this model was able to function so successfully in the past. At the end of their article, the authors come to the conclusion that the old prescriptions for the Belgian model do not work very well any more. But that is not to say that Belgium is likely to fall apart. As Belgians tend to put it, one can easily operate to separate Siamese twins. But if the twins are joined at the head, there is no way they can be separated without fatal consequences.

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