Hoisting the flag

4 09 2008

Belgian flag at Lennik town hall” was the title of a small article in my newspaper last August the 18th. Similar articles appeared the 17th and 27th of August. Why would a newspaper care to mention that a Belgian town displays a Belgian flag at it’s town hall? Because at the Flemish national holiday on July the 11th, Willy De Waele, the mayor of Lennik, decided no longer to fly the Belgian flag.

Willy De Waele during a political meeting in June 2007

Willy De Waele during a political meeting in June 2007

Mr. De Waele no longer believes in Belgium. Belgium is in total chaos he says. More than a year has passed since last elections. During those elections, all Flemish political parties promised that they would reform the Belgian state and transfer more power to the regions. But the Francophone political parties don’t want reform. The negotiations are still going on, but all hope for a positive outcome seems to have been lost, and more and more politicians call for new elections.

There is one tiny little problem with those new elections: they would be unconstitutional. In 2003, the Belgian constitutional court declared that the voting district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) is in violation with the constitution. Politicians were given some time to resolve this, but the deadline expired and no solution has been found that both Flemings en Francophones could agree upon.

There is only one way out of this mess, according to Mr. De Waele: transferring almost all power to the regions and transform Belgium into a confederation. Until that happens, he refuses to fly the Belgian flag.

Flemish Flag

A Flemish Flag at the castle of the count in Ghent

It took the press until the 13th of August to find out that the Belgian flag was gone in Lennik. But since then, the controversy never stopped. It started quite innocently, with people trying to replace the Flemish flag with a Belgian one at night. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they got caught. But then it became more and more aggressive. Swastikas were painted on street signs and Mr. De Waele received hate mail and death threads. One of his colleagues: Jean-Jacques Flahaux, mayor of the Walloon town of Braine-le-Comte, wrote “after the war, this kind of behaviour was rightfully punished with a bulled between the eyes“.

But while that might have been the case during the repression after the second worldwar, it seems that Mr. De Waele isn’t breaking any laws today. Apparently, flying a Belgian flag on a town hall, is only required by law on national holidays. All the other days of the year, Mr. De Waele can continue with his protest against the current political stalemate.