Zaventem is mostly known in Europe for being Brussels main airport and home to the local airline. In fact, Zaventem lays next to Brussels but is a completely different village located in the Flemish part of the country.
Today 31,0000 people live in the city of Zaventem. According to the Wikipedia article 17% of the population is non-Belgian. Zaventem is also home of many international companies such as Microsoft, Sony, Bridgestone and others.
As mentioned before, Zaventem is geographically located in Flanders. Belgium is divided in 3 regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. Each of these regions speak their own language. In Flanders they speak Flemish – a language very similar to Dutch. In Wallonia they speak Walloon – a language very similar to French. Finally, Brussels is a bi-lingual region, but most people living in the region speak French.
Last week I was shocked by the news that the Zaventem council, using the argument of improving integration, decided that in public parks child carers, parents and children should have conversations in no other language than Flemish. It was emphasized that even the children among themselves should only play in the determined language. Human rights groups shouted that this violates not only the European Charter, but also the Belgian constitution, which allows free use of the language. A few years ago, the same commune of Zaventem was one of the first Flemish adminstrations to ban the use of foreign languages in the local council claiming that it was illegal to use other dialect.
This kind of attitude is not exclusive to Zaventem. In fact, a lot of cities in Flanders have weird laws ranging from obligatory integration courses to very restrictive property buying rights. Some cities will only allow you to buy a house if you can prove Flemish blood or strong ties with the community, such as many years working in the village and a group of local friends.
Even though Flanders was always a trade centre throughout history, during the industrial revolution era, the country economy was largely based in the coal and steel industry of the Walloon region (and of course a lot came from the pillage of Congo).
After the end of the second world war, the language problems in Belgium flourished when Flanders became the financial powerhouse of the country. Due to their trading nature, they managed to secure much better foreign investment deals. In the 1960´s the Flemish were richer, better organized, more advanced technologically and in larger numbers.
In the last decades Flanders believes, correctly, that their population taxes are sustaining the rest of the nation. 5% unemployment in the north and 20% unemployment in the south are just one of the numbers that show the differences of the country.
These scenarios initiated a nationalist superiority feeling that triggered stupid decision such as forced integration and territory protectionism. Polls show that most Flemish want to have Belgium continuing to exist, but only under their financial and cultural terms. The problem is that currently a lot of Flemish decisions are bordering the unacceptable. Controlling the language spoken in public places is a very dangerous precedent.
Unfortunately I don´t foresee a good future. Europe´s economy is in shambles. The mentality in the Walloon region is almost communist. Flanders will establish its financial ruling more and more. Stupid laws and regulations will become more common, which is a pity, because this will increase the discomfort between the regions. The Belgian motto “L´union fait la force” – The union makes the strength – will someday just be another part of history. Each passing day there is less of Belgium and more of Flanders and Wallonia.