Belgium's centre moves 19 miles

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The Independent Online
BELGIUM'S LINGUISTIC divisions may be gently propelling the country towards subdividing into two none too friendly states, French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders, but Belgium still has a heart - and that's official.

On Saturday, obviously imbued with a continuing faith in Belgium's continuity and future prospects as a united state, a new monument was unveiled marking the exact centre of this small but divided land.

Previously, the centre of Belgium had been located at the village of Ittre. On Saturday, however, a small pyramid was unveiled a full 19 miles away, at the village of Nil-Saint-Vincent-Saint Martin, which lies half way between the capital, Brussels, and the (Francophone) city, Namur.

The centre of Belgium was deemed to have moved west thanks to the latest topography. Earlier, the centre of the country had been calculated on the basis of maps which had failed to take account of a small slice of the Kaiser's Germany that was ceded to Belgium after the First World War, according to the newspaper Dimanche Matin.

Eighty years on, thanks to a French geographer, Jean-Georges Affholder, that gain has finally been taken into account when calculating the centre of the country. Evidently the Belgians, both Walloon and Flemish, do not rush to conclusions.

Whether the discovery of a new centre will give Belgium a new sense of unity is another matter. The elections planned for June next year are expected to be decisive, with Walloons threatening to join France if, as expected, the Flemish proceed on their own road to greater autonomy from Brussels. If they carry out their threat, the small pyramid at Nil- Saint-Vince-Saint Martin will lie in north-eastern France.