Walloon woes spawn politics of hatred
Thursday 18 May 1995
in La Louviere
A pall of dejection hangs over the small town of La Louviere, in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Broken glass clogs up the drains, and the cafe on the street corner is cleaning up after a burglary during the night.
All around are the signs of economic blight. The carcass of an ugly steel foundry casts a shadow over grimy red-brick terraced streets. Unemployment in the region is as high as 33 per cent and drugs are rife. Several shops in the town centre have closed.
In the immigrant reception centre, youths fill in forms in the search of jobs. Once proud of its multi-cultural harmony, La Louviere, which once invited waves of immigrants to work in the mines, has turned in on itself.
In response to the arrival last year of refugees from Zaire and Angola, La Louviere hasspawned its own branch of the racist National Front.
As Belgium goes to the polls on Sunday in the first electionunder the new federal system, Wallonia fears it is gradually being dumped, as it is cut off from the richer Flemish region to the north.
Pressure from the majority Flemish who make up 60 per cent of Belgians, brought about the linguistic and cultural division between the two communities in the 1970s and 1980s.
Last year came constitutional changes which mean that voters will elect their own separate regional governments, as well a national government.
The minority Walloons, who oppose separation, fear the momentum will not stop there. As the election campaign reached its climax, one issue dominated the debate: the proposal by Flemish hard-liners to "federalise" social security and health payments. Flemish tax payers are pouring their money into the pockets of unemployed and unwell Walloons, they say. They want the two communities to run separate benefits systems.
"This would be the beginning of the end. It would mean the end of any solidarity between our two communities. Belgium is too small to divide in two. We have helped them in the past. Now we are in difficulties they just want to throw us away," said Franca Rossi, an election campaigner. These French-speakers are not depending for their revival on national leaders but on the European Union, which recently named the La Louviere area as a priority region for aid.
The separatists could be strengthened in Sunday's elections by disarray among the Flemish Socialists, caused by a recent corruption scandal. The French-speaking Socialists may also be hit by disenchantment with the country's incumbent politicians. There are fears of a move to the right in Wallonia. "Here the right wing is just playing on people's fears and insecurities. People are afraid for their future and their children's future. They feel they have lost connection with political decision-makers. They want to hit out at something and the right has given them a cause," says Olga Zrihen, a Socialist candidate in La Louviere.
Walloon bitterness against the Flemish has been heightened during the election campaign. Until recently, many parts of Wallonia, benefiting from proximity to France and enjoying industrial success, were more prosperous than Flanders. However, Wallonia has been slow to switch to new industries and northern France has also seen a slump.
"For years we supported the Flemish," Ms Zrihen said." Now they don't want to do the same for us."
Exclusive: World’s most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste
Saint Patrick's Day 2014: Chicago River turns green
Saint Patrick's Day: Google Doodle marks patron saint of Ireland - here are 10 things you didn't know about the man
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Did jetliner fly into area controlled by Taliban? Net widens after claims final satellite signal could have been sent from the ground
Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades
Ukip and Nigel Farage on course for remarkable victory in European elections
Tony Benn was entirely ineffectual - and usually wrong
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Britain’s five richest families worth as much as poorest 20 per cent, says Oxfam
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex
- 3 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Did jetliner fly into area controlled by Taliban? Net widens after claims final satellite signal could have been sent from the ground
- 4 Nasa-funded study warns of ‘collapse of civilisation’ in coming decades
- 5 'Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 plane found in Bermuda Triangle!' Viral Facebook links are profiting hackers
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client operates within the healthcare...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client is a tech start up within the ...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are currently seeki...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff are current...