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Belgium has left Ukraine far behind
Belgium has left Ukraine far behind in the race to set a record for life without a government.

True, Ukraine has repeatedly failed to form an executive at a second and even a third go-but Belgium has beaten even its own 1987-88 record, when it went without a government for 148 days. Looming over the crises in both countries is the specter of partition. But while in Ukraine the question of dividing into East and West is regarded by most only as a matter of theory, Belgium faces a very real chance of breaking up into French and Flemish speaking lands.

The crisis started with the general election of June 10. Government negotiator Yves Leterme, a prime-ministerial hopeful and leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, twice failed to form a coalition during marathon talks, and eventually threw in the towel. The controversy that ultimately doomed the talks was his plan to offer greater regional autonomy, on a pattern that would practically turn the country into a confederation of Flanders and Wallonia, plus Brussels and its surrounding areas.

Exasperated, Leterme twice asked King Albert II to relieve him of his honorable duty. The king then turned to outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. Will he prove to be a more unifying figure?

Ever more Belgians think that holding another, preterm election would be the best way out, but it would be no panacea: the stalemate would most probably be repeated. Political analysts warn that if the crisis goes on, Belgium could easily split into Flanders and Wallonia - an ironic fate for the country that is home to the key institutions of a United Europe.

No one can say just when Belgium may split, but 66% of Flemish and 47% of Walloon respondents in a recent VRT television opinion poll said it was likely, and 46% of the Flemish welcomed it.

They have a point: the more prosperous Flanders, with 60% of the Belgian population, sees much of its tax revenues channeled off to the poorer Wallonia. Paradoxically, many Walloons are also separatist minded. Laurent Brogniet, secretary general of the Wallonia-France Rally, sees accession to France as the only remedy. He hopes the French will respect Wallonia more than the Flemish, who regard it as a little sister.

It is true that Flemish politicians do little to mask their disdain of Walloons. Leterme, for one, has said that they are too stupid to learn Flemish.

Flemish nationalists have taken up his remark that there is nothing to cement the nation but "the King, the football team, some beers...". The far-right Vlaams Belang party is calling on parliament to open debates on the impending split, while Flemish lawmakers have approved a bill to cut the electoral franchise of French speakers around Brussels.

Francophone members of parliament say it is a declaration of war. They have gathered 150,000 signatures to a petition to preserve Belgium's integrity. Public protest swept Brussels, a Francophone island in a Flemish sea, where townspeople flew national flags from their balconies.

However, the current storm is nothing compared to the shock of a year ago, when RTBF, a television station, decided to check public opinion by falsely announcing a split. A news update said in a live broadcast that the Flemish diet had voted for independence. The shaken audience even did not notice the crawler at the bottom of the screen saying it was a mere joke.

Belgians are often cracking jokes about the tentative split. What else can they do while their politicians cannot mend their differences? One frustrated teacher, Gerrit Six, offered Belgium for sale on eBay as a free delivery second-hand item, complete with king, court and national debt. Bids came by the hundred-and surged up to 14 million euros before eBay's management removed it, "just to avoid confusion".

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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