View Full Version : The End of Belgium

15th Dec 2006, 06:30
The Times: (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,174-2505108,00.html)It's the end of Belgium as we know it... only joking

Thousands of Belgians were thrown into a panic by news that the Flemish half of the country had declared independence. A two-hour live television report on the break-up of the nation showed images of ecstatic Flemish nationalists waving flags on the streets and queues of French speakers heading for the “border”.

The panic turned to anger after RTBF, the French public broadcaster, admitted 40 minutes into the show that it was a hoax designed to dramatise tensions between Flanders, in the north, and French-speaking Wallonia, in the south.

Thousands of viewers called the station during the broadcast, some of them in tears over the “death of Belgium” and reports that the King had fled.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Prime Minister, condemned the show, comparing it to Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, which convinced thousands of Americans Martians had invaded.

The broadcast comes before talks next year on redistributing powers between the two regions. Mr Verhofstadt’s spokesman said: “It is very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste. In the current context, it is irresponsible for a public television channel to announce the end of Belgium as a reality presented by genuine journalists.”

Fadila Laanan, the minister responsible for TV in Wallonia, forced the station to confess to the hoax after receiving an alarming number of phone calls and text messages during the programme.

About 6 million of Belgium’s 10.5 million people live in Flanders, 3.5 million in Wallonia, and a million in Brussels. All the main political parties are based on linguistic groups and both regions have their own parliaments. Flanders is now the wealthiest of the two halves but painful memories linger from the 19th century when the French-speaking aristocracy held sway.

One letter writer to Libre Belgique said: “I’m 39 years old, and I’m not really what you would call the sensitive type, but I cried.”