How Dutch & French Became Official Languages In Belgium

A brief overview on the history of the Flemish-Walloon divide.

Belgium flag
Pixabay

Belgium is a country with an interesting albeit divided history. A history that still influences its modern-day culture. Some may be aware of the Flemish-Walloon divide in Belgium. Simply said, the divide was a result of the Walloon region in the South of modern-day Belgium being run by the Gauls during the Roman empire. While the Flanders Region in the North was being infiltrated by Gothic Germans. Today Belgium has gained independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands but the country itself is still subdivided into two regions.

The tension between the Walloon Region and the Flanders Region was especially heightened after gaining independence from the Dutch. French immediately became the official language in Belgium which upset the Flemish Speakers. It didn’t help that those who spoke Dutch or Flemish were seen as lower class while the French speakers were typically nobility. This meant that those who spoke Flemish didn’t have the same rights as those of the Walloon region.

However, in 1967 an official Dutch version of the constitution was accepted – in hopes of creating more unity among the regions. This was following years of tension between the two communities. In fact, only in 1898 was the Law on Equality was introduced. This law stated that Dutch and French were to be understood as equal official languages. However, native French speakers in parliament were adamant about not wanting to learn Dutch – meaning they couldn’t vote on Dutch texts.

The remains of the divide are visible in not only the current linguistic and cultural divide, but also in how members of each region interact and perceive one another. The tensions between the regions are very much active today. Most communities in Belgium will have both Flemish and French translations on their street signs. However, political frustrations have meant that the signs are often vandalized. This divide hasn’t just shaped Belgium’s past but it also affects their present and due to new accords perhaps their future too.

An example of the future of Belgium being affected by the divide is the hypothetical situation of the Partition of Belgium. The concept has been heavily discussed by media outlets all around the world. The Partition of Belgium is theoretically a solution to the countries linguistic and cultural division. The plan would be for the Flanders region to become independent or join the Netherlands. While the Wallonia region also becomes independent or joins the French. This would be a drastic yet understandable measure.

Sophia lived in Belgium for three years.

Sophia Garcia

Contributor

Sophia has spent most of her life living abroad. Traveling has become second nature to her and the beauty of international experiences isn’t lost on her. Sophia enjoys writing, photography and cooking and hopes to one day publish books about her interests.

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