Partition of Belgium  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The partition of Belgium, or the dissolution of the Belgian state through the separation of the Dutch-speaking peoples of the Flanders region from the French-speaking peoples of the Walloon region and Brussels, granting them either independence or respective accession to the Netherlands and France, is being currently discussed in the Belgian and international media. The concept is rooted in the long-standing ethnic and socio-economic tensions between the two communities as well as the geographic and cultural continuity of Wallonia with France and that of Flanders with the Netherlands.

Language border

The language border separating the Germanic and Romance Sprachräume moved over the centuries which preceded the establishment of the Belgian state over an area between the Ardennes and the more or less straight line going from Aachen to Calais on the one hand and the much less populated frontier from Aachen to Arlon via Malmedy. However, this frontier has not much changed since the 18th century. For example, in the communes of Mouscron-Comines-Warneton, French seems to be dominant at least since 1761. The frontier splitting the older province of Brabant and the Hesbaye moved regularly during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some communes, such as Hélécine, switched from Dutch to French and others, such as Herstappe, switched from French to Dutch. The Voeren have a long Flemish tradition and, in the Land of Herve, several communes which used to use Germanic dialects switched to French during the 18th century, as for example, Berneau and Warsage, both now part of Dalhem and Saint-Jean-Sart, a hamlet of Aubel.

Prior to the 20th century, this language border did not merely distinguish speakers of Belgian French, standard Dutch and standard German, as today, but between Romance and Germanic dialect continua. The Germanic Sprachraum was made of different components such as West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantic, Limburgish, Ripuarian (transitional dialects between Limbourgish and Ripuarian are called Low Dietsch), Moselle Franconian dialect of Trier and Luxembourgish. The Romance sprachraum was made of Picard, Walloon (with four distinct dialects around the cities of Charleroi, Namur, Liège and Bastogne), Lorrain and Champenois. Due to mass education and the expansion of modern media such as television, the mid-20th century saw a uniformization of the different language regions, leading to the domination of the standard languages in their respective domains. In Wallonia, French became the dominant, priority language (local dialects being seldom used). Elsewhere in the Low Countries, the local dialects survived better, at least in private use.

The historical language border in the Low Countries corresponds to the frontier between populations whose majorities spoke distinct languages. However, the ruling upper classes most often spoke French. As was the case in many European noble courts, French was historically the nobility's language. This was also the case most of the rest of the Low Countries. Several sovereigns of the region, notably including Maria Theresa of Austria, succeeded in making French not only the language of the court but also of their administrations. For instance, while the major part of the population of Luxembourg speaks Luxembourgish in a private context, the administrative language of Luxembourg is French. As another example, the motto of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is the French phrase: "Je maintiendrai", because the language of the Orange-Nassau reigning family was French until 1890. In Flanders, until the beginning of the 20th century, many upper class Flemish burghers, such as Maurice Maeterlinck or Suzanne Lilar, used French as their first language. Another example is the University of Ghent which was a French-speaking institution until 1930.

The language areas were established in 1963. The division into language areas was included into the Belgian Constitution in 1970. The border between the language areas is the so-called Belgian language or linguistic border. It is based on the actual language border between the sprachraums but is not utterly identical. The authority of the Regions and Communities is limited to some language areas:

This territorial issue, in particular around Brussels, is a source of tension between the Belgian communities.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Partition of Belgium" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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