Montréal,  4 mars 2000  /  No 57
<< page précédente 
Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the accession of Joerg Haider as the power behind the throne in the new Austrian government and the outpouring of vituperation which followed in its wake. Even our own Minister for Foreign Affairs thought fit to add his own comments to the growing clamour. 
          This week, the news that Haider has resigned seems not to have stilled the voices of those who imposed a state of virtual exclusion upon the Austrian government. The shrill comments of those objecting to the alleged aims of Haider still ring out.
          As I then pointed out, no such outbursts had been forthcoming about other noted freedom lovers such as Castro and Putkin. Austria is ostracised, but not China or its president, Jiang Zemin, whose police were recently reported to have arrested a rather old Roman Catholic archbishop for expressing loyalty to the Vatican. The Chinese imprison and torture monks and nuns in Tibet and Mr Jiang has described the killings in Tiananmen Square as « much ado about nothing ». Is this somehow any less chilling than anything Haider has ever uttered? The world remains silent. 
How to get rid of opponents 
          There were no cries of outrage either, at least none that I could detect, when earlier this week the coalition government of Belgium announced that it is considering the banning of the growing Flemish nationalist group, Vlaams Blok.There's a name to conjure with! 
          Ms.Laurette Onkelinx, the Deputy Prime Minister, recommended the introduction of a law « to extinguish the existence of anti-democratic forces ». Ms Onkelinx further suggested that the law should apply to any party or movement that « manifests hostility to human rights ». The Belgian parliament's main parties would then decide what kind of behaviour would trigger this clause. An appeal would be allowed to a tribunal of judges appointed by those same parties. In response to this interesting example of democracy at work, the President of the Vlaams Blok, Frank Vanhecke, said: « I seem to remember that the old Soviet block used to call opposition parties 'undemocratic' when it wanted to snuff them out. » 
          One can just imagine the outcry in Quebec if the Federal government were to make such a proposal about our Bloc. 
          Belgium's two ethnic groups are, the Flemings (of Teutonic origin) and the Walloons (of Celtic origin, although possibly with Alpine elements). As in Quebec, the distinction is linguistic, the Flemings are Flemish-(Dutch) speaking, and the Walloons are French-speaking. The predominantly Flemish provinces are in the northern part of Belgium and the mainly Walloon provinces are in the south. The ratio of Flemings to Walloons is about 5 to 3 with an overall population of something over 10 millions. The largest population concentration is in the region of Brussels which contains about 10% of the entire population. The industrial areas of Antwerp, Liege, and Ghent, as well as the coal-mining region between Mons and Charleroi are also heavily populated. 
     « The outrage one hears from the Belgian government, about Haider and, not so long ago, Pinochet as well, has probably nothing to do with Austria, or with Chile. It is most likely all about Belgians and their own feelings of shame, fear and guilt. »  
          The whole country is divided into nine provinces and, at a time when such things were popular, they passed a law establishing three official languages; Flemish was recognized as the official language in the north, French in the south and German along the eastern border. In Brussels, both French and Flemish are officially recognized, although French speakers constitute the larger group. In 1971, a constitutional change was enacted giving recognition to the three language communities, providing them with cultural autonomy, and revising the bilingual and administrative status of Brussels. The latter being really an enclave in the Flemish-speaking area. 
          In recent times, the xenophobic Vlaams Blok, which has no free market pretensions as far I can discover and which, totally unlike Haider's party, is openly racist, has disturbed the serenity of the longstanding political agreement about how to divide the loot between the Walloon Socialists and the Flemish Christian Democrats. Although the government is now composed of other elements, the real fear among present day politicians still seems to be that the Vlaams Blok will increase its share of the vote in the forthcoming town council elections in October. Should this occur, the ensuing nightmare could involve the breaking down of the barriers which have hitherto kept the Blok out of power in both local and regional governments. Like its namesake in Canada, the Blok is calling for the peaceful dissolution of the country along the lines of Czechoslvakia before it split into two independent nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in January 1993. Such a dissolution would, of course, constitute a threat to the poorer subsidised areas of the French speaking part of the country. 
Shame, fear and guilt in Belgium 
          The outrage one hears from the Belgian government, about Haider and, not so long ago, Pinochet as well, has probably nothing to do with Austria, or with Chile. It is most likely all about Belgians and their own feelings of shame, fear and guilt. During the last two decades they have withstood the effects of a large number of scandals, some comical, some brutal. There were the unsolved supermarket killings in the 1980s, the « tueries de Brabant »; the « ballets roses », sordid political sex parties and so on.. All of which became somehow tied into the resignation of Willy Claes as secretary-general of NATO.  
          In 1996, all of this ended in an outburst of national anguish over the paedophile rings. In the past few years, it seems that the Belgians have come to understand that they have somehow become identified with the most appalling of human vices. Which is why the Belgian political elite leads the world in bullying Austria and making a victim out of Haider. It is all perhaps because they are so fearful of the racists and haters that they know exist among themselves, not least of which is the Vlaams Blok. 
          This week too, the second-largest selling daily paper in Italy, La Repubblica, had an article entitled « The Europe based on values is winning »: which rejoiced over Haider's resignation. The article went on to say that: « Nobody wants to deny the Austrians the right to give themselves the government they want, or to vote for a politician who professes xenophobic ideologies and erases history from the history books. But from the moment that Austria decided to enter the common European house it can no longer exempt itself from respecting the condominium rules: rather than of a right to interfere, we should be talking about a right which is also a duty of exclusion. » The core of the paper's argument was that they were not violating Austria's sovereignty. On the contrary it would be the sovereignty of the EU, inasmuch as it is precisely a political, and not merely an economic actor, that would be violated by Austria's claim not to subject itself to the constituent principles of the Union itself. 
          This, by the way, from a country where six years ago the government included the neo-fascist party Alleanza Nazionale, led by Mr Fini who thought Mussolini this century's greatest statesman. The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, remarked recently, somewhat frankly, that if Alleanza Nazionale. returned to power in Italy, then Italy should get the same treatment as Austria. This statement was greeted with howls of protest from every sector of Italian political opinion, led by the former Communist, Prime Minister D'Alema. In fact, Schroder was soon isolated in the EU, and had to eat his words rather quickly. 
          It seems then, that Austria's real sin was not so much that it elected a party too far to the right, but because of its claim not to subject itself to the constituent principles of the European Union. The unforgivable sin seems to be insubordination to the Union itself. The Alleanza's Giovani Fini never contested the moral integrity of the European Union or the ideal of EU political unity. Those of us familiar with the events of over fifty years ago well know that Mussolini, together with Adolf Hitler, tried to bring about such a union themselves. So Italian neo-fascism is perfectly acceptable, it seems that it is the « attitude » of insubordination to the EU that is not. 
Articles précédents de Ralph Maddocks
<< retour au sommaire