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Beards for Belgium!

January 14, 2011

The BBC reported Wednesday on actor Benoit Poelvoorde’s call for Belgian men to not shave until a government has been formed in Belgium. Poelvoorde, famous for his role in Coco Before Chanel is calling for a quiet protest against the disunity of the country and inability to form a government. Currently Belgium is being administered by a caretaker government, and has been since last summer, a dubious record for the country.

Despite its tiny size, and the fact that it fought a bloody battle for independence from the Netherlands in 1830, and we twice trampled by the invading German armies during the two World Wars, Belgium has, instead of coalescing, become one of the most acrimonious political and regional environments in Europe. They also have one of the most incomprehensible administrations, with layer upon layer of bureaucracy and complicated rules about which group and can provide services to which area. The different linguistic and cultural groups deeply resent one another and there seems to be nobody in Belgium with the clout and skill to bring everybody to the table, which has led to a shockingly strong Belgian partition movement. You can learn more about Belgian politics and administration here and here in our older articles. At the beginning of this last summer the government of Yves Leterme collapsed, and the government has yet to be reconstituted.

The asymmetrical development of Belgium is blamed for the deepening divisions of Belgian society. While initially the wealthier middle and upper classes of Belgium were Francophone, this has been changing as the industrial region of Flanders has become more prosperous than the predominantly agricultural Wallonia which also contains the Ardennes forest, one of the few left in Europe. It remains to be seen how successful Poelvoorde’s beard movement will be; perhaps Belgium will soon become a country of ZZ Top look-alikes,  or perhaps it will raise a popular consciousness about the issue and force some steps toward reconciliation.

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