Friday, June 11, 2010

Belgium, Puerto Rico and the Status Quo

Who would have thought that Belgium and Puerto Rico had something in common? A European country and a tropical island? Actually, they have a lot in common. They are both places in which two unrelated cultures collide and the main political discussion is always the same: the "status quo". Both have political parties that use the status quo as its main agenda item. As long as I can remember, Puerto Rico has always had the status quo debate. Being a territory of the United States, around half of the population wants for it to remain a free and associated state of the United States and the other half wants it to become the 51st state of the Union. There is a small minority that wants it to become an independent nation.


Belgium is a little more complicated but a similar story. It has a French speaking south, Wallonia, a Flemish (a variation of Dutch) in the north, and a very small German minority in the East. Brussels is in between Flanders and Wallonia (geographically it is still Flanders) but it is considered the center of Belgium. Brussels has become in a way the battleground for the cultural and economic war between both regions. Many Flemish people feel that they bear the economic burden of the south and would like Flanders to become its own nation. Some people from Wallonia would like to become part of France. In a survey conducted by the main Francophone Belgian newspaper, Le Soir 66% of French citizens would approve an annexation of Wallonia. With all of these options, it is worrying to see what will happen to the Kingdom of Belgium. Many expats, to include myself are worried. Many wonder what will happen to their job, their property, and their livelihood. Will my employer find a more stable place to set up operations? These are all subjects that are being discussed by the international community here in Brussels. The expat community is a big economic vein to Brussels and its surrounding areas.

Politics have always fascinated me. I guess when you have political fanatics as parents, it is part of your DNA. With all my studies and general interest, I am not able to grasp Belgian politics. They are just too complicated, especially coming from a bi-partisan country. Sometimes I become frustrated with the monopoly of two parties in the US and in Puerto Rico but when you live in a place that cannot form a government in 8 months (this happened in 2007), you start to wonder which model is best. Iraq was able to form a coalition faster than Belgium after their first elections in 2005, in the height of sectarian violence!

I work and socialize with many Belgians. Bruxellois, Flemish, and Walloons. It is hard to form an opinion because everyone has a different take on what they want for Belgium and its future. All groups have valid points. In Puerto Rico, it is the same . I was raised in Puerto Rico and I still have a difficult time deciding what I want for my dear island. I see the benefits of it becoming the 51st state but I fear for our cultural identity. I can sympathize with the Belgians because I know what it means to live in between two cultures and wonder about the future of your homeland. Elections are tomorrow, I am am anxious to see the outcome.

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