Weird translations

On language, nationalism, federalism and postcolonialism in Belgium

Dieter Lesage

The State of the Federation

The paradox of the European unification is sufficiently known. Exactly at the same time when Europe is heading for more integration on certain levels, a number of member states seem to be involved in a process of decomposition. This process assumes several names: federalism, confederalism, regionalisation, devolution, separatism. In all these processes the legitimacy of the actual nation-states is entirely or partly put into question. The question arises, however, as to whether those trends challenge the nation-state itself as a project. Indeed, more often than not, sovereignty is the intended purpose, explicit or not, of a regional policy that attempts to liberate itself from the alleged straightjacket of the nation-state. Not infrequently, the rhetoric which regionalists avail themselves of thereby to this purpose, reveals echoes of discourses that also accompanied the traditional formation of the nation-state. In the following I want to focus on a specific and less known facet of the rhetoric that determines the disintegration of one particular European nation-state, viz. Belgium: the recovery of anti-colonialist discursive material devices in behalf of the federal (re)formation of the state.

The unitarian Belgian state is a constitutional museum piece. After all, since 1993 Belgium is a federal state.[1] Federalism means, amongst other things, that legislative authorities are divided among the federal government and other governments, and thus implies a partial decentralisation. The basic principle of federalism is the so-called subsidiarity principle. It is often considered a way both to make extensive territories politically controllable, and at the same time to bridge the notorious gap between citizen and politics as much as possible. According to this principle, the federal level is supposed to take the place of the regional level if and only if this is required by efficiency.[2] As a matter of fact, it comes as no surprise that efficiency has come to be the key word in discussions about the distribution of authorities amongst the federal level and the level of the federalised entities in certain states. Not infrequently the federalised levels claim the competence to act more efficiently than the authorities on the federal level, in order then to withdraw authorities from the latter.[3] Of course this process is occurring most overtly in Belgium, but in a somewhat more modest way also in other federal countries like the United States.[4] In Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom too there seems to be a similar tendency towards a gradual transformation of these countries to federal states. After his electoral victory of 21 April 1996 the leader of the centrist leftist coalition of the day (and present chairman of the European Commission) Romano Prodi announced that Italy was heading for federal reform, whereby he meant mainly an administrative decentralisation and a particular form of fiscal autonomy for the regions. Also in 1996 the autonomous communities in Spain acquired, in exchange for support of the Catalan president Jordi Pujol for the conservative government of José Aznar, control of a greater share in the collected taxes. In the run up to the general elections of May 1997, the chairman of the British Labour Party Tony Blair too promised important institutional reformations that would meet the Scottish pursuit of greater autonomy. The Belgian choice of federalism eventually was a matter of mediation between the wish to maintain the Belgian sovereignty as much as possible on the one hand, the Flemish and Walloon pursuit of greater autonomy on the other. In Spain the regions have obtained greater autonomy, even though Spain still is no federal state. In Great Britain the debate on the devolution of competences from the national government to regional authorities seems to have started only recently, with the elections for a Scottish Parliament in May 1999.[5]

This process, which for some years now has undeniably been occurring in many countries of Western and Southern Europe, a process whereby the legitimacy of the national government to act in particular domains as legislator is gradually being questioned more often and more emphathically, has been going on in Belgium for some thirty years now. Until 1993 one would talk about the process of federalisation (because what mattered was the transformation from a unitarian state to a federal state). Since 1993 we call this process one of defederalisation (for what is at stake now is the gradual withdrawal of qualifications from the federal government). Thus, in the Belgian context defederalisation is not federalisation’s counterpart, but rather the continuation of the same process - the demand for greater autonomy by one or more federalised entities - in an altered constitutional context.

Belgian federalism is often considered to be a kind of its own, because it differs in crucial respects from the state structure of other federations, such as Germany, the United States, and Brazil, to mention only those.[6] Without doubt the most important characteristic of Belgian federalism is its division of authorities on two distinct levels: that of the communities and that of the regions. Where other (extensive) federal states like the United States, Germany and Brazil exclusively hold a federation of territories, this is not the case in Belgium. Small though it is, this federation of three regions (the Flemish, the Walloon and the Brussels Capital Region) is covered over by a federation of three communities (de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, la Communauté française de Belgique and the Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft), communities that are defined linguistically.  Uncongruously and asymmetrically, regions and communities rest on each other like plateaus, and each time the need for a political geology arises when one wants to make out the state of the federation in Belgium. In this connection Francis Delpérée and Sébastien Depré speak of a “fédéralisme de superposition”[7] unique for Europe.


Federalism and postcolonialism

It is most probably no coincidence that precisely in the postcolonial era, from the moment that Belgium was forced to fall back on itself, it has been attempted at almost every new election round to make up the state of the state. In other former colonial powers (Great-Britain and Spain) too, the collapse of the colonial empire heralds the beginning of a fanatical reflection on the internal state structures, in which certain regions (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in Great-Britain; the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia in Spain) strive for greater autonomy. Even though it is no coincidence that the postcolonial era is also a federalizing era, little or no attention has been paid to this coincidence in postcolonial theory and criticism. Attention was generally fixed on the way specific autochthonous elite groups used nationalistic schemes borrowed from nineteenth and early twentieth-century European history in their struggle against colonial power.[8] Against this conventional conception of the genealogical relation between nationalism and anti-colonialism Benedict Anderson has argued in the second edition of Imagined Communities that the anti-imperialist nationalism of the ‘creoles’ in both Americas preceded the European nationalisms.[9] Up to now the way in which anti-colonial nationalism has subsequently been recovered itself by separatist regionalisms in Europe has been ignored almost entirely.

First of all the anti-colonial movements in the former colonies that have successfully exacted sovereignty from the colonizing nations have provided the regionalist and separatist movements within those nations with a specific rhetoric. They have, so to say, given them ideas. Let us term this connection between postcolonialism and federalism the rhetorical connection. Secondly, the loss of the colonies was often accompanied by the loss of national pride[10], a loss that was sometimes compensated for by ways of identification other than national. Let us call this connection between postcolonialism and federalism the symbolical connection.

(1) First there is, as already said, a rhetorical connection between postcolonialism and federalism. In this context Sanford Schram’s general warning can serve as a guideline: “Federalism, like so much else of politics, is a field of metaphors. Literary tropes adorn our analyses of federal issues serving to mobilise support or opposition to shifts in authority between the federal government and the states. These linguistic devices can be overused and can often dangerously oversimplify”[11]. Not infrequently the debates on devolution and autonomy, on federalisation and (later) defederalisation have accompanied, justly or not, by often manifestly exaggerated comparisons between national governments and colonial regimes.[12] In certain cases, many arguments can undoubtedly be given for such comparisons: also allegedly objective observers, such as Robert Young and Masao Miyoshi, regard British politics with respect to Northern Ireland or Israeli politics with respect to the Palestinians as ‘colonial’ politics.[13] Like many others, both authors feel strongly about the Israeli occupation of ‘Palestine’.[14] However, some take the view that the anti-colonial rhetoric does not only apply to nation-states that overtly use violence to lend weight to their claims, whether legitimate or not, to a particular area, as this is the case in Israel, and until recently in Northern Ireland. Also nonviolent, political action of national governments with respect to certain regions which belong to its own (postcolonial) national territory, is often painted as oppressive, patronizing and imperialistic. In The Sociology of Nationalism David McCrone refers to Michael Hechter’s theory of ‘internal colonialism’, in which Scotland is described as an ‘internal colony’ of Great-Britain, a comparison which even to McCrone - ‘both a sociologist and a Scot’[15] - carries the matter too far:

Intern colonialism was a framework which Hechter borrowed from Latin America by way of analysis of race relations in the US and applied to what he calls the Celtic periphery in the UK. Drawing on the sociology of development, Hechter rejected the assumption that all territories are equally incorporated into the culture and economy of the core, and argued that an exploitative and unequal relationship develops between peripheries and core in such a way that the internal colony produces wealth for the benefit of areas closer both geographically and economically to the core-state. The internal colonies are differentiated by particular cultural variables such as religion, language or ethnicity which exclude them from superior social and cultural positions. Hechter argues that for internal colonialisation to exist there must be a ‘cultural’ division of labour so that the colony contains low-status occupations and positions, and the core gets the high-status ones. Nationalism is generated as a form of territorial ‘class’ reaction to this concentration of power and resources at the centre.

The obvious problem with Hechter’s account is that it does not fit historical facts. In particular, territories such as Scotland, Catalunya and Quebec all developed relatively high degrees of institutional and cultural autonomy and, if anything, the spur to neo-nationalism lay in their relatively privileged rather than their relatively disadvantaged relationship to the central states in question. Peripheral regions of this sort are prosperous and enjoy a large degree of autonomy[16].

Thus, once in a while federalisation happens to be depicted as a constitutional technique to restrain the national government’s supposed or real imperialism. In such a context, federalism unavoidably functions as a compromise  between unitarianism and separatism. This is then called a ‘fédéralisme de dissociation’[17] and is meant as the allaying of separatist tendencies within the context of a state that will preserve its sovereignty in a number of crucial domains.

Also the culturally motivated separatism in Flanders readily points out a coloniser as the guilty party. Flemish separatists believe that Flanders is being exploited. Flanders is regularly sarcastically referred to as the ‘milch cow of the Walloon Provinces’: once upon a time it was introduced in political discussions about the relation between the regions in Belgium by the former chairman of the flesh christian-democratic party CVP Johan Vanhecke and meanwhile it has almost become a fixed expression for the financial transfers from a richer Flanders to the poorer Walloon Provinces. Flanders as the ‘milch cow of the Walloon Provinces’ is a phrase which spontaneously invokes the European looting of Africa or the so-called ‘scramble for Africa’[18]. In spite of Flanders’ unmistakable economical predominance, Flemish separatists tend to identify with oppressed people in other parts of the world. The ‘poverty’ of the Walloons is often depicted by those as a product of idleness and a cover for exploitation. It goes without saying that this Flemish representation itself can be regarded as a rhetorical cover for the collective egoism of one of the most prosperous regions of Europe, or at least of its ruling political class.

Often, when the domestic politics of a specific Flemish elite is supported by the tendentious representation of the Flemish as a people exploited by the Walloons, quite partisan attitudes on behalf of oppressed people elsewhere in the world determine the external affairs of the very same political elite. The Flemish separatist philosopher Ludo Abicht, a member of Agalev (i.e. the Flemish Greens) has always been a confirmed advocate of resolute Palestinian independence. In his booklet De herinnering is een vorm van hoop Abicht appeals to Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism to depict the Flemish emancipation struggle as an anti-colonial struggle[19]: ‘The emancipation struggle of the Flemish people (and not of  ‘the Flemish people’ as static, a-historical, ethnic entity) perfectly fits into Edward Said’s scheme: in the last century here too the awareness has grown strong that the Flemish, as a group, were being colonised internally and that their individual and collective self-development was thus being curbed. Here too the signal was given by ‘prophets and priests’ (David, Willems, Vermeylen, to mention only those who live on in the foundations) and was put into action by a liberation movement (or rather a multiple of small and large movements), who gradually wanted to make an end to the apparently intolerable unitarian Belgian status quo’.[20] In other words, the foreign agenda of some Flemish politicians and propagandists is strongly determined by their home agenda. They support Kurdish autonomy as a way of recognition of the Kurdish cultural identity through an analogous frame of argumentation, because they already advocate an independent Flanders. Conversely, the alleged injustice of Francophones against the Flemish is compared soon enough with the wrongs against the Kurds at the hands of the Turks. As a result much is put in the same box in the mechanisms of identification that are constructed to this purpose.  As a matter of course the Belgian approach to foreign affairs often also goes by analogous mechanisms of identification. As to the settlement of the crisis in Kosovo, the elaboration of a far-reaching autonomy of Kosovo within a Serbian-Kosovarian federation was considered most suitable, by analogy with the Belgian federal model. Belgian foreign policy too is internal policy and vice versa. Rarely if ever Belgian authorities will support separatisms abroad. And then again, Flemish separatists see every other form of separatism as an ally, whether Northern Irish, Basque, Padanian or Kurdish. It is no surprise then that the idea of an independent Kosovo enjoys ‘Flemish’ support.

(2) Secondly there is, as already said, the symbolic connection between postcolonialism and federalism. With regard to the debate on defederalisation or devolution as a symbolic conflict, it is not very convenient to the national governments, such as the Belgian one, that they have indeed been colonial regimes in the pre-federal era. Sometimes ‘the colonial past’ of the challenged national authorities is appealed to in order to depict the nation-state in question as a dubious symbol with an equally sordid history, which nobody, it is assumed, wants to associate with any longer. Regions and communities then readily present themselves as substitute symbols and objects of ‘national’ identification.  Thus, it often happens in the discussions between Flemish separatists and Belgian unionist federalists that Flemish separatists refer eagerly to the darkest pages in Belgian history, namely the Belgian colonial past. The signifier ‘Belgium’ is stained with colonial excesses, the signifier ‘Flanders’ should be spotless and herefore not to blame. Thus, father Verthé wrote in 1958 in the introduction to his book Vlamingen in Kongo. Hun werkende aanwezigheid en hun innerlijke kultuurstrijd: “Almost all over the world Flanders enjoys genuine and profound sympathy, because its representatives have often been artists or works of art: our masters of painting, our fine lacework, our tapestries, while our writers who have been translated to foreign languages have succeeded in recording in their books basically that which makes our people so charming: its optimism, its good-humoured answer to a punch in the face, and in all circumstances its healthy, fine taste of all good things of God’s beautiful creation. Our name is not related to the old history of colonisation and in this very delicate field it runs no risk of being harmed”.[21] Thus, in this account, “written before the events in Leopold City in January 1959”[22]  Flanders considers itself clear of any colonial taint.

The alleged colonial impeccability of Flanders has become a topos in the discussions about the Belgian state reform. Belgium is not better than Flanders, for it will do, some Flemish confederalists and separatists argue, to recollect the colonial past. In this way Flemish nationalists evidently look at ‘history’, which is always also a bran tub or legitimisation machine, for a counterbalance to the long drawn-out association of Flemish nationalism with the collaboration during the second World War. From a psychological point of view this is an overtly vindictive strategy, which of course does not imply that it would not be worthwhile to investigate thoroughly the ‘colonial past’ in question and pass the awfully heavy responsibilities to the colonial authorities of the time. Anyway, one will have to see through and anticipate any current recuperation of similar investigations within a separatist strategy. In a symbolic struggle literally anything will do to discredit the opponent. In the past years even a Walloon infanticide could put peculiar ideas into the heads of Flemish separatists: they considered Marc Dutroux as a typical Walloon case. If one wants to settle the account of the political responsibility for the abuses in colonial Congo, and given the unitarian nature of the Belgian state of the time, the accused can only be Belgian. The fact that the Belgian colonial past is particularly damaging for the period of sovereign rule of Leopold II over Congo Free State will not effect things to Flemish separatists; on the contrary, from their angle it is a welcome bonus. Given that the monarchy, a sign of unity of the Flemish and the Walloons, is often considered the most important, if not the only remaining Belgian symbol of significance, the tarnish of the monarchy, via the story of the atrocities, whether supposed or true, under Leopold II, is an argument as efficient for the rejection of Belgium as the nation one wants to identify with. Now the fact that the colonial project was never supported by French-speaking Belgians exclusively speaks against the Flemish nationalist strategy to bring in the ‘Belgian colonial past’ in the symbolic conflict with the unionists. The Flemish have played an equally, not to say a much more prominent part in the colonisation of Congo. It suffices to refer to an unimpeachable source. Father Verthé writes about a departmental meeting on a Davidsfonds congress in September 1950 in Leuven: “It has been pointed out that, although the Flemish have contributed to the development of our colony to a large extent, although in principle the highly praised civilisation work there owes everything to our Flemish missionaries – four out of five Belgian missionaries are Flemish – and to our Flemish officials, Congo is still frenchified and the rights of the Flemish are on the whole mutilated and ignored glaringly”.[23] Moreover it should be noted that Belgium has been quite reserved with regard to the colonial. It might even be the case that for a long time Belgium has been an exceptionally modern country because it did not want a colony, to great dissatisfaction of Leopold II. Belgium has then tolerated that Leopold II owned a private colony – one can argue that the government should not have allowed this – and finally, on the eve of his decease, has yielded to American and British pressure to take over the colony. The taking-over took place because the king had caused a scandal in the British and American public opinion after publications of Edmond Morel amongst others about the atrocities committed in Congo against the natives.[24] Therefore Great Britain and the United States wanted Leopold II to renounce the colony, but at the same time they could not allow another superpower to be in command of that gigantic colony. The only possible way out was that the Belgian state would take over the colony, which the Belgian members of government have agreed to reluctantly. For at the end of the nineteenth century there was indeed a strong progressive movement in the Belgian parliament that wanted nothing to do with colonizing, even though some politicians were opposed to the colonial project because of the supposed high cost price. Obviously no later colonial excesses or abuses could be either minimised or explained away by this. But some things can be put into perspective, of which we threaten to lose sight in the symbolical-strategic tarnish of the signifier ‘Belgium’ by Flemish separatists. The Belgian decision to take over Congo as a colony from Leopold II determined to a considerable extent by political pressure of foreign superpowers, and consequently, one could argue in a reversal of the anti-colonial rhetoric, itself a product of the Anglo-Saxon diplomatic colonisation of the Belgian policy of the time. Belgium, small as it is, was made to colonise, the position of the ‘colonial’ was imposed upon the Belgians. The Belgian sovereignty was sacrificed on the altar of power balance between the superpowers. Congo would be a 'buffer colony' and consequently become the African mirror image of the geopolitical role Belgium played in Europe. One could not imagine a better ruler of the buffer-colony Congo than the buffer state Belgium itself. Indeed, in the Afro-European hall of mirrors the heart of darkness is nothing but the dark pole  of the blazing ‘crossroads of Europe’, which, as is well-known, takes pride in its being the only country on the map that can be observed from space.


The Belgo-Congolese (imagined) community

To prefederal unitarian Belgium the loss of Congo in 1960 was not only the loss of a colony, but also that of an (imagined) community, the mirror for which it largely mustered its putative identity.[25] In Gerard de Boe’s documentary Une journée dans une famille belge of 1947 for instance, a Congolese scientist describes the course of a weekday in the life of a supposedly prototypical Belgian family Stevens.[26] Even though this movie was meant as propaganda for a specific Western life pattern and role play - in which especially tidiness and hygiene where valued highly - and although it was directed first and foremost to the Congolese people, it caught on especially with Belgian colonisers. Only through the anthropologizing gaze of the Other (the Congolese scientist) they discovered the alleged ‘own’ Belgian identity, an identity that had become ‘foreign’ and had an exotic aspect now to them, who had not been living in Belgium for a long time. In this Belgian production the Congolese scientist is of course nothing but a ventriloquist for a story about themselves which the Belgians wanted to palm off on the Congolese. It is no coincidence that he talks in the voice of a ‘puppet’. But by letting the Other tell the story of the imagined Belgian community, the credibility and objectivity of the story was enhanced.

While Une journée dans une famille belge still takes a paternalistic, educational tone, and thus implicitly presupposes a distance which as yet still has to be bridged, between the life pattern of the Congolese and that of the Belgians - from dirty to tidy, from unhygienic to hygienic - in the fifties the Office de l'Information et des Relations Publiques pour le Congo belge et le Ruanda-Urundi will stress more and more the similarities between Belgians and Congolese[s]. The English introduction to the INFORCONGO-edition Family Album - a fascinating and curious, anonymous and undated book, constructed around a juxtaposition of photographs displaying an absolute parallelism between life in Belgium and life in Congo - mentions the ‘Belgo-Congolese community’: “Eight thousand kilometers away, the same gestures, the same attitudes, the same expressions may be found. The camera has perhaps caught that aspect which the too-hurried visitor discovers only when he meditates on the memories of his visit. Photography restores to two worlds, so apparently different from each other, their true and profound resemblance, their common belonging to the human, their parallel hopes and their identical reactions in pain and joy. Indeed, this evening, I seem to be overflowing with that 'milk of human kindness' of the brother who discovers his brother, of the man who recognises himself in other human creatures. Thus the idea of this family album was born; here are the heralds of the ‘Belgo-Congolese community’ toward which all those who have learned to love this beautiful country are striving. Whites and Natives, in Leopoldville or in Antwerp, in Dinant or in Kindu, Belgian and Congolese are endeavoring to develop the same qualities, to master the same needs in the search for the same loyal, binding and well-balanced happiness. This is the Belgian-Congolese community... perhaps much before the association of interests, much before the joining of resources and ambitions: a daily similarity of life, an essential resemblance [...]’.

This introduction presupposes in passing also a totally different parallelism. The inhabitants of Antwerp lead the same life as the inhabitants of Dinant, that is: no significant difference exists between Flemish and Walloons. The text goes on: ‘the same joys, the same worries, the same aspirations, the same problems’. Meanwhile it has become a catch phrase to denounce Flemish or Walloon nationalism, which likes to talk about allegedly unbridgeable gaps between ‘both cultures’. At the time the phrase undoubtedly served as oil on the troubled waters of the escalating Congolese struggle for independence and to guard colonialism in the post- Auschwitz era against imputations of racism. Who could have expected that one time those phrases would be used once again, this time to avert internally Belgian (Flemish and Flemish) separatism? And that the question would arise as to whether there might be racism between … Flemish and Walloons?


The Flemish-Walloon Community

To some extent the Belgian identity has been the effect of the contact with the Congolese, a product of the colonial adventure. As this adventure came to an end, the Belgian had to get rid of his story on someone else, and he told it to himself, that is, to an other Belgian. For the Flemish this other came to be the Walloon and vice versa. Self-evidently they had told this story always already also to each other, but only at the decolonisation of Congo they were really thrown onto each other's company. There were no escape routes left now. No less self-evidently one of both had to be the coloniser, the other the colonised. Curiously enough the former colonisers, whether Flemish or Walloon, only wanted to pass for the colonised. There was no one who in the motherland wished to assume for themselves the position of the coloniser. The awareness that something had been wrong with colonisation all this time grew strong. Actually the awareness had always been there, and for the time being they wanted to take advantage of this new-recovered sense. In postcolonial Belgium there came into being a symbolic struggle for the cherished position of the colonised, the exploited, the oppressed, the subdued. The black person. At all price one wanted to be black, as we will see later.

It might then be no coincidence that in Belgium the Congolese independence of 1960 coincides with a strong survival of communal discussions which will eventually lead to the establishment of the language boundary in 1962-1963. If some people believe that the risk of political earthquakes in Belgium is considerably high, this has to do with the fact that the language plateaus in Belgium actually partly overlap. The territorial demarcation of the regions, the so-called language boundaries (between Flanders and the Walloon Provinces and between Flanders and  the capital region of Brussels) are indeed a fundamentally ineffective way to demarcate at the same time the territory over which the authority of the communities – and consequently not only of the regions – extends. The fact is that languages do not stop at territorial frontiers. ‘La langue se stabilise autour d'une paroisse, d'un évêché, d'une capitale. Elle fait bulbe. Elle évolue par tiges et flux souterrains, le long des vallées fluviales, ou des lignes de chemins de fer, elle se déplace par taches d'huile.”[27] Deleuze and Guattari might not have been aware of this, but the metaphor they avail themselves of in Mille plateaux to evoke the way in which language shifts, is also the metaphor that was deployed by Flemish nationalists to make clear that for them French in Brussels and in the Flemish outskirts of Brussels had passed a limit. While for Deleuze and Guattari the oil stain is a telling metaphor for linguistic displacements in general, a metaphor that subsequently wants to provide insight into the ‘normal’ functioning of languages, in Flemish nationalist discourse the oil stain has become a pejorative expression for what would be an impermissable, abnormal speech act – not the linguistic act (such as a promise) of a linguistic subject, but an act of language itself –,  namely that language makes shifts at all and forces its way into a territory where a different language is supposed to rule. It is therefore no surprise that any linguistic boundary – however badly one might wish to make it legally enforceable – is de facto continually deconstructed.

In Belgium this perpetual actual deconstruction of the linguistic boundary has also politically and legally taken up the concept of facilities. In some twenty municipalities on the linguistic boundaries within Belgium a special policy with regard to the language of the other is applicable, a language which – however illicit according to language nationalists – has nevertheless crossed the border shamelessly. A number of Walloon municipalities offer facilities to Dutch-speaking residents, while a number of Flemish municipalities have facilities for Francophones. In that way it has been attempted still to recuperate and control politically and juridically the unavoidable actual deconstruction of the linguistic boundary. The deconstruction of a language boundary assumes the form of an interpenetration of regions and in Belgium a part of the cloisons which come this way into being have acquired the status of facility municipalities. However, language nationalists find it quite hard to come to terms with this implicit juridical recognition of the unavoidable deconstruction of the linguistic frontier and so insist on the abolition of facilities for foreign speakers. As a matter of fact they are anxious that those facilities might be employed by the municipalities in question to swich sides. Moreover, they argue, in the time of their coming into effect in the early sixties the facilities for foreign speakers were meant, as a provisional favour, not as a right obtained once and for all by foreign speakers. The idea would have been to give foreign speakers time to learn the prevailing language. This means that the linguistic difference of the other was only tolerated provisionally and that he or she was supposed to integrate in the end. The willingness to integrate is thus gauged exclusively by the extent to which he or she has mastered the prevailing language. Other factors that might be indicative of integration are of no account: linguistic nationalism turns knowledge of the official language into the criterion par excellence, and the question presents itself whether the foreign speaker could ever fully meet the criterion. For at best the foreign speaker who is prepared to integrate is described by the natives (who are also the native speakers) as someone who at least takes the trouble to do so. However hard the foreign speaker tries, he will be finally subsumed under the least appreciated side of the opposition between constrained and spontaneous. No matter how, he or she is forever denied the spontaneous and consequently the natural and consequently the authentic. Nationalists impose an individuality on a given territory, an individuality which cannot be acquired, for if one has to acquire it, it is actually not one's own. Nationalists want territorial boundaries to correspond to cultural, ethnic, religious or linguistic boundaries. At best nationalists will tolerate minorities within their territories if the latter submit to the prevailing language, culture or ethnicity and keep their own language, culture or religion private. Boundaries are considered the legitimisation of a certain culture, an ethnicity, a religion or a language, or a combination of those factors. While to some the establisment of linguistic frontiers was meant as an attempt to exorcise linguistic nationalism, by literally embanking it within those specific boundaries, it has in time exactly roused linguistic nationalism again, precisely because within those boundaries it is given full rein. As a matter of fact, drawing the linguistic frontiers the expectation has been aroused that the boundaries should rigorously check the language of the other, the foreign language. But what was not taken into account was the - usual - ‘underground’ operation of language. Drawing a linguistic frontier is actually a nationalist gesture par excellence. Otherwise it would undoubtedly not have been a gesture that could have satisfied language nationalists. It wants to define culturally a territory once and for all and implies a legal and political licence for cultural and linguistic colonisation of the territory demarcated by the language boundary. Everything will be sumitted to the one prevailing language.

Matthias Storme, professor in the Catholic University of Leuven, chairman of the Verbond der Vlaamse Academici [Association of Flemish Academics], chairman of the ‘Orde van de Vlaamse Leeuw’ and chairman of the O.V.V. (Overlegcentrum van Vlaamse Verenigingen [consultative body of Flemish associations]) upholds the idea that a country should have a satisfactory degree of cultural homogeneity. His speeches are notorious for their pompousness, their pathetics, their abominable language and their spread and consultability on the internet. Via the webpage of the Vlaamse Volksbeweging [Flemish National Movement], one will find in no time Storme’s popular addresses. In his pamphlet ‘De roeping van onze tijd voor Vlaanderen en Brussel’ [‘The present-day mission of Flanders and Brussels’] the self-acclaimed ‘Mozes’ of the Flemish people states: “I’m tired of the communal difficulties. I would like to live in a normal country at last - not an ideal country, which does not exist -, a country which is governed properly, where an adequate level of cultural homogeneity can be found, which is a precondition for democracy - that is, not a perfect but a necessary homogeneity -; where public life, necessary for a democracy is possible, because people speak, literally and figuratively, the same language, and where the relations between the parts are based on reciprocity”.[28] Elsewhere Storme frankly states: “no democracy can operate without a dominant people”. In Storme’s view, Belgium is not a democratic country because certain mechanisms prevent Flanders from giving free rein to its (economical and demographical) dominance at the expence of the Walloon provinces and the French-speaking Community.

It is characteristic that the linguistic colonisation of Flemish territory, as Storme and others supports this, is represented time and again as though it were just the implementation of an anti-colonial programme aimed at ‘French’ or ‘French-speaking imperialism’. Flemish authorities have repeatedly put on an anti-imperialist mask in order to impose Dutch everywhere in Flanders. Gradually Flemish policy is so much qualified by an anti-French-speaking rhetoric that a particular Flemish political elite does no longer accept that certain political decisions which concern Flanders can only be taken in consultation with the French-speaking, as is the case on the federal level. There is no talking to Francophones because they hold a very different (political) culture, and even if they can be reasoned with - because they also speak Dutch, for instance - there is still, as we will see, one difficulty left: namely that, anyhow, they remain Francophones. Hence the Flemish demand for further state reform and for a near-perfect ‘undressing’ of the Belgian state. Some call for the transfer of more and more competences from the federal government to the communities and regions, as is the case with research policy, for instance. Since both recording and examination of the Belgian colonial past are as yet within the scope of a federal scientific institution, and in view of the rhetorical and symbolic importance of colonial historiography in the context of a federal state facing internal separatist tendencies, the total communalisation of research policy could have far-reaching consequences.

A conflict of faculties

The successive Belgian state reforms of 1980, 1988 and 1993 had already brought about far-reaching changes, for example in the political, administrative and consultative structures of the research policy.[29] Henceforth, the competences in matters of Research and Development belong to the federal government and the communal and regional governments. Insofar as political authorities attach importance to policy supporting scientific research, that is, insofar as they want to see their political actions prepared, justified or legitimised by scientific investigations and reports, it is small wonder that each government, on any level whatsoever, develops a research policy relating to matters in its competences. For instance, the federal government, which is competent for Justice amongst other things, invests, in line with and in support of this competence, in criminological research, whereas the Flemish government, which amongst other things is competent for culture, invests in cultural sociological research. Self-evidently there are many more examples of contiguity of political matters that are within the competence of particular governments and specific scientific disciplines and investigations that are supported, subsidised, or developed by those governments. This way, a few things result in a contemporary variant of the 'conflict of faculties' which Kant could not possibly have foreseen. Some faculties lean towards federal competences, whereas others are under the communities or regions.

Meanwhile, however, education - and consequently higher education - has been nearly perfectly communalised. (The federal Government retains only a limited number of competences in the field of education). This means that education has become as good as the exclusive competence of the Flemish, the French and the German Community. Consequently, federal policy supportive research aided with federal means is usually carried out in institutions of the Flemish or the French-speaking community. As Belgium has no bilingual universities anymore, the federal government is compelled to rely on expertise available in Flemish or French-speaking universities for the greater part of the research it wants to have conducted. It is nevertheless characteristic of federal scientific research that it is often directed by a team of scientists associated with Flemish and French-speaking universities. In this way the federal government in fact stimulates collaboration between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking scientists in Belgium, although this encouragement to intercommunal cooperation mainly bears on scientific domains which are contiguous to federal competences (jurisdiction, applied sciences, agronomy, etc.). One of history's ironies, for Belgium used to have a florishing bilingual university of world fame.


‘Leuven Vlaams’

In 1968 the Flemish student protests against the presence of French-speaking teachers and students at the Catholic University of Leuven and the demand for ‘Leuven Vlaams’ lead to the separation of the Leuven university and the foundation of a new French-speaking catholic university at the other side of the linguistic frontier: Louvain-la-Neuve, some twenty kilometres South-east of Brussels. May 1968 had a (Flemish) nationalistic bias in Belgium, which it certainly did not have elsewhere, like in France. At the very moment when elsewhere in the world internationalism reigned supreme and French students, intellectuals and workers did pioneering work in this, Flemish students believed to recognise in ‘the Francophone’ the universally detested bourgeoisie. But how does one recognise the bourgeoisie? Looking once more at the television pictures of the time, it strikes one how the Flemish students demonstrated in suit and tie. At the time Paul Goossens, the leader of the Flemish student protests and later general editor of De Morgen, looked, one might put it as well - and as short-sighted - more middle-class than today. How then does one recognise ‘the bourgeoisie’? In 1968 it was believed one could recognise him, just like in 1302, by his French accent. But if one cannot recognise him by his suit and tie, one can certainly not recognise the bourgeoisie by its language. As a matter of fact, nationalism is much too quick at recognizing the detested Other. It will not suffice that he looks somehow-or-other, or that he speaks any languages. The colour of the skin, the mother tongue are supposed to give sufficient indications for an invincible differentiation. Anyway, Frantz Fanon tells us in Peau noire masques blancs, suit and tie will get you nowhere, as long as you don't have the right skin colour to match. The colour of the skin is believed to betray an essence which no suit could possibly veil. Precisely the same becomes of those who ‘renounce their mother thongue’. In François Jongen’s hilarious pseudo-picaresque novel Les aventures du Belge errant the originally French-speaking protagonist Eric Jongen, initially a member of L'Ordre de Résistance Francophone  à la Flamandisation de Bruxelles, who, realizing that resistance is futile, does everything possible to be acknowledged as a Fleming. “Sa décision fut prise le 12 avril. C'était la veille de Pâques, période propice aux résurrections en tous genres, et notamment  la sienne. Après quarante-trois années d'existence terrestre en tant que wallon, Eric Jongen allait renaître à la vie éternelle, revivre dans le Walhalla de ses ancêtres, renouer avec sa nature profonde, retrouver le chemin dont seul les hasards de l'histoire et les aléas de la naissance l'avaient fait dévier: dorénavant, il serait flamand”[30]

However, Jongen will come to realise that this is nearly impossible, that time and again he will be taken for a Francophone, however hard he tries to speak the language of the other and to integrate in Flanders. When one day Jongen goes to the town hall of his place of residence - a suburb of Tervuren - to obtain a Dutch-language driving license, the following conversation with a Flemish local official arises:

- Je voudrais faire changer mon permis de conduire, fit Jongen en lui tendant le document abhorré.
- Ah, Monsieur est francophone, s’écria l'autre en français au prix d'un effort manifeste.
- Non, non, je voudrais justement changer pour cela, je voudrais que mon permis de conduire soit établi en flamand.
- Mais Monsieur, il n'est pas de problème avec cela, continua l'autre dans son français approximatif. Tu pouvez le garder ainsi, ça est toujours valide.
- Vous pouvez me parlez flamand, je suis flamand! hurla Jongen en flamand.
- Non, monsieur, il n’est pas de problème avec cela, je suis une fois content de pouvoir practiser ma français, je n’ai pas beaucoup l'occasion de faire le.
- Je suis flamand! Je veux un permis de conduire en flamand!
- Mais Monsieur, te faut pas. Ta permis français est toujours valide, et nous n’avons rien ici contre les francophones, surtout quand ils montrent qu'ils veulent bien essayer de parler aussi sur le flamand. Garde-le comme cela, la police va pas t'embêter avec cet permis.[31]

Within the context of a nationalism that has sunk its teeth into language, one can hide oneself for only just a moment by keeping one’s mouth shut. But as soon as one starts talking one is lost. One is Fleming or French-speaking. One also speaks Dutch? Yes, but with an accent. And when a linguistic nationalism prevails all weight of the essence is attached to the supplement which is the accent. Hence also the fixation on the accent by those who want to integrate at all costs. For they know in advance they will be judged by their accent. As a result they overdo their accent and thereby give themselves away anyhow. On this Fanon tells the following anecdote:

Le Noir entrant en France va réagir contre le mythe du Martiniquais qui-mange-les-R. Il va s’en saisir, et véritablement entrera en conflit avec lui. Il s’appliquera non seulement  rouler les R, mais  les ourler. Epiant les moindres réactions des autres, s’écoutant parler, se méfiant de la langue, organe malheureusement paresseux, il s’enfermera dans sa chambre et lira pendant des heures - s'acharnant  à se faire diction. Dernièrement, un camarade nous racontait cette histoire. Un Martiniquais arrivant au Havre entre dans un café. Avec une parfaite assurance, il lance: ‘Garrrçon! un vè de biè.’ Nous assistons là à une véritable intoxication. Soucieux de ne pas répondre à l'image du nègre-mangeant-les-R, il en avait fait une bonne provision, mais il n’a pas su répartir son effort.[32]

The binary logic of linguistic nationalism interprets any bilingualism as the sum of one’s own language (the mother tongue) and a different (foreign) language, mastered to a certain extent, but never as well as one’s own language. The accent is supposed to give a decisive answer about the proper and the other. As a matter of course, within the logic of linguistic nationalism a bilingual, who speaks Dutch with a French accent and French with a Dutch accent cannot but be a bastard. Eddy Merckx, the defective perfect bilingual who, after the disaster of 1968, saved Belgium by winning the Tour de France for the first time in 1969, is therefore the Belgian bastard par excellence: neither a real Fleming, nor a pure Walloon. This scheme can of course also already be found in the nineteenth-century romantic rewrite of a linguistically reinterpreted class confrontation such as the Bruges Matins. Not surprisingly Hendrik Conscience’s Leeuw van Vlaanderen was thoroughly consulted in a rebellious Leuven in pursuit of appropriate slogans. Flemish students thought themselves Klauwaerts who would oust the Leliaerts from the city. The occupier had to go. De-colonisation ... of Flanders? Pictures of the de-colonisation of Congo and the manifestations in Leuven eight years later seem to blend into each other easily; as though it was one and the same Grand Narrative of emancipation. Some so-called progressive Flemish nationalists are only too eager to make the comparison. In 1958, for instance, - the year of the Brussels world exhibition, two years before the Congolese independence - some Flemish nationalists believed that the Flemings in Belgium were worse off than ... blacks, so much so that they demanded to be treated as well as the blacks. In his column ‘ge...EXPO...seerd’ [EXPO ...sed] in the flemish journal De Standaard Louis De Lentdecker wrote at the time: “No doubt, we regret that we are not black. Maybe we would then be allowed to sing our song for the king, in our language, and possibly people would address and answer us everywhere on the world exhibition in our own language. Most probably they are waiting for us, the Flemish, to also walk around on the world exhibition in traditional African outfit, so they can give us the same rights as the blacks”.[33]

Thus, the Fleming wants to be black. But who or what is a black person? Who will tell us? Who can bring home to us what it means to be black? In Belgium the most important centre for knowledge concerning black people is undoubtedly the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren. However, the Fleming who wants to be black runs into problems. For the museum of Tervuren is under Belgian guardianship. And after all, the Fleming who wants to be a black person could not accept that it is the Belgian federal government who will tell him what it means to be black. Indeed, the Fleming wants to decide for himself what it means to be black. The Fleming wants autonomy in his self-definition as a black person. Tervuren Vlaams?

‘Tervuren Vlaams!’

The Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren reaches back to the Palais des Colonies, founded on the occasion of the world exhibition in 1897 and, after the conveyance of the sovereign Congo State to Belgium in 1908, turned into a permanent museum for Belgian Congo. In May 1910, a few months after the decease of Leopold II, the new Musée du Congo belge was inaugurated by King Albert I. In 1936 it was baptised Musée Royal du Congo belge/ Koninklijk Museum voor Belgisch Congo. After the Congolese independence on 30 June 1960 the museum was given the present name: Koninklijk Museum voor Midden-Afrika/Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale [Royal Museum of Central Africa].[34] And although this is still the official name, for some time now the more concise name Afrika Museum has been circulating, on posters, in pamphlets and on the world wide web. (Ironically enough, simultaneously with the de-colonisation of Congo the way seems to be smoothed for the museum to colonise and explore the entire African continent unchecked by territorial borders.) From pamphlets and catalogues we learn moreover that the cognitive desire of scientists associated with the Afrika Museum is not at all limited to Africa. They are also active in Asia and South America. Soon enough this will indeed be the Museum of the World or of the Universe so many people have dreamed of. But even a Museum of the World is domiciled somewhere, in a city or country. And this location will unavoidably have repercussions on the way the Museum sees and represents the World. We might call this repercussion the museal glocalisation. Lately, however, doubts have arisen about the location of the Afrika Museum. Is it in Belgium, as many have wanted to so far, or does it lie, on the contrary,  ... in Flanders?

Today, thirty years after ‘Leuven Flemish’ the question arises whether the time has not also come for ‘Tervuren Flemish’. ‘Tervuren’ is indeed often used as a byword for the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale at that place. The Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren is one of ten federal scientific institutions which are coordinated and controlled by the Federal Services for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs.[35] ‘Tervuren’ is the only federal scientific institution which is not located in the bilingual capital region of Brussels.[36] The Federal Services for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs also answer for the coordination and supervision of the federal cultural institutions. There are only three of those left: the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the National Orchestra of Belgium, all located in Brussels. In addition to those major institutions there are also a few cultural societies which have ‘remained federal’, such as certain organisations associated with the Palais des Beaux Arts, of which the Royal Film Archives, the Société Philharmonique de Bruxelles and the Société des Expositions are the best-known. Just like other societies and organisations, whether federal or not, these too execute a cultural programming for which the Palais des Beaux Arts is the major location. They are partly subsidised by the federal government. The federal museums are seen as scientific, not as cultural institutions. On the level of the Communities, however, the museums tend to be within the powers of the Ministers of Culture.

Basically, the museum policy as developed by the Ministers of Culture of any Community has no direct consequences for the federal scientific institutions with a museological commission. Indirectly however, critical comparisons between federal and communal museological policies can of course have repercussions. Comparisons which for instance try to demonstrate or prove that the federal museological policy is less efficient than the museological policy of the Communities are grist to the mill of those who want to delegate the federal scientific institutions (and consequently the federal museums) to the Communities. The efficiency argument, whether or not based on fictitious data, generally plays an important role in the communal pleas in favor of the devolution of federal competences to the Communities and/or regions. Particularly in Flemish political circles the entire debate about state reform strategically boosted as an apparently commonsensical and realistic debate about the optimisation of an efficient government policy. In this context more or less scientific investigations which pretend to measure the efficiency of the respective governments are quoted as objective evidence, - usually at the expense of the federal government and in favour of one’s own Community or Region. For a long time now the demand for further-reaching Flemish autonomy or even for total Flemish sovereignty has nothing to do anymore with the alleged oppression of the Fleming by the French-speaking bourgeoisie, but with the equally fictitious higher efficiency of Flemish policy by comparison with federal policy, which is characterised by the need for consultations between Flemings and Francophones. Frequently, the  ‘Francophones’ or the ‘Walloons’ are then pointed at as those responsible for the federal ‘immobility’. ‘The Francophones are being obstructive’ is a phrase which accompanies innumerable Flemish editorials commentating on federal entanglements. Those who champion more Flemish autonomy or full Flemish sovereignty, tend to depict the affair as though inefficiency is ‘typically Francophone’, and a heavy burden on any attempt to pursue an efficient policy on the federal level. If one aims at efficiency, innumerable Flemish politicians argue, the institutions that have remained federal must be split up. Talk about societies and institutions ‘which have remained federal’ suggests the inevitability of a communal teleology. In the end, the insinuation goes, everything will have to be split up along communal lines. Within the Belgian political discussions the linguistic difference (French-speaking/Dutch-speaking) is perpetually charged with supplementary dichotomies which have no causal connection at all with the linguistic difference. French-speaking/Dutch-speaking would be synonymous with inefficient/efficient, opaque/transparent, immobile/dynamical, impoverished/rich. The character traits attributed to ‘the Francophones’ or ‘the Walloons’ en bloc by Flemish politicians and a fraction of the Flemish public opinion imply a fundamental depreciation of the fancied singularity of the linguistic other. A more fundamental disparity in cultural identity is unremittingly attached to an unmistakable linguistic difference. Those (divergent) cultural identities are a discursive product of the argumentative communal legitimisation machinery which aims at a perpetual and inevitable process of de-federalisation. ‘There is no stopping the process’, it is then argued. As yet, there are still some hotbeds of resistance, but the scission would be unavoidable.

Tervuren Vlaams is not so much a catchword for the question whether Tervuren should become a Flemish municipality - it is a Flemish municipality, there aren’t even any facilities for its numerous Francophones and foreign speakers – but for the question whether the Royal Museum of Central Africa, which at present falls within the competence of the federal government, should become a Flemish institution, in other words an institution within the competence of the Flemish government. This is more than only a speculative question, a question one could well ask now and again. The question indeed results from the interaction between a policy and a territorial fact. On 3 March 1999 a majority in the Flemish Parliament approved of a number of decrees concerning a further state reform. Apparently, the Flemish Parliament advocates the devolution of the administration of federal scientific institutions to the communities (the Flemish and the French Community). At the same time, however, the Flemish authorities have always argued that, under the territoriality principle, the French Community cannot assert any competence on the territory of the Flemish Region. The Royal Museum of Central Africa is, as already said, next to the only federal cultural and scientific institution located in Flanders. Obviously, the resolution of the Flemish Parliament means that the Royal Museum of Central Africa has to be delegated to the Flemish Community exclusively. Therefore ‘Tervuren’ can never become a bicommunal institution, unless the Flemish politicians would allow the French Community – soon to be rebaptised Communauté Wallonie/Bruxelles, a much-disputed name though it is – in this case to exercise authority on Flemish territory.

Considering that the museum of Tervuren is also a museum of the Belgian identity, of a story which for a long time colonial and colonizing Belgium has been telling of itself, this would imply that important archives of the way Belgium has narrated itself would fall into Flemish hands. In so far as a nation does only exist in its narration, this would mean that the existence of the Belgian nation would become dependent on the willingness of the Flemish authorities to preserve the archives. At the same time Flanders would henceforth be entitled to actualise the story of Belgian colonisation. In view of the rhetoric and symbolical potential of an anti-colonial rewrite of the Belgian colonisation of Congo on the part of Flemish separatists, this means that the museum which for a long time has pretty much symbolised past Belgian glory might become a significant Flemish propaganda institution for ‘finally’ settling scores with Belgium. The museum which was originally supposed to propagate colonialism, would henceforth carry on propaganda for a so-called anti-colonialist stance which would not be less problematic. The fact is, it could concentrate on the semantic filling-in of the signifier ‘Belgium’ with dubious colonial connotations and develop a rhetoric on the similarities between the injustice suffered by the Congolese and the Flemish people. All this could be framed as a didactics on ‘forms of colonialism’. Getting hold of ‘Tervuren’, a specific Flemish political elite might therefore not only want to lay hands on a ‘Belgian’ - because federal - museum, but a museum which will allow for the writing of the ultimate, because last story about Belgium. Tervuren Vlaams, or how a Flemish political elite dreams of the authorisation to run Belgium henceforth as ... a museum.[37] 

[1] The constitutional revision goes back to 5 May 1993. As the subsequent revisions of the constitution (for instance in 1970, 1980, 1988, 1993) had affected the accessibility of the constitution, a study group of constitutional specialists was charged with the development of a proposal for a coordinated constitution. The definitive text was passed by the Parliament on 17 February 1994. Cf. De grondwet van 17 februari 1994. La constitution du 17 février 1994. Die Verfassung vom 17. Februar 1994, Brugge, 1994.

[2] The subsidiarity principle can be found, for instance, in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany of 23 May 1949 (Articles 23 and 91) and besides – mainly under pressure of the German Länder - in the Treaty of Maastricht of 7 February 1992 (Article 3 B). In the no-nonsense language of former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene the subsidiarity principle runs as follows: “[...] ce qui peut-être résolu à un niveau politique plus bas ne doit pas être transmis à un échelon plus élevé. Le niveau politique inférieur doit être le plus proche possible de la communauté de base à laquelle s'identifient les citoyens. Cependant, si la solution d'un problème déterminé nécessite une approche plus globale, la compétence doit être attribuée à un niveau supérieur” [J-L Dehaene, 'L'union fédérale, garantie de paix et de prospérité', in: Régionalisme, Fédéralisme, Ecologisme, M Dubrulle, ed., Bruxelles, 1997, p. 39]. According to this logic a probem such as globalisation should in principle be dealt with on the level of a worldwide federation. Dehaene does not declare himself on this matter – no doubt because according to him the question does not present itself yet – but he is an outspoken supporter of a federal Europe [ibid, p. 46]. Whether or not this also implies the transference of the sovereignty of nation-states to the European federation, is neither made explicit nor excluded by his argument.

[3] In a 'working paper for further state reform’, passed by the Flemish Government on 29 February 1996 – the so-called ‘leap-day paper’ – and subsequently presented to the State Reform Committee of the Flemish Parliament, the Flemish Government makes a plea for 'homogeneous sets of competences', which, it argues, would imply the competences of the federal states – a term not encountered in the Belgian Constitution, but introduced by the working paper itself as a synonym for a federalised entity which integrates as many regional and communal competences as possible, as is actually the case on the Flemish side. Here efficiency is the key word. "A more fundamental justification of more homogeneous sets of competences is the concept of optimal executive power, which entails the combination of [the requisite for democratic value and efficiency, effectivity and quality standards?]" [Vlaams Parlement, stuk 253 (1995-1996) - Nr. 1, 6 maart 1996, Discussienota voor een verdere staatshervorming, p. 18]. The working paper does not consider the fact that the efficiency argument might also imply the transference (or restoration) of regional or communal competences to the federal government. For the Flemish government the process towards efficiency is obviously a sens unique towards the federal states. However, in so far as, somehow or other, all fields of competence are interconnected, federalism always and necessarily means a violation of a particular idea of 'homogeneity'. The notion of 'homogeneous sets of competence' is therefore contrafederal: no more homogeneity than in a unitarian state.

[4] In the United States the Supreme Court is charged with judgments concerning competential conflicts between the states and the federal authorities. It has been understood that in the judgments of the Supreme Court of the past years there is a (conservative-republican) tendency to settle disputes in favour of the states. Cf. B Swinford & E N Waltenburg, 'The Consistency of the U.S. Supreme Court's "Pro-State" Bloc', Publius. The Journal of Federalism, 28(2), 1998, pp. 25-42.

[5] The devolution of competences to the Scottish Parliament was legally reflected in The Scotland Bill which was passed by the House of Lords on 8 October 1998. Through the Scotland Act of 19 November 1998 its implementing resolutions were constitutionalised, whereby Tony Blair’s Labour Party instantly redeemed one of its major election promises.

[6] At present there are twenty federal states world-wide: six in Europe (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Russia and Serbia-Montenegro), six in America (The United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela), three in Africa (Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Comores), four in Asia (the United Arab Emirats, India, Pakistan en Malaysia) and Australia. Cf. C Leclercq, L'état fédéral, Paris, 1998, pp. 14-15.

[7] F Delpérée & S Depré, Le système constitutionnel de la Belgique, Bruxelles, 1998, pp. 284-285.

[8] Benedict Anderson has somewhat modified this view in two new chapters in the second edition of Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition, London/New York, 1991: "My short-sighted assumption [...] was that official nationalism in the colonised worlds of Asia and Africa was modelled directly on that of the dynastic states of nineteenth-century Europe. Subsequent reflection has persuaded me that this view was hasty and superficial, and that the immediate genealogy should be traced to the imaginings of the colonial state. At first sight, this conclusion may seem surprising, since colonial states were typically anti-nationalist, and often violently so. But if one looks beneath colonial ideologies and policies to the grammar in which, from the mid nineteenth century, they were deployed, the lineage becomes decidedly more clear. Few things bring this grammar into more visible relief than three institutions of power, which, although invented before the mid nineteenth century, changed their form and function as the colonised zones entered the age of mechanical reproduction. These three institutions were the census, the map, and the museum: together, they profoundly shaped the way in which the colonial state imagined its dominion - the nature of the human beings it ruled, the geography of its domain, and the legitimacy of its ancestry" (pp. 163-164). If (colonial) museums are indeed co-constitutive of the (imaginary) state formation, this means that, whenever the nation obtains a new constitution, the museums in question at the same time become museums in which a particular (obsolete) idea of the nation is conserved. Usually, the modernisation of museums also means that traces of the way in which a community once represented itself are erased. This is why a character in a novel by the Belgian writer Koen Peeters pleads in favour of the preservation of the (ex-colonial) Royal Museum of Central Africa in its original state, including those aspects which for the present-day, postcolonial visitor might be rather shocking. Cf. K Peeters, Conversaties met K., Amsterdam/Leuven, 1988, p. 40.

[9] "It is an astonishing sign of the depth of Eurocentrism that so many European scholars persist, in the face of all evidence, in regarding nationalism as a European invention" [B Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 191 n. 9].

[10] Richard Münch, for instance, makes mention of this correlation with regard to Great-Britain. "Die Industrialisierung hat das Problem der Inklusion der Arbeiterklasse gestellt [...]. Es wurde durch die Kolonisierung nach aussen und die schrittweise Gewährung von Teilhaberechten am erarbeiteten Wolhstand und an der politischen Herrschaft gelöst. Die britische Arbeiterklasse hat auf diesem Wege eine vergleichsweise ausgeprägte nationale Gesinnung und einen besonderen Nationalstolz entwickelt. Ihr Stolz gründet sich auf die Stellung Grossbritanniens in der Welt und ihren Anteil an der Erarbeitung dieser Stellung. Der ausgeprägte britische Nationalstolz ist so durchaus eine Sache aller Gesellschaftsklassen. [...] Das Ende des britischen Kolonialreichs und der wirtschaftliche Abstieg Grossbritanniens nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg [...] haben diesen Nationalstolz und das entsprechende Gefühl der Gemeinsamkeit jedoch geschwächt" [R Münch, Das Projekt Europa. Zwischen Nationalstaat, regionaler Autonomie und Weltgesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main, 1993, p. 45].

[11] S F Schram, 'Introduction. Welfare Reform: A Race to the Bottom', Publius. The Journal of Federalism, 28, 1998, n3, p. 1.

[12] "Après la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale, les québècois se voyaient qualifier de 'nègres blancs' [...]. En 1987, le second Sommet de la francophonie se tint à Québec. H. Bourrassa déclarait, soixante ans plus tôt, en 1927  à la Chambre des communes: 'La survivance de l'esprit provincial dans cette province provient précisément de cet état d'esprit d'un certain nombre d'anglo-canadiens qui regardent le Québec comme une région  à part dans la Confédération, quelque chose comme des réserves indiennes allouées aux débris des races aborigines [...]" [C Leclercq, L'état fédéral, p. 107].

[13]Cf. M Miyoshi, 'A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism over the Decline of the Nation-State', in: Global/Local, R Wilson & W Dissanayake, eds., Durham, 1996, pp. 78-106; R J C Young, Colonial Desire. Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, London/New York, 1995, pp. 159-182.

[14] Even though Miyoshi en Young do not specify what they mean by 'Palestine', we may assume that both authors do not challenge the sovereignty of the state Israel, but that they criticise the occupation of The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as colonialist. For a 'Palestinian' comment on the Israelian occupation policy and a plea for Palestinian independence: cf E W Said, The Politics of Dispossession. The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination 1969-1994, New York, 1994. Said’s 'separatism' makes him exceptionally quotable by Flemish separatists such as Ludo Abicht, but it is highly doubtful whether the strategy of such recuperations would escape the notice of an attentive reader like Said, and whether he wouldn’t feel intellectually dispossessed if he had knowledge of this kind of Flemish manoeuvres. After all, the present situation of the Flemings can not be compared in any way with that of 'the Palestinians'. By the way, the policy of the Flemish Government in the Flemish Border round Brussels, meant to discourage its frenchification, rather bears certain resemblances to ... the Israelian settlement policy. In truth, under the so-called 'purchase right' the Flemish Government wants to buy houses to rent them subsequently to individuals who give evidence of their connections with the Flemish Community. Social residences too are given to Flemings in the first place. Therefore those who do not speak Dutch are given little change of a social residence or to buy a house in the Flemish suburbs of Brussels. Talk about 'ethnic cleansing' is demagogically wiped away – and as a matter of fact there are no mass graves with Francophones and no one is put on a convoy to the Walloon part – but anyhow a dismantling administrative-legal process of linguistic cleansing is going on, wherein the fact that a potential or factual resident of the Flemish suburb of Brussels does not speak Dutch can be sanctioned with particular seclusions. Would it be an exaggeration to talk about some kind of Flemish colonisation (or rather: re-colonisation) of the border of Brussels? The municipality Tervuren too lies in this border and consequently the sale of houses  and the social housing policy there are the object of this policy.

[15] D McCrone, The Sociology of Nationalism. Tomorrow's ancestors, London/New York, 1998, p. ix.

[16] Ibid, p. 127. McCrone refers to: M Hechter, Internal Colonialism. The Celtic Fringe in British National Development. 1536-1966, London, 1975.

[17] "Alors que la plupart des Etats fédéraux se construisent par association (ou, si l'on préfère, par agrégation), la Belgique fédérale naît de la dissociation - au sens premier du terme - d'une société politique unitaire" [F Delpérée & S Depré, Le système constitutionnel de la Belgique, p. 284].

[18] Cf. T Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa. 1876-1912, London, 1991.

[19] Cf. E Said, Culture and Imperialism, London, 1993.

[20] L Abicht, De herinnering is een vorm van hoop. Vlaanderen in de postmoderniteit, Brussel, 1997, pp. 32-33. With his depiction of the Flemish Movement as a movement of the 'Flemish people', Abicht wants to uphold an inclusive conception of the Flemish people, which in itself is praiseworthy, but, in this context, at the same time an anachronism. After all, in the nineteenth century Flanders did not exist as a territorial entity (and as a consequence there is no such thing as 'the Flemish people'). And even if we suppose – concessu non dato –  that we could talk about the 'Flemish people', we would have to include 'the French-speaking bourgeoisie (residing in Flanders)' in this group, precisely those whom 'the Flemish people' considered themselves colonised by, to use Abicht’s terminology. Unless, of course, one precludes 'the French-speaking bourgeoisie' from 'the Flemish people'. But then again, Abicht’s concept of 'the Flemish people' is no longer inclusive (and also much less praiseworthy, because nationalist). Abicht’s argument is symptomatic of the fact that the allegedly progressive Flemish nationalist inclusionism time and again stumbles over the question as to which place the Francophones should be granted. Usually they come to the conclusion that there is no room for Francophones in Flanders (which gives evidence of the scope of their inclusionism).

[21] A Verthé, Vlamingen in Kongo. Hun werkende aanwezigheid en hun innerlijke kultuurstrijd, Leuven, 1959, p. 9. This book deals with a quite unusual variant of the 'Flemish struggle', namely the struggle of the Flemings abroad, particularly Belgians in Congo and Rwanda-Urundi, for preservation of one’s own culture in the midst of numerous foreign influences. Not only does the author speak out for the importance of the Dutch language for the development of the "Flemish individuality" (p. 86) in Congo. He also believes that the Congolese ought to learn Dutch, even though a pro-Fleming – who himself fights for the preservation of his language – will have a hard time upholding this. No wonder that the author bends over backward: “For the Fleming, it is ordained from above, there is only one way to achieve the highest possible perfection of being, which is as Fleming. Just the way Francis of Assisi has achieved this as Italian. Do not demand from the northerner that he attains perfection of ‘being’ as a southerner. This is also typical in Congo: every psychological policy realises that we should not estrange the natives from their language, their culture, their country, their traditions, or else they will become drifters, who knock about until they are swalloped up by the waves and vanish. [...] From a cultural perspective we advocate that the Congolese would turn the Flemish language into one of its achievements, not only as a property, but as a means towards a more powerful wingbeat. [...] One can not impose a foreign language without annihilating, by coercion, any benefits brought in by the foreign language. We are then dealing here with a merely contemplative conclusion, apart from the temporary political opportunity. Through historical connections, however, the language of the Flemings remains a language which deserves priority in Congo. It is regrettable that certain circles have failed to realise this on time, or even thwarted this possibility. The Flemings will remains strangers to the Congoleses as long as the literary dialogue is not actualised. With this, significant spiritual riches of our christian culture are lost to the latter.” (pp. 224-226). What ensues then is  - in view of the colonial context where it belongs – a rather hilarious plea in favour of 'reciprocity' concerning achieving each other’s languages.t: "It will not suffice that one people goes to another, even with the best intentions, this other people should also make a move in the direction of the former": behold what is probably the next to most euphemist definition of colonialism in world literature – and in Flemish!

[22] O V Spitaels, 'Voorwoord', in Ange Verthé, Vlamingen in Kongo, p. 8.

[23] A Verthé, Vlamingen in Kongo, pp. 84-85. The part of the Flemings in the colonisation of Congo is thereupon employed as an argument "for the accomplishment of a sane language policy in the Colony and for introducing a bill concerning Congo’s language statute" (p. 85).

[24] Cf. T Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa, pp. 585-601.

[25] Cf. B Anderson, Imagined Communities.

[26] This and similar propaganda can be found in the archives in the Royal Museum of Central Africa. This is one is one reason why we might consider the former colonial museum as a 'museum of the nation'. It does not only preserve materials from (former) Congo, but also images of Belgium. It is my hypothesis that, to the extent that any colonizing nation takes its putative identity from the way it pictured and justified its colonisation project and how it positioned itself with regard to the colonised territories and people, any (former) colonial museum lets itself be understood, not only as a more or less awkward depot of colonial treasures and curiosities, but also as liberating archives of imaginary identities. Liberating, for it helps us to understand that identities are not a collection of natural and permanent characteristics, but a precarious product of economic construction which in the minds of identity developers and brokers are supposed to play a strategical, justifying or positioning role. It is no coincidence that, as soon as laterations occur within the economic situations in which they are fabricated, identitities sound obsolete, incomprehensible, disgraceful or even hilarious. One who does not realise this and stubbornly sticks to a meanwile mouldered identity, threatens to turn into a ghost of a distant past. Like this we might interpret the title of Herman Asselberghs’s and Johan Grimonprez’s videotheque, in which de Boe’s Une journée dans une famille belge was recorded too: Prends garde! A jouer au fantôme, on le devient (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 4 juni-21 juli 1997/Documenta X, Kassel 1997).

[27] G Deleuze & F Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrénie II. Mille plateaux, Paris, 1980, p. 14.

[28] M E Storme, 'De roeping van onze tijd voor Vlaanderen en Brussel', Brussels, 23 September 1998 [The collected writings of Matthias Storme can be found on the internet via].

[29] Services of the Prime Minister. Federal Services for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs, Opdrachten en activiteiten, Brussel, september 1997, p. 17.

[30] F Jongen, Les aventures du Belge errant, (Traduit du Belge par Jonnas Groinfec), Ottignies, 1995, p. 77.

[31] F Jongen, Les aventures du Belge errant, p. 118.

[32] F Fanon, Peau noire masques blancs, Paris, 1952, p. 16.

[33] Quoted by P Piryns, 'Sylvie wordt fairhostess', Knack, 24 maart 1999, pp. 62-68 (p. 68). Piet Piryns sees a relation between the poor Dutch-speaking services on the world exhibition and the revival of pro-Flemish sympathies since the beginning of the sixties. "The readers of De Standaard advised not to tip the lavatory attendants ("deux francs pour monsieur, trois francs pour les dames") who do not speak Dutch. On 11 July on the Expo people wave flags and folk dance with a will. The pavilion of France, where scale-models and pictures bear German and English, but no Dutch captions, are pelted by Louvain students with pitch and eggs. One of the demonstrants is the 22-year-old Wilfried Martens. On 17 October, when the Expo is closed, the chairman of the Stichting Lodewijk de Raet, the later Volksunie-Senator Maurits van Haegendoren: "Before the World exhibition opened its doors, one could have foreseen that we would have confronted international Man. Nothing of the kind, however! It was national  man who stepped forward and enjoyed public attention. (...) The Flemish Movement has taken full advantage of the lapses of the rival party. The Expo has caused the long-awaited Flemish miracle: after years on the defensive, we took the initiative again!" Three years later more than a hundred thousand Flemings would hold the first Mars op Brussel “ (p. 68).

[34] Of the eight other federal scientific institutions within the power of the Federal Minister, some are located outside the Capital Region of Brussels. However, ‘federal scientific institutions’ usually refers to those institutions which are strictly in the competence of the Federal Minister of Research Policy, and as a result not to the federal institutions coming under other federal departements such as Public Health and Social Affairs, Agriculture and Tradespeople, Jurisdiction  and Defense.

[35] KB [Royal Decree], 20 March 1997. Those services come administratively under de Services of the Prime Minister and are in the competence of the federal minister in charge of Research Policy.

[36] KB, 20 april 1965. The nine remaining institutions lie, with the exception of the State Archives in the Provinces – which, as the name makes clear, has also several seats in the Provinces - all in a Brussels municipality.

[37] This paper was presented as a lecture at the second meeting of AREA (Archives of European Archeology) at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris on the 2nd of October 1999. A shorter version was presented at the international conference ‘Belgium’s Africa’ at the University of Ghent on the 22nd of October 1999. A Dutch version has been published in: H Asselberghs & D Lesage, Het museum van de natie. Van kolonialisme tot globalisering, Brussel, Yves Gevaert, 1999, pp. 97-127.

Dieter Lesage