Now that there’s a Catholic majority in the Netherlands

I found out very recently an interesting fact about religion in the Netherlands.  To my previous knowledge, the country has always been predominantly Protestant, and more specifically, Calvinist.  And as far as I knew, that was also the reason why the Dutch-speaking Flemings joined up with the French-speaking Walloons to form Belgium, way way back in the 19th century – because both groups were devout Catholics.

Well, this does not seem to be the case anymore. Over the years, the actual number of Catholics in the Netherlands have clearly overtaken those that count themselves as followers of the Protestant faith.  Back in 1849, the country boasted more persuasive share of Protestants (59.7%) compared to Catholics (38.3%).  At last count in 2005, the country is now home to 26.6% Catholics versus only 16.6% Protestants, and a growing share of Muslims.  The rest have more or less got off the bandwagon of God, or as the Dutch word for secularization vividly demonstrates, ontkerkelijking, falling out of church’s way.

So given how much hostilities there is between the Dutch-speaking Flemings and the French-speaking Walloons, and give how the idea of national governance has all but transformed by the existence of the EU, and the downloading of responsibilities to the local governments, the question is, why not divide up Belgium in their current form as two separate ones? The newly independent ones can then decide to remain independent by themselves, or join the neighbouring countries which they have more cultural and linguistic roots in common with?

At the moment, the country is divided along pretty clear linguistic lines.  Each group has its own TV stations, parliament, schools, etc.  The Dutch-languaged media outlets reports the going-ons of the Netherlands with more enthusiasm than those of its own Francophone compatriots.

It’s kind of like a Quebecois situation, except the continent of North America is not dominated by English-speakers, but instead inhabited by linguistically divided nation-states that co-exist with open borders, where local and national governments have to answer to an added layer of supra-national governmental bureaucracy, and where each group holds its own historical and cultural grudges with more vehemence and vindictiveness than having “Je me souviens” on the back of your cars.

Anyway, here’s a truly entertaining read about the funny (well, if you’re Flemish) reversal of fortunes of the two Belgiums since WWII, and the increasingly weak glue that’s keeping the two together.

On revisionist history, the kind of finger-pointing that no continental Europeans is exempted from:

There are not many places in Europe where the battle rages more furiously over who deserves blame for the country’s 20th-century mistakes. (Spain is one.) Each side tries to portray the other as having committed worse excesses of collaboration. One side claims the Nazis freed Flemish POWs before Walloon ones; the other notes that Flanders had no collaborators more zealous than the Francophone fascist Léon Degrelle.

On the misfortune, or, luck, that comes with NOT getting what you bargained for:

Historically, both Flanders and Wallonia have pushed for more autonomy, but in very different ways. Flanders has traditionally wanted more respect for its culture, following the model of other great but downtrodden peoples seeking to gain full civil rights. … They were willing to give up a bit of economic power, as the economist Olivier Boehme has shown, in defense of cultural purity. Wallonia, by contrast, took its culture for granted. Its priority was seizing the policy levers it needed to keep its dying industrial economy intact. Both sides got exactly what they wanted. But the romantic, ethereal, “cultural” agenda of the Flemings won them real-world benefits. The hard-headed, brass-tacks, “objective” agenda of the Walloons has been a disaster in practical terms.

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