Wednesday, August 23

famous (ahem) Belgians

It is probably what Belgium is most celebrated for. Having very few, if any, famous people. How ironic then that when the time came to elect the greatest Belgian of them all, they held two separate competitions.

Here is how the Flemish voted:

1. Father Damiaan
2. Paul Janssen
3. Eddy Merckx
4. Ambiorix
5. Adolf Daens
6. Andreas Vesalius
7. Jacques Brel
8. Gerardus Mercator
9. Peter Paul Rubens
10. Hendrik Conscience

And the Walloon’s:

1. Jacques Brel
2. King Boudewijn
3. Father Damiaan
4. Eddy Merckx
5. Sister Emanuelle
6. José Van Dam
7. Benoît Poelvoorde
8. Hergé
9. René Magritte
10. Georges Simenon

As can be seen, there is very little overlap. The Flemish largely opt for their own, as do the Walloons. One more piece of evidence for those who believe that Belgium is really two countries anyway. Nevertheless, given that the split hasn’t happened (yet), the Witloof finds the lack of clarity to be thoroughly suboptimal and has come up with a very complicated manner of deciding who the single Greatest Belgian of all time actually is. The methodology, which is unlikely to keep mathematicians or those operating at the advanced end of the social sciences awake at night, is as follows:

Focussing entirely upon the respective top tens, 100 points are allocated to each of those toping their respective poll, 90 to those coming second, 80 to the third placed…right down to ten for those coming tenth. These scores are then multiplied by the percentage that roughly coordinates to the presumed relative size of the two main language communities in Belgium – 60% Flemish and 40% French. Finally after adding up the scores of any of those who came in the top ten in both Flanders and Wallonia we can see the following, entirely expected, top five:

1. Damiaan (92)
2. Merckx (76)
3. Brel (64)
4. Janssen (54)
5. Ambiorix (42)

So the Germans and the English went for the most important wartime and post-war figures respectively – Adenauer and Churchill. The Dutch went for another dead politician – granted he died in rather different circumstances – Pim Fortuyn. The Belgians on the other hand, although inhabiting the battleground for most European wars, opted, true to form, for someone I had frankly never heard of.

Now I am willing to admit that this says more about me than about the Belgians - I mean I thought that Emanuelle was a porn star, that Jose van Dam was a misspelling of Jean-Claude van Damme, and that Poirot and the singing nun should have been contenders for the title. It turns out that Damiaan, aka Jozef de Veuster, is the patron saint of those with leprosy and AIDS/HIV, was beatified in 1995 and is currently awaiting formal approval for sainthood. All of which helps place him above ridicule in a flippant blog.

One of the main debates in all of this was the respective worthiness of Damiaan and Merckx for the title. For a country that knows what the foreign perception of it is the temptation to vote for someone like Merckx, well-known abroad, must have been almost overwhelming. However, it appears that it is precisely the recognition of this which decided the minds of most Belgians. They would not be seen to promote the obvious candidate – the one man who most people outside of the country could readily associate with Belgium. Instead they went for Damiaan. I think that they can be proud.


pittstop designer said...

As a once resident my vote for the top ten would be (in no particular order) Herge/Tintin, Poirot, De Troux (spelling?), Van Damme, Eddie Mercx, CListers and Henin-Hardenne (would have said Ceulemans and Scifo ten years ago), Jaques Brel, Magritte and, of course, Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston.

A top ten of importance might be another story...

pittstop designer said...

I would like to know more about this subject, especially which "certain beers" he means - Kwak per chance? Or is Maes the great leveller?

French speakers 'too stupid' to learn Dutch
August 23, 2006

BELGIAN francophones were up in arms after the president of the Dutch-speaking Flanders region said they "apparently do not have the intellect" to learn Dutch.

In an interview in French daily La Liberation, Flanders President Yves Leterme also said the king, the football team and "certain beers" were all the country's French and Dutch speakers had in common.

Language is inextricably linked to politics in Belgium, where about 40 per cent of the people speak French and almost all the rest Dutch, resulting in a complex political structure with five separate parliaments.

There are communities in Flanders where 70 to 80 per cent of the people are francophone and are expected to learn Dutch, Leterme said.

"But apparently, the francophones do not have the intellect to learn Dutch," he told the French paper.

"Look at the difficulties the francophones, even the king of this country, have in speaking Dutch fluently," he added.

The Belgian daily La Derniere Heure splashed headlines "We are too stupid to learn Flemish!" and "Scandal: The king himself has been attacked" on its front page, while Le Soir filled its front page and two others with outraged reactions.

Hercé said...

Vedett : Pingouins savent pourquoi.

Pittstop, this is a tricky issue, one that enflames the emotions, one in which the truth is almost incidental. However, it is facts that i will try to deal in.

According to Flemish daily De Standaard, Leterme actually did actually say that the French speakers in Belgium are intellectually not able for Dutch. They, however, claim that it was intended ironically.

Leterme himself, has refused to back down. He is quoted (by De Standaard) as saying: "French speaking politicians who, in contrast to their 'dangerous' Flemish colleagues, defend the Belgian model, but who do not manage to speak decent Dutch, are not credible. Dutch is still seen by some French speakers as a sort of dialect but it is actually the language of the majority of Belgians. I am absolutely not out to break-up Belgium but when the Flemish ask that people are able to speak their language, it is a question of respect. I, myself, speak three languages. I think it is possible to ask whether the inability of some to speak Dutch is a question of not being able to or not wanting to".

Strong language indeed. It will certainly not quell the dissent in Wallonia but it will also not make him unpopular in Flanders.

Some background: Leterme's father was French speaking. Leterme was brought up speaking French at home. He started speaking Dutch in school at 3 years old. He also supports a football team from a French speaking part of the country, Standard de Liege.

This one will run and run.