Monday, 12 November 2007

Ode to Belgium

One of the driving forces behind the "40 Beers at 40" project is to celebrate Belgium as it faces a... um... well, as it faces a very complex political crisis that, because I've only lived here for a little over four years, I really have only the faintest understanding of. Still, I like Belgium, and I want it to stick around for a bit.

You may ask why.

The beer itself is one reason. If Belgium splits, how will we ever be able to talk about, let alone drink, "Belgian beer"? The loss to humanity's gastronomic heritage would be severe and perhaps even irreplaceable.

Second, chocolate. Same reasoning.

Third, Belgium is wonderfully free of Belgian nationalism. Unlike a lot of other parts of Europe, no one here thinks people are somehow born into the nation. You never meet anyone beating his chest about the need to preserve Belgian blood. I've never met a even one rabid Belgianist skinhead. That's not only comforting as a foreigner living here but also just generally. If I remember my academic studies of the last century properly, I seem to recall that ethnic nationalism in Europe has been largely a crap idea. I'm sure there are a few history books you can read about this sort of thing if you are interested. Some of today's news from other parts of Europe will also attest to my "ethnic nationalism is largely a crap idea" theory.

But here in Belgium, things are different. No one stuffs this country up your nose. No one bangs a Belgian drum of war for anything. Up until very recently, in fact, it was hard to find any citizen who would even think of flying the national flag outside their home. Today many do as a protest at the current political impasse and the creeping threat of a national divorce, but it took the threat of the country actually falling apart to make this happen. It's just a country that's so laid back about itself.

Finally, there's a personal reason for backing Belgium, stemming from a weird feeling of déjà vu I have. We were living in Czechoslovakia when that country split. Now we're facing country carve-up number two. For my wife, it's not such a huge problem: she was living in Berlin when East and West Germany got back together, too, so at one break-up and one reunification, she's evens. But for me, if Belgium falls apart, I will be two for two in the minus column. I'll start thinking I'm possessed by some kind of geopolitical juju. And I'll have to move to Cyprus and then Korea, pressing hard in both for reunifying settlements just to get back to square one before I die.

So, to help me avoid that fate, I will drink Belgian beers for 40 days and thus contribute my small part to keeping this country together.

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