The Corner

King’s Row

King Albert II of Belgium is the past-it king of a pointless “nation.” He’s shown his contempt for democracy before, and has now done so again.

The BBC reports:

Albert II warned against the dangers of populists seeking scapegoats for current economic difficulties. Flemish separatist leader Bart De Wever assumed the remarks were aimed at him and said he had overstepped his role.

Belgian political experts and commentators argued that the broadcast had intervened in political debate. In his broadcast, the king said that “in these troubled times we live in, we should remain vigilant and see through populist arguments”. Populists were, he said, “trying to find scapegoats for the crisis, whether foreigners or compatriots from another part of the country”. Such thinking persisted in Belgium as much as in other European countries and “the crisis of the 1930s and the populist reactions of that time must not be forgotten”, the king said.

Belgium has a deepening divide between its Flemish (Dutch-speaking) north and French-speaking south, and there has been speculation that the country could ultimately break up.

Indeed there has. And so it should.

The BBC continues:

Mr De Wever, whose New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party made big gains in elections in October and is now the biggest political force in Flemish-speaking Flanders, accused the king of “implicitly” referring to the N-VA in his speech. In a newspaper article in De Standaard, he accused the king of choosing “the path of a royalty of division”, adding in a later broadcast interview that he could no longer see the monarch as playing the constitutional role of referee. On Belgian radio he accused Belgium’s French-speaking PM, Elio Di Rupo, of “hiding behind the throne”, arguing that he must have seen an advance copy of the speech and given it the green light.

“[Di Rupo] won’t say I’m a fascist but apparently believes it and lets the king say it,” Mr De Wever said.

The separatist leader also took a swipe at a predecessor of Albert’s, Belgium’s wartime King Leopold III (then a prisoner of war), who met Adolf Hitler “for coffee” at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria in 1940 and took Belgium “to the brink of civil war”.

That’s a rather one-sided sketch of Leopold’s (decidedly complex) role in the early years of World War II. Then again, cry me a river: This was the same king who referred (in his Political Testament of 1944) to the arriving Allied forces as occupiers rather than liberators.

It seems that, in the shape of Albert II, the apple has not fallen far from a thoroughly rotten tree (and don’t get me started on Leopold II).

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