The Corner

The Uses of Partition

To say that South Sudan will have a hard row to hoe is an understatement, to say the least, but the news that its people have voted for independence may with luck represent some sort of progress for their troubled region while, unfortunately, helping the Islamists in the North of the once united Sudan. They will now be able to operate unburdened by the need to acknowledge, however slightly, the sensitivities of the animist and Christian south.


Next on the list, Somaliland, a nascent, but, it seems, relatively well-run nation trying to emerge from the hulk that is Somalia. It has had to struggle for any sort of international recognition. Why?


Meanwhile, the Economist’s Charlemagne takes a look at Belgium, another country ripe for division, finding time to include the story of the great library partition of 1968:



In 1968, though, it was the Belgians themselves who cleft the book collection during their language wars. To Flemish students’ cries of Walen Buiten (“Walloons Out”), the French-speaking bit of the university was ejected. [Leuven University] library’s 1.6m books were divided, often by the crude expedient of keeping odd-numbered tomes in Leuven and sending even-numbered ones to the new campus of Louvain-la-Neuve, in French-speaking Wallonia.



Campus legend perhaps, but attending the (Francophone) Université Libre de Bruxelles not much more than a decade later I was told the same thing had happened in Brussels. On that occasion the Flemish (a distinct minority within the Belgian capital) students were exiled to what was in my day the rather grim campus of the new Vrije Universiteit Brussel,


In any event, the country’s divisions have sharpened still further since then. As Charlemagne recounts, after over 230 days, Belgium is still without a government and…


…Today’s blockage is unlike previous ones in that an avowedly separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), has for the first time become dominant in Flanders. Led by Bart de Wever, a charismatic bruiser, the N-VA’s appeal stems precisely from popular exasperation with the messy, unsatisfying compromises of the older political groups. It wants a decisive shift of powers to Flanders, and makes little secret of its wish to see Belgium “evaporate” within the EU. Danny Pieters, the N-VA president of the Belgian Senate, says he sees no need for a Flemish army: one day Belgian forces will be part of a European one. For the N-VA, Europe is the acid that will help to dissolve Belgium.


Let’s hope.


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