Conflict & Justice

Belgium tops Iraq for longest with no government

By Clark Boyd
Since elections last summer, political parties from Belgium's Dutch-speaking North and French-speaking South have tried to form a coalition government. So far, no success. And now Belgium has surpassed Iraq as the country that's gone the longest without a government.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Many Belgians marked that dubious milestone with humor. In Ghent, in one of the city's main squares, students gathered for a demonstration and were treated to live jazz.

"We're organizing this event to point out that the people in the Dutch-speaking part and the French-speaking part are quite the same," says Kliment Kostanidov, a student at the University of Ghent.

"Quite the same" as in deep down, underneath their clothes.

After an announcer utters the words "let it be naked," a couple of dozen students and a few willing passers-by stripped down to their underwear.

Shots of gin, Belgium's other famous alcoholic beverage, helped keep them warm. One student, who wouldn't give her name, had a message for her country's politicians. "We're just fed up. We just want them to do something! And that's why I'm standing here now. To ask them: do it know, we need you."

In Brussels, students gathered to chant "Not in our Name." That's the official name of a loose collection of student and activist groups fighting against any breakup of Belgium.

And if Tunisia has its "Jasmine Revolution," in Belgium, the students are calling this "the Frites Revolution." That's a nod to Belgium's famous fries.

"We are not trying to fight against a government," says Alexandre Houblet, a law student at the Free University of Brussels. "We're trying to have a government. It's really different, because we are really a democracy, we have no risk of being shot by the police today.

"So, today's not really a revolution. It's just a demonstration to show that now Belgium is the laboratory of Europe. If in Belgium we are not able to work together with two communities, it will never work with 27 communities."

At another street party in Ghent last night, organizer Juul Van Oostpoort joked that going without a government for so long is a great achievements for all Belgian politicians. "Government formation is a team sport," he says. "So, there's no individual prize to give. They're doing this as a team."

But the hangover from all this partying could be serious, says Paul De Grauwe, who teaches economics at the University of Leuven. He says the events poke fun at the politicians, but also express disgust and indifference.

"As a result, politicians are not moved to go any quicker," says De Grauwe. "In fact, they may decide to slow down because they see, 'Oh, we all laugh at it. We have great fun,' because we beat the world record of not being able to form a government."

Still party-goers and protesters alike promise that they will keep at it. Not in our Name says it has numerous public events planned. The organizers in Ghent are looking forward to another milestone: a full year without a government. That could mean another street party in a few months.