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A culturally torn Belgium goes to the polls on Sunday amid fears that growing support for Flemish radicals could split the country permanently. The World's technology correspondent Clark Boyd is in Brussels, where an online group is trying to cool passions by encouraging rivals to ?adopt' someone from the other side.
MARCO WERMAN: In Belgium politicians are competing with the World Cup for voters' attention. There's an election there on Sunday. The campaign has often pitted the Dutch speaking north against the French speaking south with bilingual Brussels stuck in the middle. Polls suggest Flemish separatist parties might do well on Sunday, but some don't see the Belgian family splitting apart just yet. From Brussels, The World's Clark Boyd reports.
CLARK BOYD: Belgium's national motto is "Strength through unity". That's kind of hard to believe given some of the nasty rhetoric the country's politicians have been using in the run up to the vote on Sunday. Some have been calling, and not for the first time, for the country to be split in two.
LUC DESCHAMPS: People on the street, they don't want to split the country. It's ridiculous. It's like a joke for us.
BOYD: That's Brussels based film producer Luc Deschamps. His business partner is director Laurent Ingels.
LAURENT INGELS: Here in Brussels, I don't know if my neighbor is Flemish or French. I said bonjour and he replies guden dag. Sometimes we say hello, hello.
BOYD: Ingels and Deschamps hit upon a simple idea, build a website that would encourage the two sides to talk. Actually, they built two websites, one in French and one in Dutch. The French site encourages you to adopt a Flemish person, a Dutch speaker. The Dutch site, in turn, allows you to adopt a Walloon, a French speaker. Interestingly, the country's small German speaking population can adopt either. The centerpiece of both sites is a short video featuring, fittingly, a baby. As the camera pans in on a swaddled infant, questions appear on the screen. Is he Flemish? Is he Walloon? Is he a German speaker? Is he from Brussels. No, the video end emphatically, he's Belgian. You are then asked to adopt, symbolically, not literally, someone from the other side of the linguistic divide. Again, Luc Deschamps.
DESCHAMPS: The conception is quite easy because you do that be internet and you decide, as a French, you decide to adopt a Flemish and as a Flemish you decide to adopt a French. You click, it asks you your name, they ask you your mail and that's it.
BOYD: If you decide to adopt, you'll be put in touch, at random, with an adoptee from the other side. You, in turn, might end up being adopted by someone else. The hope is that you'll carry on an ongoing conversation with your adopted family. The creators say the sites have gotten good traffic since they went live in mid-May. Currently, though Walloon adopters out number Flemish adopters almost two to one.
DAAN STUYVENS: I don't call myself Flemish, I call myself Belgian. But yes, I am a Dutch speaking.
BOYD: Daan Stuyvens decided to adopt a French speaker by the website. What attracted him he says, was the, well, Belgian-ness of it.
STUYVENS: It's a great way to show how absurd the situation is getting here because we're all the same people, but we're quite a small and funny country. And so this is a very Belgian approach.
BOYD: Website co-creator Laurent Ingels says that it takes courage for many Dutch speakers to sign on to something like this. He relates the story of someone who signed up for an adoption, but asked to be removed from the site ten days later. Why? Because, Ingels says, the person's real family found out that he'd signed up.
INGELS: He sent me an email and he said my father said all the Walloons are bad people. My mother also. Please remove me. I love your initiative, but for me it's too difficult to assume this position.
BOYD: For the most part, though, the comments on both websites are positive. A lot of French speakers are using it to practice their Dutch and, vice versa. There also seems to be a lot of bonding over some Belgian favorites; beer, chocolate, that sort of thing. Laurent Ingels says he hopes the site, like the country, will remain standing after Sunday's elections. He points out a Belgian saying left by many people on the websites, "Belgium is a pleasure, long may it remain so". For The World, this is Clark Boyd in Brussels.