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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Okay, the country we asked you about in today's Geo Quiz may have the reputation of being kind of boring. But right now things are not so boring in Belgium. Belgium being the answer to our Geo Quiz. Belgium has been without a government for more than 100 days. Well, there is a care-taker government. But that's mostly a place-holder while parties from the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south try to form some kind of coalition. There is even talk that the country might eventually have to split apart. Belgium is fractured along cultural, social and political lines that are hard for outsiders to understand. And that's why a few Belgians have created a handy animated web video. The World's Clark Boyd has more from Brussels.
CLARK BOYD: Filmmaker Jerome de Gerlache says when he grew up in Brussels, he hung out with Dutch and French speaking friends. Language, culture and politics weren't an issue. A few years ago, de Gerlache moved to Paris and he started to get news from home about linguistic and political tensions threatening to rip his country apart. De Gerlache says people began asking him, ï¿½So, what's the deal with Belgium?ï¿½
JEROME DE GERLACHE: I felt I had to do something, because it was both terrible, but also very funny, because it's a very surrealistic situation there.
BOYD: De Gerlache decided to play with that situation.
DE GERLACHE: That's what people like about Belgium when I'm introducing myself as Belgian. We are able to laugh about ourselves, and just okay, we are not taking ourselves seriously, you know?
BOYD: So, he decided to make a short, animated film. It's called Do You Want to Know More About Belgium?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Belgium has the reputation of being the dullest country in the world, inhabited only by friendly people who eat mussels with french fries with mayonnaise and produce Swiss chocolate.
BOYD: De Gerlache says he wanted to use humor to hook his audience. And poke fun at the, well, more curious aspects of the Belgian political structure.
FEMALE SPEAKER: For over 150 years, Belgium has produced the best experts in engineering the most inefficient political structure. Belgium excels in making everything as complicated as possible, in their three national languages, Dutch, French and German. They have one central government, then they have three regions, each with a government that has as much power as the central government. This is a very good way to make running the country totally impossible.
MARCEL SEL: Obviously I showed the bad side of the Belgian structure.
BOYD: That's author and columnist Marcel Sel. Sel wrote the script for the short film, which has had more than a quarter of a million views online. Bart Brinckman is the chief political editor for the leading Flemish daily De Standaard. He thinks Do You Want to Know More about Belgium? is funny. But he also thinks it glosses over a very important philosophical divide between the Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons. It comes down to this. The Flemish think that if you live in Flanders, you should speak Dutch. That's the law of the land. Belgium's French-speakers, on the other hand, think they should be able to speak French no matter where they live. And that, Brinckman says, it what makes these compromises so hard.
BART BRINCKMAN: I think Belgium is a very, very complicated country. But things are working here because there are two communities, two different languages, and we try to cooperate together, and that's not easy to cooperate, but we manage.
BOYD: In the film, the narrator notes that despite everything being ï¿½catastrophically complicatedï¿½ here, ï¿½Belgians can't live together, but they can't live apart.ï¿½ That's been tested in recent weeks, though. Even some in French-speaking Wallonia have started to openly wonder if they should get ready for the dissolution of Belgium. Director Jerome de Gerlache says that fear is spreading.
DE GERLACHE: People in Europe and in the world are afraid for Belgium. Because I don't know why, people like Belgium as a whole. Really. And people are deeply sad when they think that Belgium is going to split. Everybody's kind of afraid that Belgium's going to disappear, you know? And trying to inform them that there is still Belgians who like Belgium and who want Belgium keeping one piece was important for me.
BOYD: One thing both sides seem to agree on, it's better to be trying to work this out through negotiations, instead of through bloodshed. Even the leader of the Flemish Nationalist Party, which wants in independent Flanders, told reporters last week, ï¿½Look, it's not like we're the Hutus and the Tutsis.ï¿½ Many here who want to keep Belgium united aren't sure whether to laugh, or cry, at that remark. For the World, this is Clark Boyd in Brussels.