Belgians demand politicians break deadlock or give 'money back'
Angry Belgians have begun demanding their partisan leaders break the political deadlock that has left the country without a government for seven months. A caretaker government has been in place since an inconclusive June 13 election.
AFP - As Belgium extends its dubious record as the European nation that's gone the longest without a government, citizens are taking the initiative, demanding their "money back" and action on the streets.
From a movie star urging countrymen "to grow a beard for Belgium", to Facebook users calling for street marches, ordinary Belgians are venting growing frustration as a deadlock in talks to set up a coalition hit seven months Thursday.
During the last such political crisis in 2007, thousands of Belgian flags in black, yellow and red fluttered from windows in signs of nationalist protest and 30,000 people lined the streets, championing unity.
However this time round there has been little sign of popular feeling, until this week.
"We have decided to stop shaving for as long as Belgium has no government," said Benoit Poelvoorde, star of early 1990s mockumentary "Man Bites Dog" and the recent "Coco After Chanel".
"Let's keep our beards until Belgium rises again," he said on Belgian TV.
A caretaker government is running day-to-day business since an inconclusive June 13 election, but feuding politicians from the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south have been squabbling over devolution plans ever since.
"What do you do if you've paid for something that doesn't work? You get your money back," said website Camping 16.
The website is running an online petition where followers pitch a virtual tent outside a depiction of the prime minister's Brussels office.
On Thursday morning more than 65,000 tents were lined up outside the premier's virtual door, with thousands more setting up camp by the hour.
"For all the talk of how different everyone is here," says www.camping16.be, referring to the growing communal divisions, "we all have one big thing in common, we've all been equally taken for a ride."
Failing a coalition deal within 100 days, it added, the parties must pay back public monies received since June.
Irritation over the politicians' inability to bridge the language divide, and fears of a breakup of Belgium, are uniting Belgians from the north, south and possibly even the small German-speaking part of the country.
Some 200 artists from Dutch-speaking Flanders this week slammed separatist parties from the north on the grounds that being Belgian meant more than being Flemish.
"No Government, Great Country," says SHAME, set up by three young men in their early 20s last weekend to organise a protest on Sunday, January 23.
"We love our country," said one of the three, who met on Facebook and put their heads together to protest against what they describe as "a political masquerade" and stand up for "the greater good of the country."
The new site -- http://230111.be -- had 55,000 hits Wednesday, the daily Le Soir said.
One scathing on-line attack on the politicians, by young Dutch-speaking Kris Janssens, has attracted almost 90,000 hits in French and 130,000 in Dutch in a country of 10 million people.
Slamming their endless squabbles over more than 200 days, he says that if a plumber were to wait that long to fix a leak, he'd be taken to court.
What's holding them up, he asks? "Like who should be responsible for manning the exits and entrances on the Brussels ring road, which speaks French but is located in Flanders! They'll be squabbling over who's in charge of airspace next."