Raf Casert, AP, December 17, 2007
Newly crowned Miss Belgium speaks several languages—including French, English and Czech—but it seems that doesn’t count for much when she doesn’t speak Dutch.
After she failed to answer a question in elementary Dutch and switched to French during Saturday night’s competition, 20-year-old Alizee Poulicek was booed by some of the 3,400 fans in Antwerp, the heart of Dutch-speaking Flanders.
In a country that has been without a government for nearly 200 days because of continued strife between Dutch- and French-speaking parties, the beauty queen’s linguistic abilities has taken on larger significance.
Dutch-speaking Flemings make up 6 million of the 10.5 million Belgians; most of the rest are Francophones, although there is also a small German-speaking community in the east of the country.
After Belgium gained independence from the Netherlands in 1830, French dominated political and economic life. It is only since World War II that Dutch speakers from the north have started turning their demographic dominance into effective power. For the past three decades, all prime ministers have been Flemish, though all also spoke French.
Northern Flanders and southern Wallonia have gained greater autonomy, but many in Flanders still pounce on every perceived linguistic slight.