BRUSSELS, Belgium – Some are growing beards in revolt. Artists are venting their anger on stage and students will be out in force today. Their rallying cry? A proper government and – finally – an end to seven months of negotiations mired in recrimination.
For decades, the 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings in Belgium’s north and 4.5 million Francophones in the south have grown increasingly apart in a bipolar kingdom that has contained the seeds of division since its inception in 1830.
Politicians are trying to broker a new constitution with increased regional autonomy to reflect that reality. But the work is proving long and hard. For more than 220 days, since a June 13 election, the country has been rudderless.
That quarreling is taking a toll on the country.
Belgium’s borrowing costs on financial markets have spiked in recent weeks, after a rating agency warned last month that the lack of a functioning government could hurt the country’s ability to cut costs and repay its debt.
People feel the time has come for an end to the standoff, the intricacies of which, it is fair to say, next to no one understands.
Public unease had been simmering for weeks. But it really caught the imagination last week when Francophone actor Benoit Poelvoorde called on all Belgian men to join a hair-raising protest.
“Let your beard grow to show solidarity,” Poelvoorde said.
And the beard thing has caught on.
There should be fresh beards galore when thousands are expected to march through the center of the capital today.
“We hope that 20,000 or more can give a clear signal,” said Felix De Clerck, an organizer and son of the caretaker justice minister. “We welcome everyone who is as sick of it as the others.”