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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Nigel's Charade - UKIP vs Belgium, Part I

Until 24th February of this year it's unlikely that anyone in Belgium had ever heard of Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP, for the uninitiated is, like Hezbollah, a party of Resistance. Its small but heroic band of MEPs regard British sovereignty as a kind of swooning virgin, in desperate need of rescue from the lumbering paper juggernaut of Brussels bureaucracy. Though home to a rather better sort of right-wing crank than the fascist British National Party, UKIP's single-issue zeal has visibly fanaticised its leadership.

Farage's February broadside against the first long-term President of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has briefly elevated the overseas profile of the party and its views, at least in Van Rompuy's home country of Belgium, though 'elevated' somehow seems to be the wrong word. In any case, a hostile Belgian response should matter little to Farage since Belgium is 'practically a non-country'. But what of his beloved Britain?

Mr Farage, unlike Mr Van Rompuy, is an elected politician. His function is to represent his electors. But who among them wishes to be represented as a bullying vendor of cheap polemic? Such behaviour demeans his office, discredits his party and embarrasses his country. The UKIP leader's sole contribution to the national interest has been to enforce the already widely held view that the Brits abroad are bloody rude. (Would Farage have dared address Blair as he did Van Rompuy?)

Farage's rhetorical hooliganism contained the now notorious suggestion that Van Rompuy had 'the appearance of a second rate bank clerk' . If the President resembles a bank clerk then Farage, who wears his own odiferous smugness like a cheap aftershave, looks like a provincial Vauxhall dealer, or a clammy-handed, creepy-eyed French master at a minor boys' public school in the Cotswolds.

Nigel "Phwoar" Farage, seen here with unidentified UKIP sex goddess

Of course it's not too hard to improvise offensive personal remarks, anyone can do that, but what are Belgians to make of the UKIP leader's denial of their very existence? This was no throwaway remark, forged in the heat of the moment, but evidently a cherished point of UKIP party doctrine. Farage saw fit to repeat his conviction that Belgium is a 'non-country' on the BBC's topical debate programme Question Time the following week, as well as during his feeble performance on Have I Got News For You.

As the Israelis will tell you, the denial of a state's existence is a very serious business indeed, so UKIP's position deserves some explaining. Within the English-speaking world Belgium, for some reason, has become a comic archetype of national insipidness. For most Britons, Belgium is merely a runt-sized France, a France in which chic has been substituted for copious amounts of chocolate, a nation of confectioners and war-grave janitors, in the words of Sunday Times journalist A.A. Gill. Their real-life counterparts are so unexceptional that Agatha Christie's Poirot and Hergé's Tintin are widely regarded as being the only Belgians worthy of international recognition. Belgian readers - if you think I'm making this up, have a look at this website.

What might the origin of such condescension be? One factor is Belgium's perceived modernity. With a foundation date of 1830 the country is considered far too young to have developed a distinctive culture or produced persons of note. Another is its small size and apparently marginal role in international affairs. The third and arguably most important reason stems from Belgium's distinctive ethnic make up and it takes two forms.

In the first form, people, by which I mean the bog-standard Brit-on-the-street, are unaware of the existence of the Flemish community. Belgium, which in this conception is entirely Francophone, is seen as having been arbitrarily separated from France and, as such has no claim to an independent cultural existence. In the second form, those Britons aware of the endemic tension between the Flemish and Walloons argue that Belgium, consisting of two linguistic communities, cannot possibly be considered a unified nation-state. Rather it is an artificial welding together of two nations, both of which are itching for secession. This is the marginally more sophisticated approach to demeaning Belgium taken by Mr Farage and his ilk.

Nevertheless, it is entirely dependent on and derivative of the tradition of Belgium-gags which have traditionally shaped the English idea of the kingdom. Farage's behaviour is roughly comparable to an English MP standing up in the House of Commons, drawling a couple of sheep-shagging jokes about the Welsh First Minister and then passing it off as principled political protest.

(NB on the Have I Got News For You of April 1st Farage demoted his remarks from principled protest to 'typical parliamentary banter'. Which is just one more indication that banter is a verb principally used by public-school idiots to describe their chinless waffle.)

In part II of this article I will be bringing to bear the weight of my extensive experience in the Land of the Belge for a demonstration of exactly why Belgique/België is assuredly NOT the lol-state of Europe.

1 comment:

Ethne said...

I'm impressed- when you're famous can I say "i knew him when..."?