Pity the poor folks in Belgium watching television who believed, ’cause it was on the news, that their country had split up and gone the way of the dodo. Or, say, Czechoslovakia. A state-funded channel ran a long broadcastÂ Wednesday showing footage of fleeing monarchs, blocked train routes, and information about the “secession” of Flanders, the country’s Dutch-speaking northern region.
Now people are not amused. Much protest. Heart palpitations, or the political version thereof. Calls for the heads of hoax-playing journalists.
But give those wacky fiction-newsers some credit (for one, they actually said their report was fiction, which Fox News never admits to). Just as the outrage over Orson Welles’ War of the World broadcasts exposed a rich vein of invasion fears, border insecurities, and discomfort with technology, the initial belief and subsequent criticism here highlights growing problems that Belgium is having with nailing down its own national identity.
There it’s a local issue. Two languages, two regions, and the northerners are apparently growing more parochial and anti-immigrant. But it’s part and parcel of Europe’s biggest issue today. In France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, everywhere are stories about countries, regions, people struggling to define their identity, and too often relying on exclusionary definitions that quickly turn racist or anti-immigrant.
A little shock-satire in that context maybe isn’t a bad thing.