Most English schoolboys learn this quip: Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy the French.

Which is just about true.  And if you don’t understand why and how Belgium was invented, you won’t understand the significance of the elections in Belgium earlier this summer.

In 1795 the revolutionary French occupied what were then the Austrian Netherlands.  After Napoleon’s defeat and the expulsion of the French, the allied powers re-established the ancient union between the Austrian Netherlands and the Dutch Republic.  This created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, whose Protestant king was to act as a brake against any further adventures by France.

But in 1830 French-speaking intellectuals and Catholic leaders in Brussels led a revolution against the Protestant Dutch king.  In fact, the revolution had been fomented by the French.  The allied powers were afraid the revolution would set up an independent republic aligned with France.  This would give the French access to the strategic port of Antwerp, which was, in Napoleon’s words, “a pistol pointed at the heart of England.”  So instead the allies, led by the British, imposed a kingdom named Belgium and installed a German prince as “king of the Belgians.”

Now, what’s wrong with this picture?  What’s wrong is that none of it mentions the Flemish.  This “Belgium” was made up of the French-speaking Wallonia, which is the province stretched across the northern border of France, but also Flanders, the Dutch-speaking territory to the north, whose cultural and historical ties are with the Netherlands.

In the southern part of Flanders is the third part of this invention called Belgium: Brussels, a Netherlandish city that at the time of the creation of Belgium was genuinely bilingual.  The 19th-century monarchy did its best to extinguish the Dutch language and, indeed, to extinguish all of the Flemish culture in the city.  The Flemings were a majority of the population of Belgium, but they were to see their language nearly wiped from the capital city and their desire to establish their own government in their own ancient territory denied by this thing called “Belgium.”

You may now be able to understand the cry that went up in the chamber of the federal parliament on the last day of the last session.  As the politicians were packing up to get on with the June election, one Flemish member of parliament stood and roared out, “Belgium must die!”

Much to the shock of many across Europe, the voters were listening.  Following the election, a Flemish separatist party came top of the poll.  The New Flemish Alliance, led by Bart De Wever, jumped from 5 seats to 27, making it the largest party in the 150-seat federal parliament.  De Wever will be the key player in forming the next coalition government, which, this being Belgium and the parties in the federal parliament being French and Flemish-speaking versions of socialists, conservatives, liberals, greens, and separatists, could take months to form.

De Wever says he wants Flemish independence.  He says he wants Belgium to “evaporate.”  Yet his party is not the most muscular of the three Flemish separatist parties.  The Vlaams Belang—“Flemish interest”—party is.  I joined some of them when they were campaigning in Antwerp a week before the election.  Since they were giving their election spiel in Dutch, I could only catch their speaking style and the word “Muslim.”  Independence is not all these Flemish want.  They want a control on immigration, too.

Bart De Wever is less direct than Vlaams Belang.  Instead of talking about true independence, he now talks about Flanders becoming a “region of Europe.”  As another Bart might say, “Uh-oh.”  That’s like saying you want to achieve your freedom from house arrest by signing on next door for bonded servitude.  De Wever’s supporters say he is just wrapping himself in the European Union flag in order not to frighten the “moderate” voters.  Maybe.

Who will become the next prime minister?  At this writing, it looks like De Wever might stand to one side and let Elio Di Rupo, a French-speaking socialist—oh, all right, a French-speaking homosexual socialist who dyes his hair and wears bow ties—become prime minister.  The reason?  Di Rupo’s Socialist party came second with 26 seats.  De Wever reckons a deal with Di Rupo may give Flanders a faster deal on greater autonomy.

Moreover, the Belgian term in the rotating presidency of the E.U. Council of Ministers runs from July 1 to December 31.  The Belgians are supposed to supply a prime minister to be president of the council, and various other cabinet ministers to chair meetings.  Having no government at all may be a continuing embarrassment.

To those of us who await the disintegration of the European Union—which is nothing but the Belgianization of Europe—watching Belgium die is a continuing inspiration.