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Managing Ethnic Conflict in Belgium

Martin O. Heisler
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 433, Ethnic Conflict in the World Today (Sep., 1977), pp. 32-46
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1043226
Page Count: 15
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Managing Ethnic Conflict in Belgium
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Abstract

Belgium is one of several small European democracies that succeeded in fashioning a stable, progressive regime in a society deeply divided by religious and socioeconomic differences. Not until recently did a massive ethno-cultural cleavage between Flemings, Walloons, and the French-speaking majority of the residents of the country's capital, Brussels, become politically salient. Long experience in managing societal divisions is not directly applicable to the ethnic cleavage. The response to the religious and ideological divisions had been to form cohesive institutions and practices among the leaders of the segments. The response to the ethnic cleavage has been, in contrast, to decentralize: Belgium has moved from a unitary to a federal regime in the past decade. While this has constituted a peaceful and rational response to the ethnic cleavage until now, serious residual problems abound. Further, the relatively favorable conditions under which decentralization was launched no longer obtain, clouding prospects for the achievement of a stable, mutually acceptable arrangement between the major contending groups.

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