June 13, it was abundantly noted, marked the first anniversary of Belgium’s legislative elections. For the umpteenth time we were reminded that the country no longer has a government, that no other nation has gone as long without a legislative body, and, worse yet, that the situation will continue for some time.

One aspect that has been overlooked in this deluge of bad news is whether or not it is time to split the assets. If Flanders and Wallonia were married to each other, they would have split up a long time ago. Since decentralization began in the 1970s, there has been a hectic sequence of power-sharing conflicts. Not even a therapist would know what to do.

The language barrier is now a wall

But international relations don’t have the same criteria as personal relationships. The idea of a split has never been very popular, not only because it upsets stability but also because most of us believe that linguistic or community differences aren't enough to warrant a separation. In short, in Western nations, separatist movements cannot count on the sympathy of the masses.

Sometimes, however, there is no alternative. We should ask ourselves if it wouldn’t be better to separate and remain good friends, rather than continuing to fight until the outcome becomes unpredictable.

With Belgium, as with most marriages, the split wasn’t foreseeable from the beginning. Despite claims by the Flemish nationalists to the contrary, when it was formed Belgium was anything but an artificial nation.

Even discrimination against the Dutch language did not affect relations between the Flemish and the Walloons. But the creation of separate federal bodies began an unstoppable process. The language barrier is now a wall.

Even if a solution is found, it will only delay the problem until the next crisis. The Czechoslovakian example demonstrates that in such a case it is better to break up. In that country, too, everyone wondered why a split was absolutely necessary. Just like the Flemish and the Walloons, the Czechs and the Slovaks seemed destined to remain together eternally.

Despite mutual reproaches – the Slovaks felt they were treated as second-class citizens while the Czechs claimed they were always footing the bill – nothing seemed to forecast a separation once communism fell. Unlike the Flemish and the Walloons, the people of Czechoslovakia spoke, more or less, the same language. They were not in the same situation as Belgium.

No regrets

That didn’t stop the leaders of the two parts of the country from implementing a “Velvet Divorce” several years after the “Velvet Revolution”. Barely a week after the Slovakian Parliament proclaimed independence, everything was settled. On December 31, 1992, Czechoslovakia officially ceased to exist. According to the politicians involved, the differences in views had become insurmountable.

Not everyone was satisfied with this outcome. Far from it: opinion polls revealed that a majority of Czechs and Slovaks were against. But today they do not regret the split. Even the Slovaks, the weak little brothers, have not suffered on the economic front. As citizens of an independent state, they are better able to defend themselves than when they depended on Czech financing.

What has really improved, since the separation, is their relationship. It is now much better than when the Czechs and the Slovaks were compatriots.

The Velvet Divorce should be an example for Belgium, where the problems between communities are much more bitter than in the former Czechoslovakia. Nor should we fear an economic crisis. Unlike the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1992, the Flemish and the Walloons have the safety net provided by the European single market. Even the problem of Brussels, which is both a distinct region and the capital of Flanders, is not necessarily an obstacle. The idea of a Belgian solution should not constitute an insurmountable goal, especially at a time when the notion of territoriality is more flexible.