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Opinion

Demonstration reveals foreign patriotism

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December 6, 2007

Belgian waffles and a pit stop before Amsterdam was all Brussels was supposed to be. A couple of English blokes in Cologne, Germany informed me of a nation wide event that the people of Belgium were calling a “demonstration.”

The train was 20 minutes late. Did they say 11 a.m. or noon? Decision: get off at the Nord Station instead of my original plan for the Midi station. Hardly off the platform I was lost in a crowd of black, yellow and red flags, clothing and posters. Good timing from a good decision. The “demonstration” was beginning.

After meeting various travelers in various cities around Europe, I became enlightened about the nation’s current state. The country has had no government for 161 days. Class and language segregate the North and South. The North is the Flemish community. There they speak Dutch and are a major economic trading ground for the country. The South is French-speaking, is less industrial and more agricultural. Although the capital of the European Union is in Brussels, the country of Belgium will most likely be divided because of the massive segregation.

The Nord Station was flooded with bodies —each proudly displaying the flag of their nation and some with signs of pro-revolution words. Fliers were immediately thrust into my hands and stickers plastered on my back reading “I want you for Belgium!” The 35,000 people protesting against the division was a rare scene in history.

The march was truly epic. The two hours from the Nord Station to the European Union headquarters and the only aggression seen was playful and in the name of peace. Teenagers shouted, children blew noisemakers, elderly raised their fists and sang and the faces of babies were black, yellow, and red. Flags of extreme proportions waved over bridges and, overhead, cars honked from the highway. People chanted in French and Dutch. The working class, the posh, the punks, the conservatives all came out Nov. 18. University students climbed scaffoldings of the city streets and sang anthems. Even I acquired song lyrics, unfortunately in French.

News channels attempted to cover the breaking story. Shops practically closed down to watch the love of a country shown by the mass of people’s presence. People banged on drums, shared flags and stormed through prairie grass holding their signs up high.

An elderly woman’s face in a crowd of many stands out to my eye. She cries with a smile, and her emotions become the heart of what the march is all about. I am so fortunate to have witnessed such an important part of the country’s history. A sense of community like I had never seen was portrayed by people of different languages and class brought together for the love of a nation united. Unity and peace were displayed so perfectly to prove the beauty in humanity.

In the next few years, after being a part something so incredible, it will be heartbreaking to read of Belgium’s split if and when it happens.

-Teresa is a journalism major and a geography minor. She is enrolled in the Semester Abroad: Europe program and has done research on the River Thames in London. She is currently backpacking independently across Europe.

Teresa Aviles is a student at UW-River Falls.