All politics are local, said "Tip" O'Neill.
Not so. It is more true to say that all politics are tribal.
For the 1991 prediction of Arthur Schlesinger -- "Ethnic and racial conflict, it now seems evident, will soon replace the conflict of ideologies as the explosive issue of our time" -- has proven prophetic.
As Schlesinger was writing, the Soviet Union, a prison house of nations held together by the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, the Red Army, the KGB and the Communist Party, was disintegrating. Out of its carcass came 15 nations. Causes of secession: ethnicity and culture.
At the same time, Yugoslavia crumbled. Slovenes and Croats broke free of Belgrade, and Bosnia was beset by a civil-sectarian war of Croats, Serbs and Muslims. Macedonia seceded, then Montenegro. Now Kosovo, cradle of the Orthodox Serb people, but 90 percent Albanian and Muslim, is moving toward secession.
Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union came apart, after becoming free, confirming what my late friend Sam Francis said: Multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual countries are held together either by an authoritarian regime or an ethnocultural core -- as the English have held the United Kingdom together -- or they come apart.
Today we see agitation for secession by Scottish nationalists who wish to follow the Irish nationalists of the early 20th century out of the United Kingdom. Which bring us to the point of this column.
Belgium, created by the European powers in 1831, is the likely next nation in Europe to break up -- into a Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, tied to Holland by language and culture, and a Francophone south, Wallonia, tied to France by language and culture.
What puts the breakup of Belgium on the front burner is that this nation of 10 million has been without a government for three months. In June, Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, won the general election, but was blocked from forming a government by Wallonia, which fears Leterme is a closet nationalist bent on secession.
Belgium is also divided economically and politically. Flanders is wealthy, conservative, capitalist. Wallonia is poor, socialist, statist. As the Flemish 60 percent of the population generates 70 percent of GDP and 80 percent of all exports, it is weary of seeing its taxes -- the top rate is 50 percent -- going to sustain a socialist Wallonia where unemployment is 15 percent. By one poll, 43 percent of Flemish wish to quit Belgium and go their own way.