On December 13th, 2006, a French-speaking Belgian public television station interrupted its regular programming with a news bulletin: the Flanders' parliament had declared its independence from the Kingdom of Belgium. The bulletin broadcast showed cheering Flemish flag-waving crowds, and footage showing the King and Queen of Belgium at the airport, boarding a plane to flee the country.
"This Is Fiction"
Thirty minutes into the broadcast, after the television station was swamped with phone calls from viewers, an on-screen text message revealed that the so-called bulletin was a hoax. The message simply: "This is fiction".
The news director of the television station, RTBF, stated that the hoax was meant to be a fictional drama satirizing the outcome of a recently held 2006 regional election where right-wing candidates advocating Flemish independence had a strong showing. It was inspired by Orson Welles War of the Worlds alien invasion hoax of 1938.
It took two years for the news department of RTBF to prepare this hoax under the codename BBB, or Bye-Bye Belgium.
The Future of Belgium
The news director further stated that the stations intent was to show Belgian viewers the intensity of the future of Belgium and the real possibility of Belgium no longer being a country in a few months. He further defended the stations actions, claiming that the bulletin spurred political debate, a good thing in a country with democratic values.
The Belgian Prime Minister, the Flemish Minister-President, and the Walloon Minister-President all condemned the so-called news bulletin as irresponsible.
Flanders and Wallonia
The underlying cause of the political issue behind this hoax was the volatile issue of welfare program expenditures for Wallonia, the poorer French-speaking half of Belgium. Rightist groups in the Dutch-speaking Flanders half of the country see themselves as footing the bill for Wallonia.
Of course, the Flemish Secession Hoax did indeed spur more political debate as promised. For a taste of the debate, see The Flemish Republic, a popular Belgium political newsletter representing Dutch-speaking rightists who very seriously support the independence of Flanders.
In the 2007 general elections in Belgium, Flemish-secessionist candidates made a strong showing while other Belgian political groups were unable to form a coalition.
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