If I were going to draw up a list of the top ten hoaxes of 2006 (which I'm not because I don't have enough time), the Great Belgian Breakup Hoax would definitely have to be included in the list, sneaking in right before the end of the year. As has been widely reported, on Wednesday many people were briefly led to believe that Belgium had ceased to exist. An AP story summarized what happened
Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."
The Belgian TV station apparently perpetrated the hoax in order to stir up debate about the future of the country. Since the news was being reported straight-faced by a reputable news source, many viewers believed it
Oddly, this is not the first time we've seen a hoax like this. Back in 1992 the London Times reported essentially the same news, as a joke, on April Fool's Day. It made #90 on my list
of the Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of all time:
The London Times reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, "The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians." The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this "important" story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."
Actually, when put that way, there does seem to be something amusing about the notion of Belgium. Though I don't know exactly why this is.
Nevertheless, amusing as Belgium might be, it seems safe to say that it still does exist. So I won't be needing to add it to my list of nonexistent places