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Belgium

Belgium has an area of 11,780 square miles and a population of 10.7 million. Belgium is divided ethnically into the 75,000 residents of the eastern German cantons, the bilingual capital of Brussels, and two language regions: Dutch-speaking Flemings in Flanders in the Northern half, French-speaking Walloons in Wallonia in the Southern half; and Brussels in the center. All else is commentary.

A cartoon character appearing in a French-language Belgian publication in early 1984 lamented: "The more one knows how things are going in Flanders and Wallonia, the less one knows how things are going in Belgium." The same complaint could easily come from an outside observer struggling to understand this small but complex country.

Flanders, roughly the northern half of the country, is inhabbited primarily by the Dutch-speaking Flernings, who make up the majority of the Belgian population. Its historical and cultural identities are distinct from those of Wallonia, home of the French-speaking Walloons, who account for about one-third of the population. In between lies the national capital, Brussels, where most of the residents speak French but do not consider themselves to be Walloons. Brussels was traditionally a Flemish city, as its art and architecture attest, and its socalled Frenchification has bothered some Flemings, who for years were treated as second-class citizens throughout the country. The tensions between these regions and language communities have been the most outstanding features of the society.

Belgium is a small, highly developed and densely populated country (10 million of inhabitants) at the cross-roads of Western Europe. Belgium is one of the founding members of the European Community, and its capital, Brussels, is also the capital of the European Union. It is a federal state, with 3 relatively autonomous regions: Flanders in the north, where the language is Dutch ("Flemish"), Wallonia in the south, where the language is French, and the centrally located Brussels, which is officially bilingual. Belgium's rich history has left impressive churches, town halls, castles and works of art, dating back to the early Middle Ages, spread around the cities and country-side.

The population density is the second highest in Europe, after the Netherlands. Belgium has possibly the highest "quality of life" in the world, as testified by its excellent food, housing, health care, education and infrastructure, its world records for high productivity and low poverty, and the appreciation of foreigners residing in Belgium. Several features distinguish Belgium and the Belgian character - good living, food and drink, privacy, pragmatism, open-mindedness, and compromise.

Belgium is located in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea. Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region. Climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 77F, winters average 45F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are 10F and 100F.

Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at a crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint.

Internal security has been maintained by the gendarmerie, the Criminal Police, the municipal police forces, and the rural constabulary. Criminal justice was administered by a three-tiered judicial system. The great majority of the convicted received conditional sentences of weekend imprisonment or community service in lieu of more severe penalties. Belgium is generally regarded as free from human rights abuses.







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