Although the freedom of language use is guaranteed by the Constitution, language has always been a contested issue in Belgium. The current political model is based on appeasement of the conflicts between the two main language communities. This model is the result of a quasi-continuous process of state reform built on a consociationalist design for conflict-prevention that starts from official language use as the core political cleavage. This has resulted in a complex organisation of public and semi-public institutions.
The appeasement model is based on political conditions that existed before 1960. Since then, the situation has radically changed. Brussels has become a city of immigration. Nowadays, half the population has an immigrant background. Among youngsters, traditional monolingual families based on one of the official languages only account for a third of the population. The changing composition of the population obviously has an impact on linguistic practices. In all the different domains of language use, Brussels is characterised by a growing multilingualism. The question that arises is to what extent this situation affects the traditional structures of the appeasement model that aims at regulating contact situations between the two traditional languages.
Rudi Janssens is senior researcher at the VUB and member of Brio.