300 Days Without Government No Worry For Belgium

Saturday marks 300 days without a central government for the country of Belgium, surpassing the record formerly held by Iraq. Officials there are in a political stalemate over budget issues and electoral districts, but many Belgians say the absence of a government doesn't make much of a difference in their daily lives. Host Scott Simon talks with Belgian columnist and journalist Gerrit Six.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Today, the country of Belgium marks 300 days without a central government, surpassing the record that was formerly held by Iraq. Not exactly like winning the Olympic hockey gold medal, is it?

Officials in Belgium are locked in a political stalemate over budget issues and electoral districts. Many Belgians say the absence of a government doesn't make much of a difference in their daily lives.

For more now, we turn to Gerrit Six, a Belgian journalist who joins us from Flanders, Belgium.

Mr. Six, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GERRIT SIX (Columnist and Journalist): Thank you.

SIMON: Help us understand, why aren't people upset there?

Mr. SIX: Well, we are quite used to it. We still have five or six other governments who are governing us, so we are just waiting for that one, federal government. And wages are still paid; business as usual. We don't see much of a difference. What might happen - it's part of our identity to look upon this with some irony and say well, now they exaggerate. But we only say that after 200 days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It's interesting because a lot of Americans have the idea that, if anything, Western Europe has a series of governments that are even more centralized than what we have here in the U.S.

Mr. SIX: Yeah, but we are the exception. We are the most exotic country in the whole of Europe. We are on the border of the Latin and the Germanic world, and this cultural border goes through Belgium itself, and Brussels. So we are living with his double identity, sometimes, of whether we are Latin or Germanic. And it gives us a frivolous, lavish style of living and some masochism, that supports this absence of a government.

SIMON: Mr. Six, a few years ago, you tried to sell your country on eBay, didn't you?

Mr. SIX: Yes. And we were only with the same problems but only at 100 days after election. And I decided to put Belgium on eBay; 63 bidders, and we ended up at 10 million euro. But it was very symbolic, and it was like nothing happened after 100 days and all of a sudden, there was a man who sold his country on eBay. And wow, I was just famous for five minutes, I think it was called.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Any chance that you see that this is - can I call it a crisis after 300 days - will be over soon?

Mr. SIX: There might be a solution tomorrow, but there might be a solution in another 300 days. That's the exotic thing about Belgium.

SIMON: Speaking with us by Skype, Gerrit Six from Flanders, Belgium, thanks so much.

Mr. SIX: Thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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