If a government falls and practically nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
Unable — or unwilling — to work together, bickering politicians have left unassuming Belgium without a fully functioning government for eight months, the longest for any nation in Europe since World War II.
Through most of that time, few Belgians, let alone the outside world, even seemed to notice. Trains continue to run, waffles are still being grilled on street corners, and people window-shop along centuries-old arcades. Tourists still sample mussels, go for overpriced canal rides in Bruges and snap up Tintin souvenirs, blissfully unaware of a political crisis.
With only a caretaker government in place since the previous one collapsed and inconclusive elections were held in June, no new policies are being enacted at a time when the unemployment rate hovers around 8%, economic recovery is fragile, and the euro remains in crisis.
Normally mild-mannered Belgians are finally throwing off their indifference — and their clothes. On Thursday, several dozen protesters stripped to their underwear in the northern city of Ghent to show their displeasure, as well some goose bumps in the chilly weather. They weren’t ashamed, but Belgium’s leaders should be, they said, because even Iraq managed to name a prime minister, if not a fully formed government, at this stage in the game.