maandag 17 maart 2014

The Belgian Lichen

A reflection on symbiosis and Belgium

As a Belgian citizen it is always difficult to explain the structure of my country to foreigners. A friend nicely illustrated the confusion with regard to languages:

"In France they speak French. In Germany they speak German. So in Belgium, you speak Belgian?"

Well, not exactly... Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. For quick overview of Belgium state, I refer to Wikipedia and the following movie:

[...] a unique form of a federal state with segregated political power into three levels:
1. The federal government
2. Three language communities

  • The Flemish Community 
  • The French Community
  • The German-speaking Community
3. Three regions

  • The Flemish Region (five provinces)
  • The Wallon Region (five provinces)
  • The Brussels-Capital Region

The tension between the Dutch- and the French-speaking community has been around since the start of Belgium in 1830. Recently, several political parties, such as Vlaams Belang and NVA, are openly advocating the splitting of Belgium. 

The structure and history of Belgium reminded me of a natural phenomenon, the lichen. This is a composite organism consisting of a fungus and an algal or cyanobacterial partner growing together in symbiosis. At first sight, these organisms have nothing in common, but they manage to thrive together. Research has shown that the symbionts can survive separately, but they do not enjoy the same survival success in extreme environments. 
Whether this principle holds for Belgium? We might find out in the near future...

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