Language frictions in Brussels are ‘part of multilingual reality,’ Sven Gatz says
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Language frictions in Brussels are ‘part of multilingual reality,’ Sven Gatz says

Credit: Belga

Reports of staff failing to provide Dutch-speaking advice and support in Brussels’ coronavirus testing and vaccination centres in the last week show an unavoidable situation present in a multilingual society, according to Brussels’ Minister for Multingualism Sven Gatz.

Although Brussels is officially a bi-lingual city, meaning that the council and its services use Dutch and French internally and in communication with citizens, the latest news shows this is not always the case in practice

“I am certainly going to bring this up with the Council of Ministers, and will discuss these incidents, not only because the application of the language law failed here, but also because it is a failure of delivering a good service to your citizens,” Gatz told the Brussels Times.

On Tuesday, police were called to intervene in a dispute between a Dutch-speaking man and a member of staff at a coronavirus testing centre at Merode in Brussels, after he was told that there would be no one available to assist him in his own language. This followed news from last week when a Dutch-speaking woman from Brussels filed a complaint against the Heysel coronavirus vaccination centre after she failed to get the information she requested in her language about possible side-effects.

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“Both these incidents highlight that the sensitivity between French- and Dutch-speakers in the city is still present, and I hope that we will at some point be able to avoid these situations, but I am not under any illusions about that either,” said Gatz.

He said that in a city of 1,2 million people, “there will always be certain interactions that don’t go smoothly, and there will always be certain hiccups when it involves people who speak different languages.”

“I think that this language friction is just a part of our multilingual reality, and although for many people multilingualism has become a part of their identity, there will always be people who don’t see it that way and will only want to associate one language to their identity,” he added.

Flemish Minister for Brussels Benjamin Dalle has since asked Brussels Minister Elke Van den Brandt to monitor compliance with the language legislation in these centres during questioning in the Flemish Parliament.

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times