In 1960 uprisings in the Belgian Congo forced Belgium to withdraw from its African empire. On June 30, 1960, King Baudouin proclaimed the independence of the colony (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC). In 1962 the Belgian-administered UN trust territory of Ruanda-Urundi achieved independence as two states, Rwanda and Burundi. The Belgian Congo was a source of great wealth for Belgium, especially for a few large companies, in which the Belgian government also had substantial shares. The loss of the Congo caused economic hardship in Belgium.
To strengthen the economy, the Belgian government instituted an austerity program in the early 1960s. The Socialists called for a general strike and violence erupted, particularly in the Walloon south. Although the strike was called off, the crisis had sharpened the differences between Flemings and Walloons. Socialist leaders proposed that the unitary state of Belgium be replaced by a loose federation of three regions—Flanders, Wallonia, and the area around Brussels. New laws in 1962 and 1963 established official language frontiers, but the problem was not that easily solved. Both Flemish and Walloon workers protested discrimination in employment, and disturbances broke out at the universities of Brussels and Leuven, which eventually split into separate Dutch-speaking and French-speaking institutions.
Although during the 1960s the Christian Social and Socialist parties remained the major contenders for power, both Flemish and Walloon federalists continued to make gains in the general elections, principally at the expense of the Liberal Party. Eventually separate Flemish and Walloon ministries were created for education, culture, and economic development.
Finally, in 1971, the constitution was revised to prepare the way for regional autonomy in most economic and cultural affairs. Despite this reversal of a long-standing policy of centralization, the federalist parties opposed the revisions on the grounds that they did not go far enough. Moreover, repeated efforts to transfer actual legislative authority to regional bodies were blocked by disagreements about the geographical extent of the Brussels region. In 1980 agreement was finally reached on the question of autonomy for Flanders and Wallonia.
During the 1980s the Christian Democrat parties formed the cabinets, usually under the leadership of Wilfried Martens. In January 1989 parliament passed a devolution bill designed to transfer power from the central government to the three ethnolinguistic federal regions. Implementation of this law moved slowly, and the 1991 elections resulted in a reduced plurality for the Christian Democrats. Martens resigned as party leader, and his successor, Jean-Luc Dehaene, formed a new center-left government. "Belgium" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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