Flemish - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Flemish are socially divided into distinct social groupings defined by family pedigree and History, nobility, family business history, language use, personal occupation, and visible wealth. Both men and women try to "marry up" or marry within their social level. Gender is an important social divider; women typically do not receive as much from their natal families in terms of business training or education as men do. Women are expected to join their husband's family, fate, and fortune upon marriage. Because a woman's social status as a wife is therefore more significant to her social position in adulthood than her status as a daughter, courtship and marriage constitutes an important socialranking process for women.

Political Organization. Both small communities and large cities are directed politically by raden, elected bodies of representatives from distinct districts. As mandated by law, all adults must vote. Representatives from Flemish districts are elected to the Flemish regional assemblies and to the parliament. These representatives make law and defend the interests of the Flemish in formulating national policy. Belgium is a constitutional monarchy, with a king at its head. The king has primarily symbolic power as the most important unifying force in the nation. Kingship is inherited through the male line and devolves only to males. The Flemish in France are not recognized officially as a political or ethnic body within the nation of France. Their participation in French political life is viewed as regional, rather than ethnic, participation.

Social Control. Conflicts inherent in Flemish culture are those that center on control over private property and conflicting interpretations of private versus public interest. State social control is accomplished by means of a judicial system that interprets the laws enacted by legislators and enforced by state and local police. Cultural mechanisms of social control consist of social sanctions, public and private censure of nonconforming behavior, and effective socialization of children and young adults. Violence against the person is not tolerated, with one exception. Stiff legal penalties are levied for crimes against unrelated persons, but the state allows intrafamily violence to continue by a policy of nonintervention in nuclear-family affairs. Spouse and child abuse, as well as mistreatment of the elderly, are problems in all social classes.

Conflict. In recent years, social conflicts have arisen and divided the Flemish over social policy issues such as abortion, which has divided the nation of Belgium in ways that crosscut social-class, ethnic, and religious differences. The Flemish people do not present a unified view on the basic question of whether abortion should be a legally protected right or a crime, nor on how it should be defined by law or handled in the courts. Such policy issues have been addressed in the past by face-to-face meetings among legislators, religious leaders, the king, and cabinet advisers, in which compromise positions have been reached and made law. National-level conflict exists between the Walloons and the Flemish centering on the dynamics of economic change in the nation of Belgium. In France, conflict over issues of ethnic and regional autonomy continue to simmer and, on occasion, boil over.

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