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Music wars on the Brussels metro
by Newropeans-Magazine
2011-06-07 07:47:06
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If you've ever ridden the Brussels metro subway system you may have noticed that your journey is accompanied by catchy pop tunes. In fact this past Monday was 'Lady Gaga Day' on the metro, when the gaag was played all day long, non-stop. I've pretty much gotten used to the music and I barely notice it any more, but there's one as pect of it I never thought to question - the songs being played are almost always in English.

I never thought to question it because, as is the case in most European countries, the majority of songs on the radio are always in English as well. But I had never noticed before that despite the fact that this is a Francophone city, I have never heard a song in French. Nor have I ever heard a song in Dutch, the city's other official language (spoken as a primary language by 7% of the Brussels population).

Apparently there is method to this madness. According to an article in FlandersNews,

the Brussels public transport company STIB has a policy of only playing English songs on the metro, with a smattering of Spanish and Italian songs thrown in for good measure. French and Dutch songs have not been played for fear of aggravating tensions between the two sides of the language divide here.

Has this been overcautious? Apparently not. In April STIB put in an self-generating playlist of international European hits, perhaps assuming they were all going to be in English. But apparently this list included some French songs (one of which was a song in French by Belgian pop star Kate Ryan who is, ironically, Flemish). Apparently the STIB received dozens of complaints from Dutch speakers who were angry that the metro was playing international hits in French and not any international hits in Dutch. Perhaps there were just too many global Dutch hits to choose from!

So STIB pulled the plug on the playlist, and thankfully I'm in no danger of hearing any s

ongs on the metro that aren't in my mother tongue. And so ends another battle in Belgium's language wars. And next month, when the country hits its one year anniversary of having no government, at least Belgians won't have to hear any offensive music on the underground.


Dave Keating


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