Interior Minister launches preventative strike in Rand

It may seem petty to outsiders, but the language in which voters are invited to cast their ballot is a sensitive issue in Belgium. Under Belgian law the invitation should be in the language of the region where people live, but there is an exception for the municipalities where members of a linguistic minority have been granted special rights, e.g. in the Flemish area around Brussels where French-speakers enjoy special rights in six municipalities.

A circular drawn up by an earlier Flemish Interior Minister obliges these municipalities to send the invitations in Dutch first, though Francophones can subsequently request a French version, if they so wish.

The current Flemish Interior Minister Geert Bourgeois (Flemish nationalist) is not taking any chances and has now enlisted the services of the Governor of Flemish Brabant to ensure that the invitations are sent out in Dutch. He's bypassing a string of Francophone mayors, whom he may suspect of planning to flout the circular.

In the past this is what they have done. They simply sent out the invitations in French from the start. The demarche even resulted in the mayors not being properly appointed after earlier local elections.

Mr Bourgeois defends his initiative: "I am acting in a proactive fashion. In the past there has been a cacophony. The law has been violated. It looks like it's going to happen again."

The invitations should be in people's letter-boxes on Monday before the Francophone mayors get a chance to act.

Mr Bourgeois insists that any mayors sending out other invitations are making 'silly expenses': "I keep account of everything. I dispatch observers to the local council meeting. If illegal decisions are taken I will act."

The Flemish Interior Minister denies that he is being provocative: "We should change our mentality. It's not us who are being provocative. Repeatedly the Council of State has ruled that in these municipalities Dutch is the priority language."