Breakup of Belgium / June Books 21) Autonomes, by Santi-Bucquoy

Thanks to eBay, I managed to track down this 1985 bande dessinée, which I remember browsing in a Paris bookstore shortly after publication. The author is Jan Bucquoy, best known now as the writer of the 1994 film La Vie sexuelle des Belges 1950-1978 / The Sexual Life of the Belgians , but at that time combining the careers of anarchist activist and writer of graphic novels. Autonomes is the first of his Chroniques de fin de siècle trilogy, set in (we deduce) about 1993 (so eight years in the future when the story was published).

Bucquoy’s future history (as we discover in a flashback about halfway through) begins with Belgium being taken over by a dictator in 1985 (the year of publication); he is then overthrown in 1990, and Belgium dissolves itself in about 1992. Bucquoy’s vision of how the three parts of Belgium evolve reflects the prejudices and hopes of a far-left Walloon activist.

Flanders goes fascist, with the best workers in the world – no strikes, no unions, run by the Volksunie (which seems to me a bit harsh on the Volksunie, though of course I wasn’t around at the time).

Brussels becomes a capitalist paradise, a hub of international trade (click on the picture above to get the full page which is a rather good example of telling a story just through imagined architecture).

And Wallonia becomes an new Eden, where Ecolo (the Green Party of Wallonia) have taken power and the citizens joyfully cooperate in the exploitation of alternative technologies and free love. (A close-up shows that the windsurfers here are nude.)

Our hero, Gérard Mordant, is chef de cabinet of the Walloon minister of the interior having served also as secretary of state for security and has a long history of radical activism (including a romance with Ulrika Meinhoff and a love-in with Daniel Cohn-Bendit). Our story starts at a concert to celebrate the overnment’s first year in power; Mordant slips off for some graphically depicted nookie with the daughter of the French ambassador; France, now run by an evil right-wing coalition of Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie le Pen, alleges that she has been abducted by Walloon extremists and takes this as an excuse to invade.

In fact Mordant and the girl have indeed been abducted by extremists, but they are French activists in sympathy with Mordant, who bring them across the border to Calais and then blow up the Eiffel Tower in solidarity with their Walloon brethren (in response to which the French army destroys Liège).


Mordant spends the rest of the (short) book shagging his way through the French activist community when he isn’t in shoot-outs with the security forces, and the story ends with an explosion at a nuclear plant which, it is hinted, may actually be a black operation by the French government rather than an attentat by Mordant’s activist friends.

Mordant is not a terribly attractive person; he is self-righteous and behaves horribly to the women who make love to him. Bucquoy’s politics are naïve and also dangerous. The book is dedicated to Ulrike Meinhoff and Elisabeth Vögel, “mortes pour des idées”; I haven’t been able to trace who the latter is, but Meinhoff co-founded a terrorist organisation which shot and blew up her own fellow-citizens, and Bucquoy clearly was fascinated the glamour and eroticism of supposed violent resistance against a system which was not really very repressive. (The end-papers of the book celebrate various other terrorist groups of the 1970s and 1980s, including of course the IRA.) It’s also notable that Bucquoy is much more comfortable telling the story of Mordant on the run than of Mordant as senior state security official in the Walloon government, and I think we may legitimately wonder how his regime treated opposition activists in the time between the break-up of Belgium and the French invasion. (Of course, perhaps independent Wallonia was such a paradise that there were no opposition activists to speak of. Umm…)

Yet I find myself sufficiently engaged to want to read the next volume at least.

(Apology in advance for next few entries – I have been travelling a lot in the last few weeks and am well behind with book-blogging.)

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