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Belgium takes a world record – in political dysfunction

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Yves Logghe/AP

(Read caption) Students show a red placard during a pro-unity demonstration in Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium, Thursday, Feb. 17. The country's citizens are marking 249 days without a government, a figure that they are treating as a world record.

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Belgium today marks a dubious world record: 249 days of a nonfunctioning government. It has the honor of eclipsing the previous record-holder, Iraq.

The standoff between French and Dutch-speaking political leaders dates to last June and has become so absurd and tragic-comic that all sides are briefly blowing off the tragedy part and protesting with comedy in a national party.

Activists in Belgian cities laid out free chips, a robust French fry, and the national dish, in what has been called a “Chip Revolution.” The hope is that it can play off the Jasmine and Orange revolutions in Tunisia and Ukraine respectively and force some comity and common sense on the politicians.

The group “Not in Our Name” wants a compromise, and leaders of the group today described their “Chip Revolution” as “self-deprecating…. In Tunisia, Jasmine has been used to throw the government out. Here, the chips are for asking the government to come back!”

"Shame," a student-led protest organized on the Internet two weeks ago, brought 30,000 to the streets of Brussels. There’s also been a “Ban the Beard” movement on Facebook, where participants sign up and refuse to shave until the government forms. Belgian students today stripped in public in protest but did not reach the 249 naked citizens hoped for. Last week, a female Belgian senator called on women to refuse connubial relations until the two sides get together.

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