The people of Belgium are primarily of two ethnic groups, the Flemings
(Teutonic origin) and the Walloons (Celtic origin, probably with
an admixture of Alpine elements). The most distinguishing characteristic
of these two groups is language. The Flemings speak Dutch (often
referred to by its historic regional name, Flemish; see Flemish
Language), and the Walloons speak French.
The predominantly Flemish provinces are in the northern half of
Belgium, called Flanders (Flemish Region), and the predominantly
Walloon provinces are in the southern half, called Wallonia. The
capital of Brussels, an enclave within the Flanders region, is mixed.
In 1993 these three ethnolinguistic areas became official federal
In 1963 a law was passed establishing three official languages within
Belgium: Dutch was recognized as the official language in the north,
French in the south, and German along the eastern border.
In the city and suburbs of Brussels, both French and Dutch are
officially recognized, although French speakers are the larger group.
In the country as a whole, strictly Dutch speakers make up about
58 percent, and French speakers about 32 percent of the population,
while about 10 percent are bilingual or speak German or other languages.
In 1971 a constitutional change was enacted giving political recognition
to these three linguistic communities, providing cultural autonomy
for them, and also revising the administrative status of Brussels.
About three-quarters of the Belgian population is Roman Catholic,
but this number and regular church attendance are on the decline.
Religious liberty is guaranteed, and part of the stipend for the
ministers of all faiths is paid by the government. Other religions
practiced within the country include a number of Protestant denominations,
Judaism, and Islam.