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Popular Topics in The Arts
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Congratulations to Elio Di Rupo, Prime Minister of Belgium
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/02/11
Last updated on: 12/10/11
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Elio di Rupo. Photograph by Luc van Braekel (cc by 2.0).
Eighteen months after an indecisive election and unprecedented political gridlock, the fractious political parties of Belgium have finally formed a governing coalition that has brought to power the country's first openly gay Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo.

Since June 2010, the country has been managed by a transitional caretaker government, but the Eurozone crisis seems to have spurred an end to the gridlock. Six parties with enough combined Parliament seats to govern reached a coalition agreement on November 30, 2011 and presented it to King Albert II on December 1, 2011. Elio Di Rupo was sworn in as Prime Minister on December 6, 2011.

A leader of Belgium's Socialist Party, Di Rupo is the country's first head of government since the 1970s whose first language is French, a subject of controversy in a country divided between 4.5 million French speakers, who live mainly in Wallonia in the south, and 6.5 million Dutch speakers, who live mainly in Flanders, the wealthier northern region.

The son of an Italian immigrant, Di Rupo has promised to improve his spoken Dutch, which is considered noticeably weak in a country where officials and politicians are usually expected to be fluent in both of the country's main languages, as well as in English.

A colorful figure, known for his red bow-ties and broad smile, Di Rupo is a rare center-left voice in a European Union that has veered right, and one of only a few openly gay world leaders. He joins Iceland's Johanna Sigurdardottir, who also came to power during an economic crisis, as one of only two openly gay prime ministers.

Di Rupo, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, has previously served as the Minister-President of the Walloon region and has held a number of cabinet posts in the federal government.

In 1996, Di Rupo experienced the most stressful time in his life when he was falsely accused of having had sex with minors. He has said that he might have killed himself had he not been totally vindicated in the affair.

Yet this crisis led to the liberation he felt when he publicly came out. Pursued by a journalist, Di Rupo was asked whether he was homosexual. He famously replied, "Yes. So What?"

People were startled and moved by the simplicity and truthfulness of his reply.

The revelation of Di Rupo's homosexuality seems to have had no effect on his political career. Three years later, he was elected leader of the Socialist Party. This acceptance is perhaps not surprising in a country that in 2003 became the second in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

The new government is not expected to be popular since it will have to preside over the implementation of severe austerity measures and the management of deeply entrenched regional and ethnic divisions. But, given the country's political gridlock, the government is expected to survive until the next scheduled elections in 2014.

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