Belgium is a country with three official languages and a lot of political tension. The video embedded below features Kris Janssens, a Belgian radio personality who is fed up with some of the politicians in his country, generated a lot of traffic on the Universal Subtitles website. In the video Janssens is venting about the Flemmish speaking majority failing to make decisions and take action (he speaks Flemmish himself on the radio, as well as in this video). We’re not experts on the situation, but here’s a story illustrates the political climate (via nytimes).

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At least two major French language (Belgian) publications linked to this video and we estimate that the video had roughly 90,000 views on Universal Subtitles site, out of the 215,000 total views reported on YouTube. For a country of 10 million people, that’s a pretty significant number of views. In fact, 70% of our visitors this month were from Belgian IP addresses (this isn’t counting views on embedded subtitle views across all Universal Subtitles videos, which is significantly more global).

The video itself reached across the political spectrum and seemed to be very well received by many of the French speaking viewers who sent us feedback. While it could have been downloaded, subtitled by a single person or small group, and re-uploaded to a new YouTube account for a single new language, there’s no guarantee that would have happened. It seems even less likely that a subtitled version would have ever appeared on a mainstream news program.

Instead, Universal Subtitles made the process of subtitling incredibly easy and very timely, allowing for maximum impact with very little effort from any single person or organization. It’s not clear if the person who originally put the video on Universal Subtitles was affiliated with the news organizations, Janssens, or working independently. However, at this point the origin of the initial subtitles seems moot; not only is the video available in French and German (the two additional official Belgian languages), but it’s also currently subtitled in English, Russian, Polish, Spanish, and Norwegian. Interested non-Flemmish speakers from all over Europe and the rest of the world can be more in-tune with what’s happening in Belgium’s heated political scene.

This story underlines the importance of subtitles in a multilingual society and world, and illustrates how an open and participatory process can foster clear communication across political, linguistic, and geographic barriers. We hope this is just the first of many examples of Universal Subtitles making good on the promise of more fluid and democratic communication in online video.

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