Sunday, 1 May 2016

Who can not be interested in Belgian History - War, language and consensus in Belgium since 1830

This is an interesting book, and a good introduction to Belgian history. The volume is an outcome of a symposium Belgian Revealed, which was held at Trinity College in Dublin in 2005. In the foreword:
”Before a substantial audience, four prominent authors from Belgium and the Netherlands each highlighted a specific (mostly critical) vision of the origins of Belgium’s independence and of what that complex notion of ’belgitude’ is ultimately all about.”
Belgium gets a bad press. A small country - the size of Wales, with a population of just ten million - it rarely attracts foreign notice; when it does, the sentiment it arouses is usually scorn, sometimes distaste. Charles Baudelaire, who lived there briefly in the 1860s, devoted considerable splenetic attention to the country. His ruminations on Belgium and its people occupy 152 pages of the Oeuvres Complètes; Belgium, he concluded, is what France might have become had it been left in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Karl Marx, writing in a different key, dismissed Belgium as a paradise for capitalist. Many other exiles and émigrés have passed through the country; few have had much good to say of it. 
Whether Belgium needs to exist is a vexed question, but its existence is more than a historical accident. The country was born in 1830 with the support of the Great Powers of the time - France, Prussia and Britain, among others - none of whom wished to see it fall under the others’ sway.  
The Territory it occupies had been (and would remain) the cockpit of European history. Caaesar’s Gallia Belgica lay athwart the line that would separate Gallo-Roman territories from the Franks. When Charlemagne’s empire fell apart in the ninth century, the strategically located ’Middle Kingdom’ - between the lands that would later become France and Germany - emerged as a coveted territorial objective for the next millenium. The Valois kings, Bourbons, Habsburgs (Spanish and Austrian), Napoleon, Dutch, Prussian Germans, and, most recently, Hitler have all invaded Belgium and claimed parts of it for themselves, occupying and ruling it in some cases for centuries at a time. There are probably more battlefields, battle sites, and reminders of ancient and modern wars in Belgium than in any comparably sized territory in the world”
(Tony Judt)

Considering this rather 'messy' historical background, one might have some understanding, that even today, Belgium is a troubled country. Troubles started rather soon after the revolution and has continued every since. Mainly, it is the structure of the country and the stride between the Flemish and the Walloons. To further complicate matters today, Brussels is a region of its own. Well, it is rather complicated, but the essays in this book explain it well.

1 comment:

  1. I must admit war and history in Belgium is not on my radar. Interesting post though I will pay more attention in future.