Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Campaign for women's suffrage in Belgium, 1908.
Source: Getty Images
Feminism (n.):
Belief in or advocacy of women's social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to the equality of the sexes.

Ah, what a dangerous word to (rightly or wrongly) bandy about these days. Or has it always been so?

In any case, the role of women in Belgian society, and particularly their rights and how hard they had to fight to get them, is the subject of this post.

Before Belgium's independence, when its states were under the control of Napoleon I, women weren't considered for much else except for reproduction purposes (or for men's pleasure, depending on which strata of the society you happened to belong to). For though he was behind great changes for his country and revamped the French legislature, among other things, Napoleon didn't believe those rights were meant for the "inferior sex."

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Boundary Between Flanders And Wallonia

Belgium split in two (or three, depending on who and where you are)
Who's heard of Belgium is also aware of the the sometimes, and unfortunately, great differences between its two main regions (Brussels notwithstanding): Flanders (the Flemish-speaking, Northern side) and Wallonia (the French-speaking, Southern portion).

What is really interesting, however, is that though this separation hasn't always existed (indeed, Belgium used to be a Celtic country before the "Germans" and Romans invaded them), this boundary between the two regions is perhaps much older than one might think, and takes us all the way back to...

358 C.E.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Century Of Freedom...And Political Changes

Albert Devèze
"A [political] party does not have a reason for being unless it possesses its own ideal which it pursues with  the conscious and tenacious effort to progressively achieve it, an ideal which is susceptible to arouse within its adherents enthusiastic impulses and fervors of faith.
Does that mean the party must adhere to an immutable dogmatism, whose rigid rule will be the norm of its activity? Definitely not. It must, on the contrary, understand that when it comes to translating its idealism into positive laws, that these can only be the legislative raiment adapted to the measure of the social being who wears it; that this collective being, through internal and external transformations, suffers all the phenomena of growth and development, health and sickness, and that yesterday's impossibilities must consequently become today's possibilities and tomorrow's inevitable. If such is not that party's concept of politics, it would soon become a power of blind conservatism first, of reaction next. From then on, its decline would sanction its divorce from the people's material and moral necessities whose destinies it would have the pretension to hamper."
~Albert Devèze, Un siècle de libéralisme
(transl. by A. Ellefson)

After the Catholic Party, it is the Liberal Party that is the oldest political party in Belgium, having been officially formed in 1846, followed by the third of the three major parties, the Socialist Party, which was founded in 1857 (although, with time, these have split and reformed into many other parties).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Anecdotal Story From The 1830 Revolution

Belgian revolutionaries from Liege, 1830
I’m still reading out of the 1830-1930 La Patrie Belge book of the Editions illustrées du “SOIR” Bruxelles, and just fell on a text by H. Liebrecht talking about the 1830 Revolution, out of which I’m going to translate a number of passages for you, for I find them to be quite interesting, even if I have already spoken about the events before.

The Allied Forces’ decision to place Belgium under the United Kingdom of the Netherlands’s
Louis De Potter in his cell at the Prison des Petits-Carmes
(Dec. 2, 1829)
dominion in 1815 did not please the Belgians of the time. And right they were to feel that way for they suffered religious intolerance, extra financial charges and taxes, and administrative partiality until poverty reigned throughout Belgium’s provinces. In the meantime, the country found its freedom of press continuously encroached upon, especially with regards to those journalists who dared to speak up against the Dutch yoke. Thus, from 1816 to 1828, 23 newspapers and more than 80 journalists were taken to court.

But it’s not until the July 1830 revolution in Paris, where the French people managed to force their then King Charles X and the Duc D’Angoulème to abdicate, that the Belgians finally realized they could defeat their own government as well.

Thus, when King William I had a huge celebration planned for his birthday, and that despite the fact that the Belgian People were being overtaxed (particularly by the impôts de la mouture, a tax placed upon the grains that must be paid before they can be ground into flour for bread-making), a number of revolutionaries stuck red posters up at street corners that read: “Monday, fireworks; Tuesday, illuminations; Wednesday, revolution.”

Friday, July 31, 2015

1887: King Leopold II Worries About The Future Of Belgium And Europe

The World's Sovereigns 1889 (photomontage)
The one in the center is Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, seated to his left on a chair is Queen Victoria.
King Leopold II of Belgium is the second man on his right (long dark beard), while the two men standing right next to him are; Left: Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria; Right: Tsar Aleksandr III
While in London in 1887 to attend the celebrations for his cousin Queen Victoria’s 50 years of reign, Belgium’s second King, Leopold II (who later became infamous for his role in the Congo massacre), wrote the following to his chief of state:
King Leopold II

Europe’s political future remains rather uncertain […]. If we wish to remain independent, we need to strengthen ourselves and prove ourselves worthy of our independence.

As you can tell, he was already quite worried about what was fomenting behind the curtains within Europe’s highest political spheres.

Upon his return, King Leopold II desired to have a true Belgian army raised instead of their current conscription system which mainly allowed richer folks to pay poorer ones to take their spot in this army. Unfortunately, these changes were voted down by the Chamber of Ministers in July.

So the King decides to play a little game: pretend that he doesn’t want to uphold his obligations (such as attending an important party in Bruges in August) to show his displeasure with his government, then finally accede to their entreaties upon the condition that they let him hold a speech (WARNING: it is quite a long read). The maneuver works, and on August 15, 1887, King Leopold II says the following to a large crowd:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Happy Birthday Belgium!

Tomorrow, July 21, will be the celebration of Belgium's first step towards independence, aka the beginning of its revolution (which started with a Broadway-like play, if you will).

185 years of independence (discounting the years of occupation, of course). It's rather young for an "Old World" country, but that's one of the things that makes Belgium so interesting, isn't it?

In any case, I'm reading this great book that was published in 1930 by the Editions illustrées du "SOIR" Bruxelles published in celebration of Belgium's 100 year anniversary (ah, how I love history!). And in its first pages, I found this great genealogical tree of the Royal Family which I thought I'd share with you here (notice how beautiful Princess Astrid was, so beautiful and such a tragic fate after the publication of this book).

PS: Apologies for the crookedness of the picture...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Three Fun Facts About The Battle Of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo
Two hundred years ago, this day, the Emperor Napoleon suffered a devastating loss against the Anglo-Prussio-Dutch-Hanoverian-Nassau-Brunswick armies (quite a mouthful, eh? But Napoleon wasn't a favorite among  non-French people...not that he was always a favorite amongst the French themselves either). The battle took place in Waterloo, a town just south of Brussels, in the then United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In any case, I have a friend who's worked for a number of years at the Wellington Museum in Waterloo who knows quite a few interesting tidbits about the battle itself, and related facts. So, without further ado, here they are:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Once Upon A Time... 14-18 Belgium At War

Someone just lent me this amazing little book--half comic-strip, half history book--that I definitely recommend anyone read (it's only in French though):

Il était une fois 14-18 La Belgique en guerre.

It's the loving work of artist and author David P.who spent countless hours combing through the Army Museum of Brussels and flea markets to find all the amazing pictures strewn throughout the pages. Not only that, but the booklet contains also many testimonials left in books and journals, quotes, notes of reference, and other little tidbits, all while also giving information on the war itself, what lead to it and its consequences, in palatable yet juicy morsels.

Belgium, of course, was supposed to remain neutral during what turned out to be a terrible war that marred everyone's psyche. But even so, Belgium was such a small country, known for being a "friendly nation unlikely to harbor great sentimental impulses, inhabited by patient and obstinate workers, skilled artisans, robust farmers, and enterprising bourgeois all comfortably asleep on their pillow of obligatory and guaranteed neutrality while finding any warlike fracas repugnant," that no one, not even its own citizens, expected it to rise so heroically and determinedly against the invaders.

Again, this is a must-read for anyone interested in history, and that of the First World War in particular! (And, of course, for those willing to read it in French...) The book can be found on the editor's website here.

Quote taken (and translated from French) from the Preface of the book written by Professor Francis Balace, University of Liège.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Belgian Popes

From 1789 to 1929, the hamlet of Lodomez, near Luxembourg, has had its own pope.

It all happened because of the French revolution (1789-1799), which on top of having a number of noble heads rolling had also taken upon itself to de-Christianize the country. But despite the reign of terror imposed by the revolutionaries, many kept their faith. And in Lodomez, it is the farmer Antoine Hurdebise who took over for the exiled ecclesiastics, assembling everyone for prayer, baptizing newborns and giving the last sacraments, and that despite the new edicts forbidding it. It is therefore no surprise that the abandoned parishioners started calling Hurdebise "le pape."

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Palace Of Justice

May the expenditures be as large as possible, so that the palace will be worthy of its purpose and its city. ~Jule Anspach.

Sitting upon its hill overlooking a wide span of Brussels, including the basilica of Koekelberg and the Atomium (more on those later), is the Palais de Justice which was started in 1866 and inaugurated in 1883. A propitious hill for its purpose, I suppose, considering the Galgenberg hill was where convicted criminals were hanged back during the Middle Ages.

The Greco-Roman style is evident everywhere you go.

The architect Poelaert
The Palace of Justice is the Greco-Roman style creation of one free-mason Joseph Poelaert, and cost an astounding 46.45 million Belgian francs to build (about 5 times its initial budget), which is only normal when you're talking about the biggest building constructed in the 19th century! The building of this behemoth required the relocation of over a hundred inhabitants of the Quartier des Marolles, and despite the compensation received, people weren't happy with it. Which is why the word "architect" became one of the worst insults possible one could bandy about Brussels at the time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leopold I In Animation

Just found out that this cool Belgian animation team at Mad Cat Studio is putting together a 26-minute long humorous (yet historical) cartoon based on Belgium's creation and its first king!

True facts, you say? That is right. Like the fact that the Belgian "army" had no true weapons to fight the Dutch army seeking to regain its lost territory (see here for a little more on Holland's previous role)--a minor detail the ministers had forgotten to take into account, apparently!

For those of you interested in giving this awesome project a hand, here's their crowdfunding site:
Leopold roi des belges

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Leaders Of The Belgian Revolution

Provisionary Belgian government after the 1830 revolution.
From left to right, seated, Alexandre Gendebien, Charles Rogier, Louis-Joseph de Potter,
Baron Feuillen de Coppin de Falaën, Comte Philippe de Mérode, standing André-Edouard Jolly, Jean-Sylvain van de Weyer, Joseph Van der Linden, Emmanuel Vanderlinden Baron d'Hoogvorst.

The territory that now encompasses Belgium saw itself pass between different hands quite a lot before its fight for independence started in mid-1830, mostly those of the French, Spanish (Hapsburgs) and Dutch. In fact, between 1794 and 1814, it had been part of the French Empire, before Napoleon lost his war and Belgium became part of the Southern Netherlands.

One of the reasons why so many people speak French in Belgium nowadays is due to this fact, as Napoleon's government installed many of its citizens in key civic positions around Dutch-speaking Flanders, Brabant and Limburg (it's also a reason why so many of the upper and middle classes at the time were also French-speaking).

Once Belgium was integrated into the French Empire, the industrial revolution reached Belgium, and the first steam-powered engines were clandestinely introduced into the country.
Other important changes introduced by Napoleon's reign: new judicial framework on civil rights (foundation for the future Belgian civil code); Wallonia became the most industrialized region of Europe; the port of Antwerp becomes extra-profitable; obligatory military service; zero political freedom; the use of Dutch is repressed in Flanders and nothing can be printed in that language either. (Source)
Needless to say, when Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, it was suddenly left with little to no voice in the key areas as economic, political, and social policy. Compounding that problem was the fact that the majority of Belgium was Catholic, while the ruler in the Netherlands was Protestant.

In any case, some French immigrants ended up at the head of the Belgian revolution, namely Charles Rogier, the Comte Félix de Mérode, and Alexandre Gendebien. So who were these men?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

When Holland Had Two Capitals

I know, this is a blog about Belgium (and Europe, by extension), so why devote a post to Holland? Well, it turns out that Belgium used to be part of the Netherlands, before Belgium became its own country.

The first king of the Netherlands, King Willem Frederick I, after the northern and southern parts of that country were united. The new king had wanted to have only one capital at the time, Brussels, as he had a predilection for the Southern part of his country (as evidenced by his serious investments in that area--see below). But the Powers that Be (previously mentioned in The Birth And Evolution Of An Artificial State) decided otherwise, and so the Netherlands had two heads of state for a while: Brussels and The Hague.

As a result, the Dutch Parliament had to travel "from one capital to the other, as did 600 families o functionaries and the diplomatic corp. Moving back and forth cost a lot of money, and much energy and time was lost transporting archives."

Monday, January 19, 2015

King Leopold, The Lady-Killer

Before becoming Belgium's first king, Prince Leopold spent some time at Napoleon's court, where his good looks made him a favorite with none other than the Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, and her sister Hortense (married to Napoleon's brother Louis), among many others.

Not only that, but Leopold was later remember by Napoleon, during the latter's exile at Saint Helena, as "the most beautiful man [he] ever saw at the Tuileries palace."

Josephine and Hortense de Beauharnais
And that was before he turned 20!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Birth And Evolution Of An Artificial State

Belgium: n. from the Latin word Belgica, which means the Netherlands. In reference to the Celtic tribe that lived over that area, the Belgae, and were the bravest and strongest according to Caesar.

Belgium was officially created and recognized by the Western Powers in 1831 (almost a year after the Belgians asserted their independence from the Netherlands), when Prince Leopold Georg Christian Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg was made first King of the Belgians, a claim backed mainly by the Brits.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Few Basic Facts On Belgium

The purpose of this blog is for me to:

  1. Learn more about Belgium - having gone to a European school for my elementary and secondary education, then to an American school for my university studies, I'm afraid I really don't know much about it and how it's run.
  2. Learn more about Europe - Belgium being one of its original founders, I think it would be hard to address one without addressing the other.
  3. Try to make sense of the politics, laws, and other intricacies that inevitably come with a country, and Belgium is quite the Gordian Knot in that sector (it is well known, for example, for its strikes and misfiling papers, tactics which worked quite well during the German occupation in WWII).
So before I delve into anything more complicated, I figured I'd give a few quick facts about Belgium...

Belgium and its regions:

I think that's about it for now. We'll dive into more details in another post!

List of countries and dependencies by area
The World Factbook - CIA