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.

Leopold I
It is said that "Lord Palmerston, the Foreign [British] Secretary, liked the prospect of a weak and divided bogus state on his doorstep." Divided, because Belgium was made up of two very distinct, and very different regions: Catholic Dutchmen in the North (the Flemings), and French-speaking Walloons in the South. (The third, and smallest region, was taken from Germany as tribute after WWI but is generally considered to be part of Wallonia).

Not only was it considered a "bogus state," but none of the men in power at the time, including Napoleon III and Lord Bismarck, believed that Belgium would last for more than a couple of generations, especially since so many of its own citizens didn't even like the made-up country either. Indeed, it is really difficult to keep an artificial state together: "Until the late 1980s, Europe had four of these artificial states: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. Today, only Belgium remains." (Although I would argue that those in Ulster and Scotland feel Great Britain is another such artificial state, but I know many would not agree with me. Also, it's been stated that Switzerland doesn't count because the country grew organically--it helps to be surrounded by mountains like that, and the Swiss do have a strong sense of nationalism.)

Fortunately, after Leopold's nephew, Albert, married Queen Victoria, the British Empire became Belgium's number one supporter. Ever since then, the royal family has "been constantly in search of unifying elements to compensate for the lack of nationhood and the absence of genuine and generous patriotic feelings in their country." In fact, to this day, some Flemings and Walloons still have a hard time getting along.

Some posit that, about a hundred years ago, "the Belgian establishment realized that Belgium could only survive if it were to become the nucleus of a European state." In fact, many believe that Belgium acts as a model for the European Union itself, as both need to deal with the same problems that stem from unifying different cultures and peoples under one roof.

Walloons and Flemings
Let's march together
for the Country and Freedom
As Leon Hennebicq once wrote in 1904, "Have we [Belgians] not been called the laboratory of Europe? Indeed, we are a nation under construction. The problem of economic expansion is duplicated perfectly here by the problem of constructing a nationality. Two different languages, different classes without cohesion, a parochial mentality, and adherence to local communities that borders on the most harmful egotism, these are all elements of disunion. Luckily they can be reconciled. The solution is economic expansion, which can only make us stronger by uniting us."

I would like to note here that it isn't until Belgium held fast--or at least as much as it could given its size and age--against Germany in WWI that the other countries finally admitted that the then-new Belgium might live longer than anticipated, and that a sense of nationality finally developed (even if not necessarily by the whole population). Therefore, the presence of a common enemy can also help in said unification. Well, that and a really good national soccer/football team!

On that note, I would like to say: VIVA BELGICA!

L'Union fait la force.
Eendracht maakt macht.
Einigkeit macht stark.
Strength in unity.

Quotes are taken out of A Throne in Brussels
Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae, Julius Ceasar (De Bello Gallico, Book I, Ch. 1)
King Leopold I Wiki

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