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).

Belgium's coat of arms which reads:
"Unity Creates Strength"
According to Mr. Devèze, Belgium's first regime was a "bourgeois oligarchy" based on an electoral principle of selective suffrage (where only select citizens whose taxes were above a preset level were allowed to vote). Later, this was temporarily changed to multiple voting rights (where one person can vote more than once--a system which was fraught with fraud and corruption), before universal suffrage was set up (and I'm not talking about the right of women to vote here, which only came to be in 1919, with some conditions, whereas the right for women to stand for election didn't come into existence until 1921) (1).

Apart from universal suffrage, mandatory education was another major point highly debated in belgian politics during its first century of being, and it is interesting to note that, today, children in Belgium are still obliged to attend school until they are 18 years of age (one of the longest in the world). The Catholic Party of the time was adamant about allowing private schools to continue to exist, schools whose curricula wouldn't fall immediately under the State's jurisdiction (2). The government was also preoccupied with higher education, and in 1835 a few state universities were created (as opposed to, for instance, the Université catholique de Louvain which was founded in 1425): the Universities of Liége, Ghent, and Brussels.

Children working in a belgian crystal factory, end of 19th c.
A third front of contention between the parties was that of socialism, particularly important since at first (as already mentioned), the government was held by the bourgeoisie, aka all the business owners who wanted to have their products be made as cheaply as possible, a sound economic principle but one which can lead to much misery if the well-being and safety of the workers isn't taken into consideration. Thus, in 1850 Rogier helped create the first state retirement fund (aka social security), the first "mutuals" (saving funds to help workers with things such as, for example, healthcare, workers' comp, etc.), and syndicates, then, in 1859, he wrote the first drafts of a legislation for women and children's rights in the workforce (though, because of "tenacious prejudices" at the time, these failed at first).

As Devèze put it, "it was indispensable to give the worker class a higher standard of life, to bring it out of the oppressed and depressed situation in which it had lived thus far." A great belgian movie to watch which broaches the topic is the 1992 movie Daens:

Of course, there are plenty more points which the three main political factions voted on (and heatedly debated), for they had a lot of work creating, getting rid of or altering laws, to truly unify and economically develop all those city-states and territories which, over the centuries, kept changing hands before becoming what is now known as Belgium. Work that is seemingly never-ending, even close to 200 years later! But is the original spirit that moved this country's "founding fathers" and mentioned in this post's introduction still alive and well in today's politics?

Catholic poster against the Socialist
Party for the 1929 legislative elections
(1) In 1929, voting age was 21 on the condition of having lived at least for six months in the country.

(2) Yes, there was an actual "war between school systems." It is interesting to note here that the Catholic Party viewed the State as trying to take control of every single aspect of Belgians' lives (something which seems to still be the case nowadays) whereas the other parties believed the Catholic Party just wanted to retain its monopoly on education. The country being predominantly Catholic, a lot, if not most, of the schools back then were Catholic, and taught such classes as religion and ethics (two classes which some in the today's government are trying to remove definitely from its public educational program, something which I personally find to be a shame). It is also interesting to point out here is that the Catholic Party noted the emergence of a growing free mason movement underlying the other parties (Le Parti Catholique (1830-1930), Comte H. Carton de Wiart for Les Editions illustrées du "SOIR" Bruxelles).


  1. Great summary, Alessa! If you want to see other Flmeish historical- or more recent- films, just let me know! :)
    As for the obligation to attend school, education in Belgium does not have to take place at a registered school. Children can just as easily be homeschooled.There is a "leerplicht", not a "schoolplicht".

    1. Ah, I see! That is very good to know, especially considering how complicated it can be just to sign up your kid to school these days! O.o
      I would LOVE to see other Flemish historical and/or more recent films, AND I would also like to see Daens again--it's been so long (but I still remember parts of it, like the young girl who dies because of her pregnancy!!).

  2. My collegue just informed me that the situation is different in the French-speaking community. Apparently, you can be homeschooled there until the age of 12. The 1st and 2nd year of highschool you have to attend highschool and afterward you can choose other options (e.g. formation en alternance, ...).
    In Flanders, on the other hand, I've heard of children being homeschooled until the age of 18 who afterwards have to pass exams in front of a jury to obtain their highschool degree. It just goes to show again just how complicated and diverse everything is between the two main communities in Belgium.

    Great! I think I can find Daens easily in the library. :) I've got a beautiful, poetic Flemish film at home that's called "Manneke Pis". :)

    1. Yes, it's interesting how both sides wish so strongly to go their own way instead of agreeing on one system. And then people wonder why it's so hard to get all the university systems here in Europe to agree on how to accept people (based on what scores, etc)!

      Haha! For some reason I don't think of the words "beautiful" or "poetic" when reading the title Manneke Pis :)

    2. Haha! :) Well, here's the movie poster: http://www.moviemeter.nl/film/4074

    3. Oh, after reading the description and some of the comments, I'm looking forward to seeing that movie too :)

  3. By the way, did you know that Julien Schoenaerts, father of Matthias Schoenaerts, plays the bishop in Daens?

    1. Really? I don't think I've ever seen the son play in anything, though I hear he's becoming more and more popular.

      Can't wait to see Daens again!!! :D

  4. A great image that represents the plural vote (or the law of the four infamies):