Belgium Explained To Slovenes (And Whoever Else ) In Ten Easy Lessons

Another excellent guest post by ARF. Enjoy!
LESSON II : THE FLEMING vs. WALLOON THING

Part One : The Flemish

fladers_flag.jpg
The flag of Flanders. No relation to Ned Flanders of the Simpsons and very much alike the Panther of Karantania

WHAT THE HELL IS IT?

It’s NOT Monty Python’s Flying Circus, although the opposing attitudes might win a prize for major silliness. What is it then? Well, it’s the opposition of two cultures who were put together because of the founding of what is now our father- or motherland. Yet both factions seem more like orphans put together in the same household without each other’s consent. I’m afraid the matter is so complex I have to split it up and deal with it in a few posts. I’ll deal with the Flemings first…
HOW DID IT START?

As I explained in my first guest post, it all started when Belgium was conceived and, in short, our French speaking brethren were lumped in with us Flemings and had control over the government and economy. Consequently, they looked down on the Flemish as being uneducated and unsophisticated boorish louts, only to be used to squeeze for their farming produce and cheap labour in Walloon- controlled factories and mines and be intimidated by the French speaking clergy, since this country used to be the epicenter of Catholicism (thank, erm, god we’ve got all that behind us now)…

Hang on a second : before I go on, I should make something clear. I’m not angry at my Walloon brethren and sisters. Alas, history forces me to give evidence of their less than desirable attitude towards Flemings in a space of roughly 150 years. And, as you’ll come to see, a role reversal has taken place over the past 187 years. So with that out of the way, let’s move on…

Francophone culture dominated Belgium from the start and the official language was French. So were there no Flemings in control? Oh yes there were. But they did their best to forget all about their Flemish heritage. And that wasn’t a novelty. I spoke of the Flemish National Holiday briefly last week : on July 11th 1302 The Battle of the Golden Spurs was fought. Basically, an army of Flemish knights, soldiers, trade guilds and whoever could wield a weapon defeated an army of French soldiers, noblemen and their allies, even though they were outnumbered 2 to 1. Fighting with the French were the Flemish collaborators, called ?Liliards’, because they had sworn allegiance to the French flag, which then sported a lily. The Flemish partisans were called ?Clawards, because their symbol was the Flemish Lion. You can bet your sweet Slovene bottom that these collaborators were sought out and paid for their service to the occupying French with their lives in very painful and lengthy ways.

You can imagine Flemings consorting with yet another band of French speaking individuals at the expense of their own heritage didn’t fall all to well in the 19th century either. And while the times they have a- changed, you can still find blue-haired old ladies of the almost extinct bourgeoisie rank in my home town Leuven who address each other in French, much to the dismay of present day Lovanians, especially those who fought for the Flemification of the Leuven University in the 60’s. That in itself is worth a post, but then this guest post thing would take up more than ten lessons and not be easy… 😛

THE ONE MAN LITERARY FLEMISH ARMY TO THE RESCUE

So while the Walloons and their new batch of Liliards were in power, things seemed pretty bleak for the Flemings. An expression which illustrates this has survived to this day. Whenever the officers in the Belgian army explained something or gave orders, they did so in French and added ”Et pour les Flamands la même chose” (“And the same goes for the Flemings”).

By all counts, you should think we’d be feeling pretty bad about ourselves. After all, you’re being treated as a second class citizen on a daily basis. And yes, we developed a victim complex roughly the size of the former Soviet Union, which later turned into a typical Belgian syndrome. “We’re just lowly Belgians and basically, we’re sorry we are. Please forgive us, we can’t help being born here”. Well, thanks to people like Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Tia Hellebaut and Kim Gevaert (tennis, tennis, World Champion High Jump, European Champion 100 & 200m Dash) we only have our national football team to be ashamed of. 😀 I told you we had a lot in common, didn’t I?

But long before our sporty women, one man wouldn’t let all this slide and he attempted to reconnect the Fleming with his Flemish identity. His name was Hendrik Conscience and he is now known as ?The Man Who Taught His People To Read’. He wrote his novels in a very baroque style of Dutch with heavy Flemish overtones (Flemish is a variant of Nizozemsko) in a time when you were guaranteed to be ousted for doing something inflammatory like that. Nevertheless, Conscience stuck to his guns and is revered for it to this day. Not quite France Preseren, but there are, once again, similarities : two writers, both revered for giving their countrymen a sense of identity. Personally, I think his writing is kind of pompous, but it did the trick back then, I suppose. I would have preferred a poet who’d give us a drinking song for a national anthem, though… :mrgreen:

FLEMISH IDENTITY

It’s not the easiest of subjects to write about, because Flemish emancipation only started happening inbetween the two World Wars and went on for long after that. And it’s still going on. Some say it won’t end until Flanders de facto separates from Wallonia; something which causes nightmares down South. But more on that next week…

This empancipation is responsible for a rift within the Flemish community as well, as some of those who historically opposed the founding of Belgium from one generation to the next and either wanted to remain with the Dutch or have an independent Flemish state felt that their future lay with the Nazis during WW II and collaborated willingly, thinking Hitler would grant them the status of allied free state within the Third Reich, purely on cultural kinship. There even was a separate SS brigade fighting on the Eastern Front, the Langemark Brigade. Needless to say, these people were misled and all they got to show for when the war was over was defeat, disdain, imprisonment and their civil rights taken away for several years. Not that many of them minded the latter consequence, since they didn’t want to be Belgian anyway.

Some of the collaborators and their offspring would later found a political nationalist party, the Volksunie, which weighed heavily on Belgian politics and around the end of the 70’s gave birth to the Vlaams Blok (Flemish Block), whose founder, the now late Karel Dillen (The Man Who Could Look Around A Corner With One Eye While Looking Back With The Other; not in the least related to Bob Dylan) felt the VU wasn’t extreme enough. Well, denying the Holocaust and glorifying Nazi Germany was second nature to this man and it is no wonder that what is now called Vlaams Belang (Flemish Importance/Interest) is thé party whose programme is directed against – mostly Arab – foreigners, gays, lesbians and bi’s, intellectuals and artists, calls for an independent Flanders most vehemently and basically wants to turn Flanders into a police state.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Dear ol’ Adolf would’ve loved it back in the day. Unfortunately, it made sure that Flemish symbols like our regional flag are being looked at as being separatist and racist, because Vlaams Belang hijacked them. Doesn’t make things any easier, I tell you. Show your pride about your cultural heritage and even your own people might label you a party member – it’s become a standard insult to call someone ?Vlaams Belanger’ – with all the negative adjectives it entails. Much to the delight of the party itself, for which this fencing in is an electoral godsend…

Nevertheless, the Flemish identity rose to the foreground from a more civilized standpoint from the 60’s – even though we did have our fair share of rioting – and that hard working ethic and that out right stubbornness of ours made sure that by the 70’s Flemings were a force to be reckoned with. While the political parties back then were still bilingual and thus bicultural – federalization in the beginning of the 80’s split the parties into Flemish and Walloon counterparts, the Flemish politicians gradually took over, because by sheer population demographics, they had the highest voter percentages and thus got to deliver the prime ministers. Of the 10- odd million Belgians there are 58% Flemings and 38% Walloons. This has left the latter outnumbered and outgunned every time for about thirty years now. They are really up for moving a Wallonian prime minister into the Wetstraat 16 again (our No.10 Downing Street) but alas, unless a strong case of bird flu or The Black Plague eradicates 50% of all the Flemings and doesn’t hit Wallonia, this isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

WALLOONS ACCORDING THE THE FLEMISH

To finish off, I’ll sum up some commonplace clichés which show how Flemings think about their Walloon brethren and sisters :

-They’re lazy and live on welfare, paid for by ?us’ (the rich Flanders region and specifically we, the tax payers. While these are generalizations, there is some truth in this statement, but to explain it in detail would take me forever and bore the hell out of y’all).

-They outright refuse to learn or speak Dutch/Flemish (sad but true; Flemings still speak French in a lager percentage and will try to accommodate the Walloons even by speaking French to them in Flanders, although this is starting to change).

-Their politicians are more corrupt than ours (not likely; Flemish politicians cleaned up their act much earlier and Wallonian scandals are only now getting out; that’s all).

Up next week : The Walloons…

Belgium Explained To Slovenes (And Whoever Else ) In Ten Easy Lessons

N.B.: This is the first ever guest post on pengovsky.com. Appropriately enough, it was written by ARF, one of the few people I know who (in my opinion) should be legally forced to blog (vox populi indeed). As you will see, his blog is long overdue. I’ve only taken the liberty of adding some links to ARF’s text and a most approprate picture, I’m sure, but other than that I (obviously) left the post as-is.

Enjoy! I know I did 😀

BELGIUM EXPLAINED TO SLOVENES (AND WHOEVER ELSE ) IN TEN EASY LESSONS

miss_uni.jpg
Tjaša Kokalj, Miss Universe Slovenia (left) & Annelien Coorevits, Miss Universe Belgium (right) – accopmanied by Miss Universe Montenegro Snežana Busković (source)

LESSON I : IN THE BEGINNING

WHAT THE HELL IS IT?

It’s Belgium, baby! The center of the European Universe (just ask Poulette), the capital of Brussels (to many an American), host to some of the picturesque cities in the European Union (Brugge, that’s Bruges to the rest of you) and, to just about everyone besides its citizens, a cultural and political enigma. By popular demand, I was requested to explain Belgium to you. And who am I to ignore the Vox Populi?

Pengovsky, my dear friend and connaisseur of certain Belgian beers, is gracious enough to lend me some of his precious blog space to attempt to explain to you my Home Away From Slovenija. If it doesn’t make you any wiser, at least you might get some entertainment out of it. Sit back, get yourselves a Duvel and enjoy the ride (or the Duvel) (or both)…

WHY SHOULD SLOVENES CARE?

Because I’ve always maintained we have a lot in common. See, for one, Slovenija is almost exactly 2/3 the size of Belgium. Ok, so that’s not really a common ground, but we’re both small countries in the EU, so a bit of solidarity won’t hurt. Secondly : both Slovenes and Belgians, well, the Flemish Belgians anyway (we’ll get to that hot potato later) have a serious work ethic. Which makes them both stand out economically in the EU. Slovenes would also be well placed – together with the Czechs – to understand what it is like to live in a country that’s made up of countries and regions with social and cultural differences and what it is like to economically support that whole structure. Which is another hot potato to address in the near future.

Furthermore, I have never seen any more culturally active places than Slovenija and Belgium. Both countries have an artistic percentage per capita that is greater than anywhere else. And lastly, they both like to party as hard as each other. Believe me, what’s left of my liver after five years of frequent visits to Slovenija and a lifetime of living in Belgium can attest to that! Throw the Scots into the equation and you have an unslayable Party Triumvirate! 😀

All of this might seem a bit to random to you to be used as real evidence, but this is my interpretation, and I happen to like it. 😉

HOW DID IT START?

Well, in the beginning there was one Julius Caesar, who, for all folk to read, put down the immortal words that “Of all the tribes in Gaul, the Belgae are the bravest”. Yeah, we’re bad, dude! Ol’ Jules even respected us enough to say so. But he slaughtered our forefathers anyway, just like he – probably – did with yours (except when you’re Italian, of course). Next to Vercingetorix in France, Ambiorix – geographically of what is now the region of Flanders – was the only Gaul chieftain ever to inflict a serious loss to Caesar’s legions during the Gallic Wars. Unlike Vercingetorix, he didn’t get caught but fled to his Germanic cousins across the Rhine. This was the first instance of what could be seen as a symptomatic behaviour in Flemings in regard to Belgium, which is the root of many a social, cultural and political problem in this here speck of Eurodust today.

WHAT’S YOUR OCCUPATION?

Foreign countries like us. They like us so much that, over the centuries, they wanted us to be part of their countries (something y’all down Southeast can sympathize with as well, res?), even though we weren’t really up for it and all we wanted, was to be left alone, get about our business and be a rich region (that pesky work ethic, you see). Brugge (Bruges), in the Middle Ages, was called The Northern Venice. That should tell you something about this place. Being so wealthy, neighbouring and other countries felt they should have a piece, so in sequence, we were occupied by (I’ll leave the obvious Romans out) : the German, the French, the Spaniards, the Austrians, the French again, the Dutch, believe it or not and, like the rest of Europe, the Germans again.

What else did we have on offer, that made this a prime piece of real estate to occupy? Battlefields, baby! What is now Belgium, was everyone’s favourite battlefield! The Purebred’s forefathers are still weeping from the terrible hiding they got here in 1302 but came back for seconds, thirds and fourths, Napoleon got his Corsican arse kicked at Waterloo, the aforementioned Caesar liked to kick some Belgian ass and pillage and plunder to his legions’ hearts’ content, the Spanish raped, pillaged and plundered and fought William of Orange here several times. The Germans liked fighting here so much that they returned to fight some long term battles twice in give or take twenty years last century. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of things going for ourselves in terms of being popular in neighbouring countries besides a shedload of different beers, chocolate and waffles.

SO WHAT IS ALL THIS LEADING TO?

What I’m trying to say here, is that what this country has become today was shaped over the centuries and should be seen in that context. Modern day issues often are stemmed in historic events that took place before the country was founded in 1830, after a revolution that started at an opera in Brussel (Brussels to you foreign types and Bruxelles for those of the French/Wallonian persuasion :P). An opera? Yes, an opera. We could well be the very first country that owes this status to rioting at a musical performance. Rock ?n roll Revolution was invented nowhere else but here! 😀

A SHORT PIECE ON THE FOUNDING OF BELGIUM

This is the boring bit, but don’t skip it, because it’ll be important later on.

Basically, this happened : The Walloons – and not the Flemish for a change – were rather unhappy under the rule of the Dutch King William, who governed over the unified ?Netherlands’ after the French were kicked out. Economical as well as cultural and religious reasons instigated a riot, started at the Opera ?La Muette de Portici’, a nationalistic- romantic piece.

To make a long story short : Belgium became an independent state on October 3rd 1830, but wouldn’t be recognized as such by the other European powers until 1839, when the Treaty of London was signed. Those powers, though, made sure that Belgium got a monarchy that had ties with those of the surrounding countries : the House Von Sachsen- Coburg Gotha.

French was now the official language, and all industry and political power was now in the hands of the Walloons, who had a great disdain for ?those Flemish peasants’. Not until 1967 was our constitution written in Dutch and from the founding of this country, the Flemish would always fight for recognition of their culture and language. So much for this country’s motto ?Strength through Unity’. While very brief, this may give you an insight into the country’s modern day problems between the two regions when I’ll deal with them in future posts.

So there you have it : Belgium, Part One. Tune in next week when Dr. ARF will tackle the uneasy subject of the differences between Flemings and Walloons

Pengovsky’s note: Next edition of Dr. ARF’s most fabublous reading will probably be posted on Saturday (unless something really really important happens). Do stay tuned! 😀