Belgium’s Pandora Box with Historical Background



This article aims to present the main inner-political problems in multilingual and multicultural Belgium – a country in which the capital of the European Union (the EU) and NATO is located and a country as one of the original six establishers of the present-day EU and the European Single Market.[1] The question of the destiny of Belgian multicultural federalism is of crucial importance for the future process of European integration or disintegration.

Historical background

The international and pan-European Treaty of Westphalia (1648) established a core group of states that dominated the world’s affairs up to WWI: Austria, Russia, Prussia, England (later the UK), France, and the United Provinces (the area today composed by the Netherlands and Belgium).[2] Belgium became established in 1830 mainly to prevent a possible military attack from France or the Netherlands as Holland became divided into the Netherlands and Belgium.[3] As an artificial British political creation, its neutrality was guaranteed by the UK in 1839.[4] Belgium became the first continental country in Europe that was industrialized, partly because of its proximity to industrializing Great Britain, but also because of the abundance of coal in South Belgium. Its economic weight buttressed the domination of the Roman Catholic French-speaking Walloon south over the Roman Catholic Flemish (Dutch)-speaking majority in North Belgium, whose wealth was derived from agriculture and commerce.

One of the most brutal colonial administrations and exploitations in the history of European imperialism and colonialism was in the vast region of Central Africa – today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC). This part of Africa was not explored by the West Europeans until 1867 when the Brit Henry Morton Stanley voyaged down the Lualaba River (Upper Congo). His adventure impressed Léopold II, King of the Belgians, who now decided to acquire the region for himself as a private citizen, hoping, in fact, to increase his wealth and power. After the explorer Stanley’s journey down the Congo River in 1877, the ambitious Belgium King Léopold II took him into his personal service. The king sent Stanley back to Central Africa for the purpose to establish the Congo Free State to be governed by a company of which he was the sole owner. This requirement Stanley realized with great energy and in 1879 he returned to the lower Congo and laid the foundations of the huge private domain the king carved out for himself in the basin of the Congo River.

In fact, the king obtained a land of 900.000 sq. miles that was, in fact, around 80 times the size of Belgium.[5] In order to ensure Belgium’s economic and industrial expansion, King Léopold II occupied Congo’s territory in Central Africa in 1881−1885 that became transferred to the quasi-state called Congo Free State when he got international recognition for his only African colony which was renamed in 1908 into the Belgian Congo.[6] A colony of King Léopold II was harshly administered as the natural resources (diamond) have been extracted with no concern for the local people of Congo who, in fact, served as slave labor for Léopold’s agents.[7] Finally, the colonialist Belgians abruptly left Congo in 1960 when for a certain time a power vacuum arose. Civil war broke out, as several contending factions sought to take power and bring order out of the chaos. One of the contenders, the PM of Congo, Patrice Lumumba (1925−1961), appealed to the USSR for help in fighting the Western-backed rebels and as a consequence, received both diplomatic support and military supplies. However, P. Lumumba was dismissed by the President of Congo, Joseph Kasuvubu, an ally of the USA. Still others, like Moise Tsombe, a leader of the copper-rich Katanga province, who was as well as closely related to Western corporate interests, struggled for control. The three-year civil war could at that time become another proxy war between the USA and the USSR for influence in the emerging continent. Nevertheless, the OUN averted the proxy confrontation between these two Cold War superpowers by sending in supposedly neutral peacekeepers, whose focal task was to fill the power vacuum and prevent the superpowers from altering Congo into another space of the Cold War.

However, political events in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the end of the Cold War 1.0 provide a very proper illustration of the complexities of contemporary conflict and the dangers of providing simple explanations of why wars occur. More precisely, between 1996 and 2006 in this „African Wars“ some 4 million people died as a consequence of ethnic rivalries, civil war, and foreign (Western) intervention, followed by starvation and disease.[8]

In Belgium, the Flemish language (a dialect of Duch), in response to the heavy protests from the Flemish citizens of Belgium, was recognized as an equal official language to the French in 1922.[9]

The political confrontation between the Flemish and Walloon population in Belgium started after WWII as the Walloons accused the Flemish compatriots of a massive collaboration with the Nazi German occupation troops during the war. It left deep scars in Belgian society up to the present. The country is one of the founders of the process of European post-war integration in 1951 and a protagonist in the existence of NATO that breaks the original Belgium neutrality’s political course in international relations.[10] Even NATO’s HQ (like the EU) is located in Belgium’s capital Brussels – a symbol of Belgium’s so far Flamish-Walloon’s unity and multiculturalism. However, as the Belgians became emphatically European, their own national identity was and is increasingly under big question.

The Belgian multicultural society: Long united and long divided

The population of the Kingdom of Belgium is 10 million and it is divided into two main linguistic groups: the northern Duch speakers (the Flemish/Flanders) – 6 million and the southern French-speaking population (the Walloons) – 4 million. The main third-speaking group is the Germans (67,000) living on the German border. The capital Brussels upsets this neat division as it is a mainly French-speaking city within the Dutch-speaking Flemish part of Belgium on the north. For the matter of comparison, the whole country is a quarter size of the United Kingdom, fitting into France 18 times and having 70% of the population number of the Netherlands (16 million).

Belgium not so often attracts outside attention. Yet the country is more than fine chocolates, delicious beers, or Tintin. Usually, the others celebrate Belgium as a federal, post-nationalist country, which combines cultural pragmatism with a rather solid social consensus. The historians present the country without a critical vision of the origins of Belgian independence in 1830 as a part of a game between the great European powers.[11] Belgium as well as illustrates how the deep-seated tradition of local autonomy and suspicion towards the state’s authority go hand in hand with a strong sense of individual tolerance and solidarity, with a rejection of violent confrontation and a continuous search for consensus between the Flemish and the Walloon parts of the country. Belgian history from the very beginning in 1830 up to the present is a history of linguistic diversity, cultural plurality, and a search for a kind of a “Belgian” common identity for its all citizens who are constantly living between the state’s integration and its territorial disintegration.[12]

Belgium is an example of the ambivalent relation between history, national myths, and the “lasagne” identity of most Belgians for whom the king, as a political institution, is de facto the only factor of national unity. The Belgian case of multicultural federalism can be at the same time and a model but also a warning for the rest of Europe. Its history addresses questions of identity and security, of a sense of cohesion and common purpose – or the lack thereof. Like for the rest of Europe as well.[13]

Any history of the Belgians from 1830 onwards has to describe the traditions and transitions that have developed on the territory of present-day Belgium in a sense of shared identity, common government, and a centralized nation-state – and then over a few recent decades paved the way for Flemish-Walloon schism that now threatens to break up Belgium. However, it has to respond to the crucial question: Why does a government, unified for more than 150 years, no longer, in essence, seem capable of holding together a linguistically divided country as it had before? If Belgium, as a symbol of the West European successful policy of multiculturalism and multilingual cohabitation, can not function anymore properly as a united political system and a country based on it, what other parts of Europe with the same or similar structure and problems as Belgium can expect in the post-Cold War 1.0 future of Europe which basically already started in 2014 in the multilingual and multicultural Ukraine?[14]

In historically tracing the evolution of the governance of Belgium, one has to describe why and how the dominance of the French-speaking propertied elite eroded after having monopolized the land’s governance for decades. The extension of suffrage, combined with the rise of literacy and schooling enabled labor and the Flemish movement to gather sufficient power to fracture the Belgian polity, splitting its parties and frustrating its politics. The presence of the European Union (the EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has, in a tangential way, enabled the Belgian separatists to discount the merit of a national government that is no longer needed to defend the country militarily and economically.[15]

Therefore, for example, in 2008, after 196 days after parliamentary elections, Belgium finally got a new Government. This new Belgian record of not having a state government is achieved due to the main historical disputes between two major ethnolinguistic groups – the French-speaking Walloons in the south and the Flemish/Duch speakers (the Flanders) in the north (both of them are mainly Roman-Catholics). The previous record of not having formed a government was from the year 1988 – 148 days. In this particular case, for instance, the winner of the spring 2007 parliamentary elections – Ive Leterm – a Flemish nationalist could not form a new Belgian Government even after several rounds of negotiations and interventions by the king. Ive Leterm, ironically a politician with a French name, was accused at that time of the Walloons for obstruction, while at the same time, the French speakers were accusing him of a uniform nationalistic mind. Nevertheless, Vlaams Blok, which campaigns both against the immigration policy of the EU and Brussels and in favor of Flemish political independence, already became a major force in Belgian politics.[16] In such a way, Belgium, as one of the central protagonists of the pan-European integration, was in the stage of real disunity and possible territorial dismemberment in the recent future.

Historical disputes

The struggle between the Walloons and the Flanders (the Flemish/Dutch speakers are 60% of the Belgium population) at linguistic, political, national, and cultural levels is not a novelty in Belgium as they are historically rooted from the very beginning of common political life – from 1830 when the Kingdom of Belgium was established. Belgium’s federal structure is established on the principles of two ethnolinguistic regions (northern Flanders and southern Wallonia) and Brussels with special bilingual status (the Flemish dialect of the Duch language was recognized as an equal official language in 1922). Two federal units are governing one part of their regional economies, transport, and education, while the federal power has jurisdiction over foreign politics, defense, justice, and social insurance. However, from the time of the Flemish winning coalition in 2007, the Flemish nationalists are openly requiring more federal rights: a higher level of taxation policy independence, regionalization of social insurance, autonomy in traffic regulations, separate car-plates, and even „constitutional autonomy“.[17] On the other hand, the Walloons are in real fear that such requirements will finally end with the disappearance of the common state (whose economic weight buttressed the industrial domination of the French-speaking Walloon south over the Flemish/Dutch-speaking majority in the north, whose wealth is derived from agriculture and commerce). What concerns the economy, we have to remember that Belgium was the first industrialized continental European state (the second one in geographical Europe, i.e. after the United Kingdom or better to say – England).

Belgium’s political life historically always had the same main problem: the Flemish north was wishing more power and separation, while the French-speaking south was for the preservation of Belgium as one state. Thus, for instance, after WWII Belgian society was in an unpleasant debate upon collaboration with the Nazi-Germans which left deep scars in Belgian political life, as the population of Wallonia accused many Flemish/Dutch-speaking Belgians of sympathizing with the occupiers and even helping them for the reason of hope to get independence (like, for instance, the Ukrainians did during WWII).[18]

Economic differences

As the Belgians became from the 1950s emphatically European, their own national identity was under question, which has an economic background as well. Namely, the structural difficulties of heavy industry, which had been the backbone of Wallonia’s prosperity, gradually shifted the economic advantage to the Flemish north of the common country. Flanders continued to prosper through trade and commerce and was a favored location for new industries owing to its ready access to the sea.

Similarly to the case of North Italy (Lombardia region), reach regions of Flanders are propagating to stop „feeding “ any more poor Wallon south which is arrogant towards the Flemish language and culture. For instance, the Walloons consider the Flemish language as „underdeveloped“ to be used as the official university language in Belgium. Basically, one of the main Flemish political complaints is of economic nature: the financial capital of the „developed“ north is directed to the „underdeveloped“ south by the ruling Walloon politicians in Brussels for the matter of economic help to Wallonia.

For the Flemish population of Flanders that is economic exploitation by the Walloons as the Flemish north is much more participating in the central budget than lesser developed Wallonia (the same complaints of economic nature started the Yugoslav crisis when at the end of the 1980s Slovenia and Croatia advocated the policy of non-supporting any more underdeveloped Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro).

The most fervent critics of current financial policy on relations Flanders-Wallonia are the big Flemish capital owners and managers who in 2005 openly advocated division of the country as Flanders is overburdened by taxation in favor of Wallonia. Such Belgian financial politics, originally introduced to form and maintain state unity and the Belgian nation, was later implemented within the framework of the European Community/Union. In addition to this pure economic problem, the Walloon politicians are accused by their Flemish colleagues of deliberate settlement of Francophone immigrants to Brussels in order to „Francophonize“ this once upon-a-time biggest Flemish city.

The formation, language, and political instability

The Netherlands were the bane of Habsburg Spain of King Philip II’s (1556‒1598) existence. They threatened both the Roman Catholic unity of his Empire and its political unity too. The people of the northern provinces spoke Dutch, the middle provinces spoke Flemish (Dutch dialect),[19] and the southern provinces spoke the Walloon dialect of French. Those provinces had a medieval Constitution. Philip II had, however, the aim to change their position as for him the Netherlands were Spanish and should submit to royal authority and Roman Catholic orthodoxy. The fact that many Walloons, Flemings, and Dutch already became Calvinists and achieved religious solidarity by adopting the Belgic Confession in 1566 made them doubly determined to resist such Spanish and Roman Catholic pressure. Nevertheless, their resistance became turned into the first revolution for national independence in modern history.[20] The Dutch Declaration of Independence in 1581 became the forerunner of the document signed by the 13 American colonies in 1776.[21] The revolt started in the Netherlands in 1566, when 200 aristocrats of the various provinces, both Protestants and moderate Roman Catholics petitioned Philip II not to introduce Spanish conceptions of Government. Their focal task was to preserve their liberties. When Spanish authorities refused the requirement, the aristocrats became unable to control the mob violence which broke out in the major cities. The mob was bitterly anti-Spanish but as well as anti-Catholic, but Philip II did not make any distinction between moderate aristocrats and fanatical masses. In 1567 he sent a punishment expedition from Spain of 20.000 soldiers who committed many crimes („Spanish Fury“) causing finally the unification of the „natives“ against the „foreigners“. In 1579, the Duch provinces formed the Union of Utrecht and proclaimed their independence from Spain in 1581. The big northern Flemish cities, including Antwerp and Ghent, also joined the Union of Utrecht. The provinces of the Spanish Netherlands were created, thus forming the territory that was to become modern Belgium. Nevertheless, the seven Duch provinces called the United Provinces, became the first state in modern history to dissociate the idea of the nation from that of loyalty to the dynastic monarchy. In 1584, the Dutch lost Antwerp but received ultimate assistance from England as Queen Elisabeth I (1558−1603) finally overcame her dislike for helping rebels against a legitimate sovereign because of her fear of Spanish intervention in England from across the Channel.[22]

After the Congress of Vienna in 1814−1815, the northern and southern Netherlands were reunited under King Willem I, and the Dutch language was imposed as a standard language. This unified Kingdom of the Netherlands existed from 1815 to 1830.

The 1830 July Revolution in France had a direct impact beyond her state’s borders and the most successful revolution happened in Belgium – the country where the existing Government was mostly out of touch with its inhabitants. The 1830 Belgian Revolution was an expression of both liberal oppositions to the rule of the Dutch king and the local Roman Catholic nationalistic desires for independence from a Protestant portion of the Netherlands. Both the Walloon and the Flemish Roman Catholics in the Kingdom of Netherlands had resented their forced union with the Dutch since it was imposed on them after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. A number of them have been in favor of being unified with neighboring France, but the majority were pushing toward independence. Flemings and Walloons were in agreement to put an end to a union that affronted their national sentiments.[23] Regardless of the fact that they outnumbered the Dutch 2 to 1 and that their economic development was becoming more dynamic in comparison to their northern overlords, they felt themselves as an oppressed minority. As a consequence, the old Roman Catholic feudal nobility joined their forces with the younger middle-class liberals in an insurrection in Brussels, and having expelled Dutch troops from Belgium, they proclaimed Belgium’s independence on October 4th, 1830.[24] With British and French assistance, Belgium as an independent state was recognized in January 1831 by the five European Great Powers together with her perpetual military neutrality.[25]

There was the question of the borders of new Belgium, however, remained to be unsolved for a moment. The Belgians claimed Dutch Maastricht, Limburg, and Luxemburg as well. Contesting these claims, the Dutch invaded Belgium, whose King called upon France for military help. French troops soon occupied Brussels and a new peace treaty was signed on October 15th, 1831, but appreciably reduced the frontiers of Belgium originally assigned to the new European state. Holland retained Maastricht and a part of Limburg, while the major part of Luxemburg was made into an independent Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. Nevertheless, Holland officially recognized Belgium’s independence and neutrality only in April 1839.

In Belgium until the 1870s, French was the single official language, and large segments of the Flemish-speaking inhabitants acquired excellent skills in French in order to be able to function in official bureaucratic apparatus, the educational system, non-local commerce, and other various public domains of activity. French-speaking Wallonians, however, rarely learned Flemish. Nevertheless, during the 19th century, the Flemish Movement became stronger and finally succeeded through a series of linguistic laws passed from 1878 onwards in elevating Dutch to the status of the official language of the Flemish-speaking provinces. In the Francophone territories of Belgium, the legal inroads made by the Flemish led to the development of a Wallonian nationalist movement. French remains the official language in Wallonia.[26] The German language serves as the protected official language of some 60.000 speakers in a small area of Belgium, along the eastern border of the French-speaking province of Liège.

The new Belgian regime was the most liberal one in the Continental part of Europe with the new Constitution being more liberal and democratic than that of the July Monarchy of France as it recognized the sovereignty of the citizens more clearly, it guaranteed a larger range of civil rights, and, finally, it created a legislature of which both houses were elected thought the proportion of eligible voters. Political parties in Belgium did not exist until 1839, the year in which Belgium’s independence was finally recognized. However, public opinion became soon divided between the Roman Catholic camp and the camp of Liberals – two groups separated by different views on the relationships between the church and the state, but especially in the field of education. In addition, harsh controversies existed about the issue of monasteries, convents, and clerical property in general. Following the example of the UK, Belgium adopted free trade system and in such a way increased her prosperity. Belgium was rich in coal mines, and spinning mills and factories multiplied soon. The port of Antwerp grew in importance as it was earlier in the Middle Ages. In 1865 King Leopold I died and was succeeded by his son King Leopold II (30 years old), who was to preside over his country’s destiny and prosperity for the next almost 50 years, to the benefit of his citizens but to the misfortune of the inhabitants of his colony Congo.

Nevertheless, historically, the growing economic, social, and emotional gulf between the two ethnolinguistic parts of Belgium led to political instability, firstly heightened in the 1970s and secondly today. In addition to the emergence of a number of regional parties, the Flemish and the Walloon sections of the main parties (the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, and the Liberals) split to form separate regional parties.

We have to remember that all human beings in modern political systems possess multiple political identities, rooted in family, locality, or workplace, to which they belong. However, national identities are in the majority of cases among the most significant in comparison to all others. National identity is a complex phenomenon, the product of complex interaction between social, economic, political, confessional, and cultural histories and backgrounds.[27] In principle, it has to be a state to play the role of basic institutional organization of one modern nation on a defined territory whose borders it protects, but in many particular cases, it is as well as a state that holds together its people-citizens of different ethnic, linguistic, cultural or confessional groups, some of whom are well thinking of themselves to be separate nations. Thus Belgium holds together French-speaking Walloons and Flemish (Dutch) speaking Flemings. In such cases, it is, therefore, natural for the central authorities to have to operate with some potential for political danger arising from these separate national groups within its borders. The origins of such identities are historically different as they can be founded on confession, language, history, etc. In the case of Belgium, they are founded on separate languages although having the same confessional orientation (Roman Catholicism). Peaceful national movements (as up to now they use peaceful political methods to achieve their national goals) are usually tolerated by the existing state’s structure, and their political demands are to a certain degree taken into account, as, for instance, by Spain or Belgium, which have tried in this way to defuse the potential danger from the separatist movements of the Basques, the Catalans, and the Flemings.

Belgium responded to growing tensions between its two major language groups by devolving power in the state to three regions: a Wallon region, a Flemish region, and a Brussels central region. This is an application of the policy of regional pluralism with an attempt to accommodate ethnolinguistic diversity within a state by granting regions a substantial degree of self-government, i.e., regional autonomy. This involved a policy of linguistic and cultural equality with the official or dominant official language and culture in particular regions. However, in practice in many European cases, the people of economically more prosperous and richer regions (a Flemish region in Belgium) may feel that poorer regions or provinces of the same state are living off their backs and holding them back, while, at the same time, the inhabitants of poorer regions or provinces (a Walloon region in Belgium) may feel trapped in their relations with richer regions as they can be underdeveloped as they are exploited under the terms of worsening political-administrative and fiscal-financial dependency. For the richer regions, there are, in principle, two possible tactics or ways out: 1) to get control over the central Government in a capital city and, consequently, make it reduce its subventions to the poorer regions by liberal free-market policies, or 2) to separate their region from the state. In West Europe, the Nothern Leagues in Italy and the Flemish movement in Belgium are the best examples of the political fluctuations between these two realistic approaches.[28]

In an effort to address its growing divisions, the country was built into a federal state in three stages (in 1980, 1988, and 1993). By 1993, there were Parliaments for the Walloon region, the Flemish region, and the bilingual city of Brussels (three Parliaments – one state!). The federal regions were given authority over 40% of the public expenditure for matters in their purview (education, culture, health, economic, and labor policy). In these areas, Flanders[29] and Wallonia are also empowered to conclude international treaties (similar to the „Muslim-Croat Federation“ and „Serbian Republic“ in Bosnia-Herzegovina). Further powers to the regions in matters of agriculture, transport, and foreign aid were granted in 2001. The contrast between the Flemish part and Wallonia was exacerbated by the growth, in the Flemish part, of separatist and xenophobic parties from the mid-1990s, most notably the Vlaams Blok (the Flemish bloc).[30] Advocating the Flemish independence (like northern parts of ex-Yugoslavia – Slovenia and Croatia) and racist immigration policies, it polled over 20% of the vote in Belgium’s second city – Antwerp in 2000. In federal politics, a major political shift occurred in 1999, when the Christian Democrats lost the leading role in the politics which they had occupied throughout the century, owing to a series of corruption scandals. From that time, the Liberals became the biggest party bloc in the Parliament.

The Belgian Pandora Box

During the last great political crisis in Belgium, it became obvious that the Walloons are making all kinds of obstacles to the creation of a new functional Government in Brussels which gives an argument to the Flanders to claim that basically, the southern Walloons are the main „separatists“. The crisis was quite serious with unpredictable consequences for the territorial integrity of Belgium in the future, but also and what concerns the everyday political activities. For instance, it was at that time in question that could Belgium sign a new European agreement in Lisbon without the Government.

The Flemish political parties, frustrated because of the Walloon obstructions, were threatening the south to unilaterally proclaim the city of Brussels as their own with the Flamish/Duch language as the only official one.[31] As a response, the Francophone parties proclaimed they will stop any further negotiations if the Flemish north will realize its threat concerning Brussels. It can be said that the roots of the Belgian governmental-political crisis are so historically deep that the territorial decomposition of the state was becoming more and more realistic. When the Belgian Pandora Box will be open is probably only a question of time.

However, the Belgian Pandora Box can have quite negative consequences for further European unification as in the case of its decomposition the Belgian experiment of multi-ethnolinguistic integration is going to be definitely put into the archives. In this case, Belgium as a „laboratory of European integration“ (the definition given by one Belgian Prime Minister) would have a great influence on numerous European separatist movements and the remapping of the European political reality. For instance, according to one public research, 54% of interviewed French citizens expressed a wish to incorporate Wallonia into France in the case of the Belgian dismemberment as a state. The boomerang of „self-determination rights“ sent to the ethnolinguistic nations of ex-Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union from Brussels at the beginning of the 1990s is via Kosovo today returning to Brussels with 87% of Flemish/Duch speakers from Belgium supporting separation and with 77% of their linguistic-historic cross-border compatriots from the Netherlands wishing to include Flanders into the „motherland“ as a historic region of the Netherlands (till 1830).[32]

In such a way, the supra-ethnolinguistic „Belgian“ nation could experience the same destiny as its „Yugoslav“ counterpart, however, with lesser chances to finish its existence by the civil war and ethnic cleansing as it was in the case of the destruction of ex-Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999. Finally, an indication that the Belgian „laboratory of European integration“ is collapsing has been dramatic appeals in 2007 to the Belgians by their King Albert II to preserve national unity as „anachronic and catastrophic separatism“ could „erode the international role of Brussels“ (and deprived him of the throne).[33]


The structural difficulties of heavy industry, which was the backbone of Wallonia’s economic prosperity and dominance over Belgium, shifted from the 1960s economic advantage to the Flemish-controlled north and opened the question of re-arranging the ethnic and federal relations in the country. Flanders continued to economically prosper through trade and commerce being a favored territory for the development of new industries because of its access to the sea. The growing economic, social, linguistic, and political gap between Wallonia and Flanders led Belgium during the last decades into instability and segregation of the society along ethnic lines. It is visible from the political scene of the country as new regional parties were formed followed by the Flemish and Walloon sections of the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, and finally, the Liberals splitting to form separate parties according to the ethnic division of the country.

In order to stop the process of destruction of the country, Belgium was federalized in three stages: in 1980, 1988, and 1993.[34] The Parliaments for both federal regions are established and the city of Brussels became officially bilingual. The federal regions of Wallonia and Flanders received the right to control around 40% of public expenditure in the area of education, culture, health, economic and labor policies with the right to conclude international treaties in these areas. Further administering powers to these two regions in matters of agriculture, transport, and foreign aid are granted in 2001.[35] However, the contrast between the Flemish part[36] and the Walloon part of Belgium is exacerbated by the growth, in Flanders, separatist, nationalistic, and xenophobic political parties, most notably the Vlaams Blok which is advocating the Flemish political and state’s independence from Belgium but also and racist immigration policies. Due to its ethnolinguistic composition, historical development, and position in the European Union, the Kingdom of Belgium is a real multiculturalism laboratory of European integration.[37]

Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirovic, Ex-University Professor, Research Fellow at Centre for Geostrategic Studies, Belgrade, Serbia

[email protected]

© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2023


[1] The European Single Market was in nucleus form established in 1957 by signed the Treaty of Rome, which established the framework for the European Economic Community (the EEC), a common market and customs union among the six founding states: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. See more in [Dennis Swann (ed.), The Single European Market and Beyond: A Study of the Wider Implications of the Single European Act, London−New York: Routledge, 1992].

[2] See [Oskar Halecki, Europos istorijos ribos ir skirstymai, Vilnius: Margi raštai, 2014].

[3] Karen A. Mingst, Essentials of International Relations, Third Edition, New York−London: W. W. Northon & Company, 2004, 30.

[4]  Jan Palmowski, A Dictionary of Contemporary World History: From 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 56. See more in [Čedomir Popov, Građanska Evropa (1770−1871). Druga knjiga. Politička istorija Evrope, I−II, Novi Sad: Matica srpska, 1989].

[5] Richard W. Mansbach, Kirsten L. Taylor, Introduction to Global Politics, Second Edition, London−New York: Routledge, 2012, 142.

[6] Geoffrey Barraclough (ed.), The Times Atlas of World History, Revised Edition, Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond, 1986, 245. See more in [Guy Vanthemshe, Belgium and the Congo 1885−1980, Cambridge University Press, 2012; David Van Reybrouck, Congo: The Epic History of a People, New York: HarperCollins, 2015; Kevin Grant, The Congo Free State and the New Imperialism, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016].

[7] The exploitation of the Congo in the late 19th century is brilliantly evoked in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (1899). See more in [Tod Olson, Leopold II: Butcher of the Congo, Children’s Press, 2008].

[8] John Baylis, Steve Smith, Patricia Owens, The Globalization of World Politics, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 238.

[9] On the history of Belgium, see more in [Benno Barnard, Martine van Berlo, Geert van Istendael, Tony Judt, Marc Reynebeau, How Can One Not Be Interested in Belgian History: War, Language and Consensus in Belgium Since 1830, Academia Scienic, 2005].

[10] Belgium was one out of twelve establishing Member States of NATO in 1949. On the post-WWII European integration, see in [Christopher J. Bickerton, European Integration. From Nation States to Member States, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012].

[11] See, for instance [John M. Roberts, The New Penguin History of the World, Fourth Edition, London−New York, 2002; William Elliot Griffis, Belgium: The Land of Arts, Its History, Legends, Industry, and Modern Expansion, Forgotten Books, 2012].

[12] See, more in [Stephen B. Wickman, Belgium: A Country Study, Washington, 1985; Léon van der Essen, A Short History of Belgium, Nabu Press, 2010].

[13] About the question of unity and disunity of Belgium, see in [Samuel Humes, Belgium: Long United, Long Divided, Hurst, 2014].

[14] On the problems of multiculturalism in Europe, see in [Anna Triandafyllidou, Tariq Modood (eds.), European Multiculturalisms, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012].

[15] More in [Émile Cammaerts, A History of Belgium from the Roman Invasion to the Present Day, A Public Domain Book, 2011].

[16] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 179.

[17] On the history of the Flemish movement up to 1992, see in [Theo Hermans, Louis Vos, Lode Wils, The Flemish Movement: A Documentary History, 1780−1990, Athlone Pr, 1992].

[18] See [Els Witte, Jan Craevbeckx, Alain Meynen, Political History of Belgium: From 1830 Onwards, Academic & Scientific Publishers, 2010]. About the Flemish nationalism in WWI, see in [Karen Shelby, Flemish Nationalism and The Great War: The Politics of Memory, Visual Culture and Commemoration, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014].

[19] The term Flemish denotes those dialects of Dutch spoken in North Belgium, i.e. the Germanic varieties spoken in the provinces of East and West Flanders, Brabent and Belgian Limburg. However, the term is potentially misleading for the very fact that the dialects of East and West Flanders alone can as well as be called Flemish in contrast to Brabants and Lindsburgs. Nevertheless, up to now, there is no other satisfactory term in English language, and it, in fact, corresponds to the common use of Vlaams in Belgium as a cover term for all Dutch dialects in the country [Robert B. Howell, “The Low Countries: A Study in Sharply Contrasting Nationalisms”, Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael, (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 130−150].

[20] Dragoljub Živojinović, Uspon Evrope (1450−1789), Novi Sad: Matica srpska, 1985, 111−127.

[21] Henri Bemford Parks, Istorija Sjedinjenih Američkih Država, Drugo izdanje, Beograd: Rad, 1986, 117−138; Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, New York−London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018, 72−108.

[22] E. N. Williams, The Penguin Dictionary of English and European History, 1485−1789, London: Penguin Books, 1980, 123−130; Juan Lalaguna, Spain, Fully updated Fifth Edition, London: Phoenix, 2002, 99.

[23] Marcel Dunan (ed.), Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History from 1500 to the Present Day, New Rewised Edition, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1972, 292.

[24] See more in [Joseph Ernest Morris, Beautiful Europe: Belgium, Kind Edition, 2014].

[25] Edward R. Tannenbaum, European Civilization since the Middle Ages, Second Edition, New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1971, 405.

[26] See more in [Manfred Kohler, Language Politics in Belgium and the Flemish-Walloon Conflict: Reason for a State to Fail or Driving Force Behind Federalism and Conciliation, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2010].

[27] Dawid Gowland, Richard, Dunphy, Charlotte Lythe, The European Mosaic, Third Edition, Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2006, 463.

[28] See more in [Jeffrey Haynes, Peter Hough, Shahin Malik, Lloyd Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2011].

[29] Flanders is usually used to denote the entire Dutch-speaking North Belgium. However, the term can be used in the more precise, and earlier, sense of the area of the province of Flanders that is modern East and West Flanders in modern North-East Belgium [Robert B. Howell, “The Low Countries: A Study in Sharply Contrasting Nationalisms”, Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael, (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 130−150]. About Flanders in the Middle Ages, see in [David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders, Routledge, 2014].

[30] See more in [Antony Mason, Xenophobe’s Guide to the Belgians, Kind Edition, 2009].

[31] About Flanders, see in [Andre de Vries, Flanders. A Cultural History, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2007].

[32] About the problems of the European integration policy, see in [Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Opting Out of the European Union. Diplomacy, Sovereignty and European Integration, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014].

[33] About the problems of federalism in multinational states, see more in [Michel Seymour, Alian G. Gagnon, Multinational Federalism: Problems and Prospects, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012].

[34] See more in [Stef Feyen, Beyond Federal Dogmatics: The Influence of European Union Law on Belgian Constitutional Case Law Regarding Federalism, Leuven University Press, 2013].

[35] See more in [Marleen Brans, Lieven De Winter, Wilfried Swenden, The Politics of Belgium: Institutions and Policy Under Bipolar and Centrifugal Federalism, Routledge, 2009].

[36] On Flemish issue, see more in [Dean Amory (compiled), The Flemish: Origins, History, Culture, Influence and Migrations of the Flemings, Edgard Adriaens, 2014].

[37] See more in [Walter Laqueur, Europa mūsų laikais, 1945−1992, Vilnius: ALK, 1995; Eric Hobsbawn, Kraštutinumų amžius. Trumpasis XX amžius: 1914−1991, Vilnius: ALK, 2000; Mark Elliot, Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette: Belgium, Marshal Cavendish Corporation, 2011].


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