Yesterday it was the Belgian National day, but according to the newspaper Metro, not a lot of Belgians know why this date was chosen to celebrate Belgian independence. I guess it is a little bit like the Swedish National day (6th June) – how many Swedes really know why it was chosen as the national day? [6th June 1523 Gustav Vasa was crowned King of Sweden and Sweden became anew an independent state after the dissolution of the Kalmar Union between Sweden, Denmark and Norway]
However, in Belgium it is a national holiday and the first two years I lived here, I watched the military parades and the royal family arrive to Parc 50enaire here in Brussels. In Sweden you would never see such demonstrations of military power, but I guess in a country that has been invaded twice by Germany and where fierce battles were fought in both world wars, it is important to show off a powerful national defence.
I read in Metro on Friday that although 3/4 of the Belgians are proud to be Belgian and against the separation of Flanders and Wallonia, only a minority is flying the national flag, singing la Brabançonne (the national anthem – it was the first time I heard what it is called, for me it is a street in Brussels!!), and join the parades on the National day.
It is a paradox, since Belgium currently does not have a government – the national elections were held in June and so far a political coalition has not been able to be formed despite the efforts of two different mediators. The problem is one of political separatism – almost all political party movements have one Flemish and one Wallon party, and the leader of the biggest party is pro-separatist, i.e wants a more federalist state. The Flemish are always the ones pushing harder for separating completely the Belgian state, which the Walloons so far have not taken too seriously. However, in December last year, the Walloon tv channel RTBF aired a highly controversial programme where it was announced that the Flemish government had declared independence! People took the news seriously and it took a few hours before it was reveiled that it was a hoax (read more about it on the attached link). I completely missed it but my Belgian colleagues hotly discussed it the following day – telling stories of parents calling them in tears, and how shocked they had been before understanding that it was not true. The discussions were mostly concerning the ethics of airing such a programme – some said that it was a long needed wake-up call for the Walloons, while others said that it was unethical to scare people.
In any case, there is the risk that it becomes reality one day, especially with the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang still around…
And we still saw quite a few Belgian flags flying from the windows and balconies this afternoon when we took a walk in our neighbourhood (where I guess alot of people are neither Walloon nor Flemish…).
BBC Update on the subject: Opps, the future (probably) Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme was asked to sing the national anthem on Saturday and started singing La Marseillaise (i.e France’s national anthem) – is he stupid or just confused which country he comes from?? Can you imagine George W Bush singing “God Save the Queen”, well actually why not… 😉
[and for those of you who wondered, the 21st July was chosen as the national day because it was the date of the inauguration of Leopold I, the country’s first king in 1831].