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The history of Belgium stretches back before the origin of the modern state of that name in 1830. Belgium's history is intertwined with those of its neighbours: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and Luxembourg. A feature of its history is the number of wars between other European powers which have included campaigns on Belgian territory, causing it to be nicknamed the "cockfighting arena of Europe". It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French, and Germanic Dutch.

Belgium's formation into a single independent country can be traced to several events. First, many separate states in the Netherlands were united, by marriage and conquest, as the Burgundian Netherlands. This eventually became part of the Habsburg Empire. Second, as a result of the Eighty Years' War from 1568 to 1648, the Protestant Dutch Republic gained its independence, leaving most of modern Belgium as the remaining Catholic Spanish Netherlands, later known as the Austrian Netherlands. Third, an area that had remained under the Prince-Bishop of Liège was joined into this territory when it became an integral part of France. Fourth, after the defeat of Napoleon the region came under the rule of the Netherlands. Protestant domination of the state troubled the Catholic Belgians. They revolted and gained independence in the 1830 Belgian Revolution, giving the state its name, a new king (from a royal family in Germany) and approximately its modern borders.

Belgium was one of the first countries to experience an Industrial Revolution, which brought prosperity in the 19th century but also opened a political dichotomy between liberal businessmen and socialist workers. The king set up his own private colonial empire in the Belgium Congo, which the government took over after a major scandal in 1908. Belgium was neutral but its strategic location as a pathway to France made it an invasion target for Germany in 1914 and 1940. Conditions under the occupation were severe. In the postwar period Belgium was a leader in European unification, as a founding member of what has become the European Union. In 1949 it joined NATO, a military alliance against Communism. Brussels is now host to the headquarters of NATO and is the de facto capital of the European Union. The colonies became independent in the early 1960s.

Politically the country was long divided in terms of class and, in recent decades, has sharply divided over differences of language and the unequal economic development. This ongoing antagonism has caused far-reaching reforms since the 1970s, changing the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state, and repeated governmental crises. It now is divided into three regions, Flanders (Dutch speaking) in the north, Wallonia (French speaking) in the South, and bilingual Brussels in the middle. The economy is prosperous and well integrated into Europe.


Before independence[]


File:Belgian flint knives.jpg

Flint knives discovered in Belgian caves

On Belgian territory Neanderthal fossils were discovered at Engis in 1829-30 and elsewhere, some dating back to at least 100,000 BP.[1]

The earliest Neolithic farming technology of northern Europe, the so-called LBK culture, reached the east of Belgium at its furthest northwesterly stretch from its origins in southeast Europe. Its expansion stopped in the Hesbaye region of eastern Belgium around 5000 BCE. The Belgian LBK is notable for its use of defensive walls around villages, something which may or may not have been necessary because of the proximity of hunter gatherers.[2][3][4]

So-called Limburg pottery and La Hoguette pottery are styles which stretch into northwestern France and the Netherlands, but it has sometimes been argued that these technologies are the result of pottery technology spreading beyond the original LBK farming population of eastern Belgium and northeastern France, and being made by hunter gatherers.[5] A slightly later-starting Neolithic culture found in central Wallonia is the so-called "Groupe de Blicquy", which may represent an offshoot of the LBK settlers.One notable archaeological site in this region is the Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes. Farming in Belgium however failed to take permanent hold at first. The LBK and Blicquy cultures disappeared and there is a long gap before a new farming culture, the Michelsberg culture, appeared and became widespread. Hunter gatherers of the Swifterbant culture apparently remained in the sandy north of Belgium, but apparently became more and more influenced by farming and pottery technology.[3]

In the third and late fourth millennia BCE, the whole of Flanders shows relatively little evidence of human habitation. Although it is felt that there was a continuing human presence, the types of evidence available make judgement about the details very difficult.[6] The Seine-Oise-Marne culture spread into the Ardennes, and is associated with megalithic sites there (for example Wéris), but did not disperse over all of Belgium. To the north and east, in the Netherlands, a semi-sedentary culture group has been proposed to have existed, the so-called Vlaardingen-Wartburg-Stein complex, which possibly developed from the above mentioned Swifterbant and Michelsburg cultures.[7] The same pattern continues into the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. In the last part of the Neolithic, evidence is found for the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures in the south of the Netherlands, but these cultures also do not seem to have had a big impact in all of Belgium.

The population of Belgium started to increase permanently with the late Bronze age from around 1750 BCE. Three possibly related European cultures arrived in sequence. First the Urnfield culture arrived (for example, tumuli are found at Ravels and Hamont-Achel in the Campine). Then, coming into the Iron Age, the Hallstatt culture, and the La Tène culture. All three of these are associated with Indo-European languages, with specifically Celtic languages being especially associated with La Tène material culture, and possibly Halstatt. This is because historical Greek and Roman records from areas where this culture settled show Celtic placenames and personal names. However it is possible in Belgium that especially in the northern areas the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures were brought by new elites, and that the main language of the population was not Celtic. From 500 BC Celtic tribes settled in the region and traded with the Mediterranean world. From c. 150 BC, the first coins came into use, under the influence of trade with the Mediterranean.

Celtic and Roman periods[]


The Roman province of Gallia Belgica in around 120 AD

When Julius Caesar arrived in the region, as recorded in his De Bello Gallico, the inhabitants of Belgium, northwestern France, and the German Rhineland were known as the Belgae (after whom modern Belgium is named), and they were considered to be the northern part of Gaul. (The region of Luxembourg, including the Belgian province of Luxembourg, was inhabited by the Treveri, who were probably not strictly considered to be Belgae.) The distinction between the Belgae to the North and the Celts to the south, and the Germani across the Rhine, is disputed. Caesar says that the Belgae were separated from the rest of Gaul by language, law and custom, and he also says they had Germanic ancestry, but he does not go into detail. It seems clear that Celtic culture and language were very influential upon the Belgae, especially those in modern France. On the other hand, linguists have proposed that there is evidence that the northern part of the Belgic population had previously spoken an Indo European language related to, but distinct from, Celtic and Germanic, and among the northern Belgae, Celtic may never have been the language of the majority. (See Belgian language and Nordwestblock.)[8]

The leaders of the Belgic alliance which Caesar confronted were in modern France, the Suessiones, Viromandui and Ambiani and perhaps some of their neighbours, in an area that he appears to distinguish as the true "Belgium" of classical times.[9] He reported that the more northerly allies of who lived in the area of modern Belgium, the Menapii, Nervii, and Germani cisrhenani, were less economically developed and more warlike, similar to the Germani east of the Rhine river. The Menapii and Germani lived among forests, islands and swamps, and the Nervii's lands were deliberately planted with thick hedges, in order to be impenetrable to cavalry. There is also less archaeological evidence of large settlements and trade in the area. According to Tacitus, writing a generation later, these were in fact the original tribe to be called Germani, and all other uses of the term extended from them.[10] Modern linguists use the word "germanic" to refer to languages but it is not known for sure whether even the Belgian Germani spoke a Germanic language, and their tribal and personal names are clearly Celtic. This is in fact also true of the possibly related tribes across the Rhine from them at this time. Archaeologists have also had difficulty finding evidence of the exact migrations from east of the Rhine which Caesar reports and more generally there has been skepticism about using him in this way due to the political motives of his commentaries. But the archaeological record gives the impression that the classical Belgian Germani were a relatively stable population going back to Urnfield times, with a more recently immigrated elite class who would have been of more interest to Caesar.[11]

File:Tongeren Romeinse wallen.jpg

Surviving Roman city walls in Tongeren, the former city of Atuatuca Tongrorum

The Belgae and the Treveri flourished within the Roman provinces of Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior. Gallia Beglica originally included five regional capitals, four of which are today in France, Nemetacum (Arras), Divodurum (Metz), Bagacum (Bavay), Durocorturum (Reims), and Augusta Treverorum (Trier. One, Atuatuca Tongrorum (Tongeren), was in modern Belgium. The northeastern corner of this province, including Tongeren and the area of the earlier Germani, was united with the militarized Rhine border to form a newer province known as Germania Inferior. Its cities included Ulpia Noviomagus (Nijmegen in the modern Netherlands), Colonia Ulpia Trajana (Xanten in modern Germany) and the capital Colonia Agrippina (Cologne in Germany).[12] Later, Emperor Diocletian restructured the provinces around 300, and split the remaining Belgica into two provinces: Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda. Belgica Prima was the eastern part and had Trier as its main city, and included the Belgian province of Luxembourg.

Christianity was also first introduced to Belgium during the late-Roman period, and the first known bishop in the region Servatius taught in the middle of the Fourth century in Tongeren.

Early Middle Ages[]


Saint Servatius, bishop of Tongeren and one of the first known Christian figures in the region. 16th century Reliquary

As the Western Roman Empire collapsed during the 5th and 6th centuries, Germanic tribes invaded and established themselves. One of these peoples, the Franks, settled in Germanic Inferior, and proceeded to expand into a new kingdom covering all of Belgium and much of France, under the rule of the Merovingian Dynasty. Clovis I was the best-known king of this dynasty. He ruled from his base in northern France. He converted to Christianity. Christian scholars, mostly Irish monks, preached Christianity to the populace and started a wave of conversion (Saint Servatius, Saint Remacle, Saint Hadelin).

The Merovingians were short-lived and were succeeded by the Carolingian Dynasty, whose family power base was in the eastern part of modern Belgium. After Charles Martel countered the Moorish invasion from Spain (732 — Poitiers), the King Charlemagne (born close to Liège in Herstal or Jupille) brought a huge part of Europe under his rule and was crowned the "Emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire" by the Pope Leo III (800 in Aachen).

The Vikings raided widely throughout this period, but a major settlement that had caused problems in the area of Belgium was defeated in 891 by Arnulf of Carinthia near Leuven.

The Frankish lands were divided and reunified several times under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, but eventually were firmly divided into France and the Holy Roman Empire. The parts of the County of Flanders stretching out west of the river Scheldt (Schelde in Dutch, Escaut in French) became part of France during the Middle Ages, but the remainders of the County of Flanders and the Low Countries were part of the Holy Roman Empire.

Through the early Middle Ages, the northern part of present-day Belgium (now commonly referred to as Flanders) was a Germanic language-speaking area, whereas in the southern part people had continued to be Romanized and spoke derivatives of Vulgar Latin.

As the Holy Roman Emperors and French Kings lost effective control of their domains in the 11th and 12th centuries, the territory more or less corresponding to the present Belgium was divided into relatively independent feudal states:

  • County of Flanders
  • Marquisate of Namur
  • Duchy of Brabant (see also Duke of Brabant)
  • County of Hainaut
  • Duchy of Limburg
  • Luxembourg
  • Bishopric of Liège

The coastal county of Flanders was one of the wealthiest parts of Europe in the late Middle Ages, from trading with England, France and Germany, and it became culturally important. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Rheno-Mosan or Mosan art movement flourished in the region moving its centre from Cologne and Trier to Liège, Maastricht and Aachen. Some masterpieces of this Romanesque art are the shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, the Baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège by Renier de Huy, the Stavelot Triptych, the shrine of Saint Remacle in Stavelot, the shrine of Saint Servatius in Maastricht or, Notger's gospel in Liège.

13th-16th centuries[]

File:Battle of Courtrai2.jpg

14th century illustration of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302 where forces from the County of Flanders defeated their nominal overlords of the Kingdom of France.

In this period, many cities, including Ypres, Bruges and Ghent gained independence.Template:Citation needed The Hanseatic League stimulated trade in the region, and the period saw the erection of many Gothic cathedrals and city halls.Template:Citation needed With the decline of the Holy Roman emperors' power starting in the 13th century, the Low Countries were largely left to their own devices. The lack of imperial protection also meant that the French and English began vying for influence in the region. In 1214, King Philip II of France defeated the Count of Flanders in the Battle of Bouvines and forced his submission to the French crown. Through the remainder of the 13th century, French control over Flanders steadily increased until 1302 when an attempt at total annexation by Philip IV met a stunning defeat when Count Guy (who had the support of the guilds and craftsmen) rallied the townspeople and humiliated the French knights at the Battle of the Golden Spurs. Undaunted, Philip launched a new campaign that ended with the inconclusive Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle in 1304. The king imposed harsh peace terms on Flanders, which included ceding the important textile-making centers of Lille and Douai. Thereafter, Flanders remained a French tributary until the start of the Hundred Years War in 1337. In Brabant, skillful work by the duke of that territory and the Count of Hainaut-Holland foiled various French manipulations. Paris's influence in the Low Countries was counterbalanced by England, which maintained important ties to the coastal ports.

Flanders faced the difficult situation of being politically subservient to France, but also reliant on trade with England. Many craftsmen emigrated to England, which also came to dominate the wool-shipping business. Flemish cloth nonetheless remained a highly valued product, and it was highly dependent on English wool. Any interruption in the supply of that invariably resulted in riots and violence from the weavers' guilds. On the whole though, Flemish trade became a passive one. Flanders received imports from other areas of Europe, but itself purchased little abroad except wine from Spain and France. Bruges became a great commercial center after the Hanseatic League set up business there and the Italian banking houses followed suit.

A few towns in the Low Countries dated back to Roman times, but most had been founded from the 9th century onward. The oldest were in the Scheldt and Meuse areas, with many towns in what's now the Netherlands being much younger and only dating from the 13th century. From early on, the Low Countries began to develop as a commercial and manufacturing center. Merchants became the dominant class in the towns, with the nobility largely limited to countryside estates.

Template:History Benelux states

By 1433 most of the Belgian and Luxembourgish territory along with much of the rest of the Low Countries became part of Burgundy under Philip the Good. When Mary of Burgundy, granddaughter of Philip the Good married Maximilian I, the Low Countries became Habsburg territory. Their son, Philip I of Castile (Philip the Handsome) was the father of the later Charles V. The Holy Roman Empire was unified with Spain under the Habsburg Dynasty after Charles V inherited several domains.

Especially during the Burgundy period (the 15th and 16th centuries), Tournai, Bruges, Ypres, Ghent, Brussels, and Antwerp took turns at being major European centers for commerce, industry (especially textiles) and art. Bruges was the pioneer. had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern trade routes. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century, but when the old system of fairs broke down the entrepreneurs of Bruges innovated. They developed, or borrowed from Italy, new forms of merchant capitalism, whereby several merchants would share the risks and profits and pool their knowledge of markets. They employed new forms of economic exchange, including bills of exchange (i.e. promissory notes) and letters of credit.[13] Antwerp eagerly welcomed foreign traders, most notably the Portuguese pepper and spice traders.[14][15]

In art the Renaissance was represented by the Flemish Primitives, a group of painters active primarily in the Southern Netherlands in the 15th and early 16th centuries (for example, Van Eyck and van der Weyden) and the Franco-Flemish composers (e.g. Guillaume Dufay). Flemish tapestries and, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brussels tapestry hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe.

File:Map-1477 Low Countries.png

The Seventeen Provinces, and the See of Liège in Green

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Empire and from France. This comprised all of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg except for the lands of the See of Liège.

The Burgundian princes from Philip II (the Bold) to Charles the Bold, enhanced their political prestige with economic growth and artistic splendour. These “Great Dukes of the West” were effectively sovereigns, with domains extending from the Zuiderzee to the Somme. The urban and other textile industries, which had developed in the Belgian territories since the 12th century, became the economic center of northwestern Europe.

The death of Charles the Bold (1477) and the marriage of his daughter Mary to the archduke Maximilian of Austria ended the independence of the Low Countries by bringing them increasingly under the sway of the Habsburg dynasty. Mary and Maximilian’s grandson Charles became king of Spain as Charles I in 1516 and Holy Roman emperor as Charles V in 1519. In Brussels on Oct. 25, 1555, Charles V abdicated the Netherlands to his son, who in January 1556 assumed the throne of Spain as Philip II. As a consequence of revolt in 1567, the southern provinces became subject to Spain (1579), then to the Austrian Habsburgs (1713), to France (1795), and finally in 1815 to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While Luxembourg remained linked to the Netherlands until 1867, Belgium’s union with the Netherlands ended with the 1830 revolution. Belgian nationality is generally considered to date from this event.

Dutch Revolt[]

The northern region now known as the Netherlands became increasingly Protestant (i.e. Calvinistic), while the south remained primarily Catholic. The schism resulted in the Union of Atrecht and the Union of Utrecht. When Philip II, son of Charles, ascended the Spanish throne he tried to abolish all Protestantism. Portions of the Netherlands revolted, beginning the Eighty Years' War between the Netherlands and Spain. For the conquered Southern Netherlands the war ended in 1585 with the Fall of Antwerp. This can be seen as the start of Belgium as one region. That same year, the northern provinces seized independence in the Act of Abjuration (Plakkaat van Verlatinghe), launching the United Provinces and the Dutch Golden Age.[16]

King Philip II sent in Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, as Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands from 1578 to 1592. Farnese led a successful campaign 1578-1592 against the Dutch Revolt, in which he captured the main cities in the south (now Belgium) and returned them to the control of Catholic Spain.[17] He took advantage of the divisions in the ranks of his opponents between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons, using persuasion to take advantage of the divisions and foment the growing discord. By doing so he was able to bring back the Walloon provinces to an allegiance to the king. By the treaty of Arras in 1579, he secured the support of the 'Malcontents', as the Catholic nobles of the south were styled. The seven northern provinces, controlled by Calvinists, responded with the Union of Utrecht, where they resolved to stick together to fight Spain. Farnese secured his base in Hainaut and Artois, then moved against Brabant and Flanders. City after city fell: Tournai, Maastricht, Breda, Bruges and Ghent opened their gates. Farnese finally laid siege to the great seaport of Antwerp. The town was open to the sea, strongly fortified, and well defended under the leadership of Marnix van St. Aldegonde. Farnese cut off all access to the sea by constructing a bridge of boats across the Scheldt. The city surrendered in 1585 as 60,000 Antwerp citizens (60% of the pre-siege population) fled north. All of the southern Netherlands was once more under Spanish control. In a war composed mostly of sieges rather than battles, he proved his mettle. His strategy was to offer generous terms for surrender: there would be no massacres or looting; historic urban privileges were retained; there was a full pardon and amnesty; return to the Catholic Church would be gradual.[18] Meanwhile Catholic refugees from the North regrouped in Cologne and Douai and developed a more militant, Tridentine identity. They became the mobilising forces of a popular Counter-Reformation in the South, thereby facilitating the eventual emergence of the state of Belgium.[19]

File:Peter Paul Rubens - The Adoration of the Magi - WGA20244.jpg

Rubens' Adoration of the Magii (1624)

While the United Provinces gained independence, the Southern Netherlands remained under the rule of Spain (1556–1713).

Until 1581 the history of Belgium (except the Bishopric of Liège), the grand duchy of Luxembourg and the country the Netherlands is the same: they formed the country/region of the Netherlands or the Low Countries. In Dutch, a distinction still exists between on the one hand 'de Nederlanden' (plural, the Low Countries) and 'Nederland' (singular, the present-day state of the Netherlands) that is a consequence of this separation in the 17th century. Before 1581, the Netherlands refers to the Lowlands (De Nederlanden).

17th and 18th centuries[]

File:Bataille de Fleurus 1794.JPG

French soldiers fight at Fleurus in Belgium during the Revolutionary Wars, 1794

During the 17th century, Antwerp was a major European center for commerce, industry and art. The Brueghels, Peter Paul Rubens and Van Dyck's baroque paintings were created during this period. See also:

  • Gerardus Mercator
  • Jodocus Hondius
  • War of Devolution, Franco-Dutch War, War of the Reunions, Nine Years War, War of the Spanish Succession

The Belgian and Luxembourgish territories (except the Bishopric of Liège) were transferred to the Austrian Habsburgs (1713–1794) after the War of the Spanish Succession when the French Bourbon Dynasty inherited Spain at the price of abandoning many Spanish possessions. They were thus called the Austrian Netherlands from 1713 to 1794.[20]

French period[]

The Brabant revolution of 1787-90 overlapped with the French Revolution (which began in 1789). Led by Brabant the call was for independence from Austria for the Austrian Netherlands. However the movement was beset by factionalism the Austrians were soon back in control.[21] Most businessmen joined in the insurrection against Joseph II. But they soon divided into two groups. The greater men of affairs joined the Vonckists faction led by Jan Frans Vonck (1743–92), which was more revolutionary as in its demands for democratic reforms. Small business and members of the trade guilds typically supported Henri Van der Noot and his estates party. It called for independence from Austria but was conservative in social and religious questions.[22]

Coalition Wars[]

Following the Campaigns of 1794 of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Southern Netherlands were invaded and annexed by the First French Republic in 1795, ending Habsburg rule.

Belgium was divided into nine united départements and became an integral part of France. The Bishopric of Liège was dissolved. Its territory was divided over the départements Meuse-Inférieure and Ourte. Austria confirmed the loss of the Austrian Netherlands by the Treaty of Campo Formio, in 1797.

Godechot finds that after the annexation, Belgium's business community supported the new regime unlike the peasants, who remained hostile.Template:Citation needed Annexation opened new French markets for wool and other goods from Belgium. Bankers and merchants helped finance and supply the French army. Antwerp was greatly benefited by the lifting of the prohibition against seaborne trade on the Scheldt that had been enforced by the Netherlands. Antwerp became a major French port with a world trade.[23]

Until the establishment of the Consulate in 1799, Catholics were heavily repressed by the French. The first University of Leuven was closed in 1797 and churches were plundered. During this early period of the French rule, the Belgian economy was completely paralyzed as taxes had to be paid in gold and silver coin while goods bought by the French were paid for with worthless assignats. During this period of systematic exploitation, about 800,000 Belgians fled the Southern Netherlands.[24] The French occupation in Belgium led to further suppression of the Dutch language across the country, including its abolition as an administrative language.[25][26] With the motto "one nation, one language", French became the only accepted language in public life as well as in economic, political, and social affairs.[27] The measures of the successive French governments and in particular the 1798 massive conscription into the French army were particularly unpopular within the Flemish segment of the population and caused the Peasants' War.[28] The Peasants' War is often seen as the starting point of the modern Flemish movement.[29]

In 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate by the Allies and was exiled and French control of Belgium ended. However, Napoleon returned to power during the Hundred Days in 1815. Allied forces decisively defeated him in Belgium at the Battle of Waterloo, south of Brussels.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands[]

After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the major victorious powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) agreed at Congress of Vienna on reuniting the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Dutch Republic, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was to serve as a buffer state against any future French invasions. This was under the rule of a Protestant king, namely William I. Most of the small and ecclesiastical states in the Holy Roman Empire were given to larger states at this time, and this included the Prince-Bishopric of Liège which became now formally part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

William I, who reigned from 1815–1840, had almost unlimited constitutional power, the constitution having been written by a number of notable people chosen by him. An enlightened despot, he had no difficulty in accepting some of the changes resulting from the social transformation of the previous 25 years, including equality of all before the law. However, he resurrected the estates as a political class and elevated a large number of people to the nobility. Voting rights were still limited, and only the nobility were eligible for seats in the upper house.

William I was a Calvinist and intolerant of the Catholic majority in the newly created United Kingdom of the Netherlands. He promulgated the "Fundamental Law of Holland", with some modifications. This entirely overthrew the old order of things in the southern Netherlands, suppressed the clergy as an order, abolished the privileges of the Catholic Church, and guaranteed equal protection to every religious creed and the enjoyment of the same civil and political rights to every subject of the king. It reflected the spirit of the French Revolution and in so doing did not please the Catholic bishops in the south, who had detested the Revolution.[30]

William I actively promoted economic modernization. His position as monarch was ambivalent, however; his sovereignty was real, but his authority was shared with a legislature elected partly by himself and partly by the wealthy citizens under a constitution granted by the king. Government was in the hands of ministries of state. The old provinces were reestablished in name only. The government was now fundamentally unitary, and all authority flowed from the center. The first 15 years of the Kingdom showed progress and prosperity, as industrialization proceeded rapidly in the south, where the Industrial Revolution allowed entrepreneurs and labor to combine in a new textile industry, powered by local coal mines. There was little industry in the northern provinces, but most overseas colonies were restored, and highly profitable trade resumed after a 25 year hiatus. Economic liberalism combined with moderate monarchical authoritarianism to accelerate the adaptation of the Netherlands to the new conditions of the 19th century. The country prospered until a crisis arose in relations with the southern provinces.

Unrest in the southern provinces[]

Protestants controlled the new country although they formed only a quarter of the population.[31] In theory, Catholics had full legal equality; in practice their voice was not heard. Few Catholics held high state or military offices. The king insisted that schools in the South end their traditional teaching of Catholic doctrine, even though everyone there was Catholic.[32] Socially, the French-speaking Walloons strongly resented the king's policy to make Dutch the language of government. There was also growing outrage at the king's insensitivity to social differences. According to Schama, there was growing hostility to the Dutch government whose "initiatives were met at first with curiosity, then with apprehension and finally with fierce and unyielding hostility."[33]

Political liberals in the south had their own grievances, especially regarding the king's authoritarian style; he seemed uncaring about the issue of regionalism, flatly vetoing a proposal for a French-language teacher-training college in francophone Liège. Finally, all factions in the South complained of unfair representation in the national legislature. The south was industrializing faster and was more prosperous than the north, leading to resentment of northern arrogance and political domination.

The outbreak of revolution in France in 1830 was used as a signal for revolt. The demand at first was autonomy for Belgium, as the southern provinces were now called. Eventually, revolutionaries began demanding total independence.[34]


File:Wappers - Episodes from September Days 1830 on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Brussels.JPG

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Egide Charles Gustave Wappers (1834), in the Musée d'Art Ancien, Brussels

The Belgian Revolution broke out in August 1830 when crowds, stirred by a performance of Auber's La Muette de Portici at the Brussels opera house of La Monnaie, spilled out onto the streets singing patriotic songs. Violent street fighting soon broke out, as anarchy reigned in Brussels. The liberal bourgeoisie who had initially been at the forefront of the revolution, were appalled by the violence and willing to accept a compromise with the Dutch.[35]

The revolution broke out for numerous reasons. On a political level, the Belgians felt significantly under-represented in the Netherlands' elected Lower Assembly and disliked the unpopular Dutch prince, the future William II who was the representative of King William I in Brussels. The French-speaking Walloons also felt ostracised in a majority Dutch speaking country. There were also significant religious grievances felt by the majority Catholic Belgians in a nation controlled by the Dutch Protestants.

The king assumed the protest would blow itself out. He waited for a surrender, announcing an amnesty for all revolutionaries, except foreigners and the leaders. When this did not succeed he sent in the army. Dutch forces were able to penetrate the Schaerbeek Gate into Brussels, but the advance was stalled in the Parc de Bruxelles under a hale of sniper fire. Royal troops elsewhere met determined resistance from revolutionaries at makeshift barricades. It is estimated that there were no more than 1,700 revolutionaries (described by the French Ambassador as an "undisciplined rabble"[35]) in Brussels at the time, faced with over 6,000 Dutch troops. However, faced with strong opposition, Dutch troops were ordered out of the capital on the night of September 26 after three days of street fighting. There were also battles around the country as revolutionaries clashed with Dutch forces. In Antwerp, eight Dutch warships bombarded the city following its capture by revolutionary forces.

Belgian independence was not allowed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna; nevertheless the revolutionaries were regarded sympathetically by the major powers of Europe, especially the British. In November 1830, the London Conference of 1830 or "Belgian Congress" (comprising delegates from five major powers) ordered an armistice on November 4. The British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston was fearful of Belgium either becoming a republic or being annexed to France, and so invited a monarch from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany to take the throne. On July 21, 1831, the first "King of the Belgians", Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg was inaugurated. The date of his acceptance of the constitution - 21 July 1831 - is marked a national holiday.[36]

The liberal bourgeoisie who had been thrown off balance by the early stages of the revolution, hastily formed a provisional government under Charles Rogier to negotiate with the Dutch, officially declaring Belgian independence on October 4, 1830. The Belgian National Congress was formed to draw up a constitution. Under the new constitution, Belgium became a sovereign, independent state with a constitutional monarchy. However, the constitution did severely limit voting rights to the French-speaking haute-bourgeoisie and the clergy, in a country where French was not the majority language. The Catholic church was afforded a good deal of freedom from state intervention.

The war with the Netherlands lasted another eight years, but in 1839, the Treaty of London was signed between the two countries. By the treaty of 1839, Luxembourg did not join Belgium, but remained a possession of the Netherlands until different inheritance laws caused it to separate as an independent Grand Duchy. Belgium also lost Eastern Limburg, Zeeuws Vlaanderen and French Flanders and Eupen: four territories which it had claimed on historical grounds. The Netherlands retained the former two while French Flanders, which had been annexed at the time of Louis XIV remained in French possession, and Eupen remained within the German Confederation, although it would pass to Belgium after World War I in reparations.

At the Treaty of London, Britain also made a guarantee of Belgian Neutrality that would be the stated Casus belli of Britain's entry into the First World War.[37]

Independence to World War I[]

Industrial Revolution[]

File:0 Frameries - Charbonnage de Crachet Picquery (1).JPG

A "Gallow frame" from a mine at Frameries, Wallonia

See also Industrial Revolution

Most of society was highly traditional, especially in the small villages and rural areas and the quality of education was low.[38] Few people expected that Belgium-seemingly a "sluggish" and "culturally dormant" bastion of traditionalism-would leap to the forefront of the industrial revolution on the Continent.[39] Nevertheless Belgium was the second country, after Britain, in which the industrial revolution took place and it set the pace for all of continental Europe, while leaving the Netherlands behind.[40]

Industrialization took place in Wallonia (French speaking southern Belgium), starting in the middle of the 1820s, and especially after 1830. The available of cheap coal was a main factor that attracted entrepreneurs. Numerous works comprising coke blast furnaces as well as puddling and rolling mills were built in the coal mining areas around Liège and Charleroi. The leader was a transplanted Englishman John Cockerill. His factories at Seraing integrated all stages of production, from engineering to the supply of raw materials, as early as 1825.[41]

Industry spread through the Sillon industriel ("industrial district"), Haine, Sambre and Meuse valleys.[42] By 1830 when iron became important the Belgium coal industry had long been established, and used steam-engines for pumping. Coal was sold to local mills and railways as well as to France and Prussia.

The textile industry, based on cotton and flax, employed about half of the industrial workforce for much of the industrial period. Ghent was the premier industrial city in Belgium until the 1880s, when the center of growth moved to Liège, with its steel industry.[43]

Wallonia had rich coalfields over much of its area, and the highly folded nature of coal seams meant that it could be found at relatively shallow depths. Deep mines were not required at first so there were a large number of small operations. There was a complex legal system for concessions, often multiple layers had different owners. Entrepreneurs started going deeper and deeper (thanks to the innovation of steam pumping). In 1790, the maximum depth of mines was 220 meters. By 1856, the average depth in the area west of Mons was 361, and in 1866, 437 meters and some pits had reached down 700 and 900 meters; one was 1,065 meters deep, probably the deepest coal mine in Europe at this time. Gas explosions were a serious problem, and Belgium had high fatality rates. By the late 19th century the seams were becoming exhausted and the steel industry was importing some coal from the Ruhr.[44]

Cheap and readily available coal attracted firms producing metals and glass, both of which required considerable amounts of coal, and so regions around coal fields became highly industrialised. The Sillon industriel (Industrial Valley), and in particular the Pays Noir around Charleroi, were the centre of the steel industry until the Second World War.


File:Stoomloc Le Belge.jpg

The first Belgian-produced steam locomotive, "The Belgian" ("Le Belge") built in 1835

The small nation provided an ideal model for showing the value of the railways for speeding the Industrial Revolution. After 1830, the new nation decided to stimulate industry. It funded a simple cross-shaped system that connected the major cities, ports and mining areas, and linked to neighboring countries. Belgium thus became the railway center of the region. The system was very soundly built along British lines, so that profits and wages were low but the infrastructure necessary for rapid industrial growth was put in place. Léopold I went on to build the first railway in continental Europe in 1835, between Brussels and Mechelen. The first trains were drawn by Stephenson engines imported from Great Britain.[45] The development of smaller railways in Belgium, notably the Liège-Jemappes line, was launched by tendering contracts to private companies which "became the model for the extension of small local railways all over the low countries."[46]

By the 1900s, the Belgium was a major exporter of trams and other rail components, exporting vast quantities of railway materials. In South America, 3,800 kilometers of track were owned by Belgian firms, with a further 1,500 kilometers in China.[46] One Belgian entrepreneur, Édouard Empain, known as the "Tramway King," built many public transport systems across the world, including the Paris Métro, as well as the tram systems in Cairo, Boulogne and Astrakhan. Empain's firm also built the new Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.[47]

Other important businesses included Cockerill-Sambre (steel), the chemical factories of Ernest Solvay, and the firearms maker Fabrique Nationale de Herstal.

Liberalism and Catholicism[]

See also Liberalism in Belgium and First Schools' War

Before the arrival of the socialists on the political spectrum in the 1890s, Belgian politics was polarised between the conservative Catholic Party and the secular Liberal Party. Both sides had firm beliefs on the role of the Church in society and this dominated much of the politics of post-independence Belgium.

The conflict came to a head during the "First Schools' War" of 1879-1884 as liberal attempts to introduce a greater level of secularism in primary education were beaten back by outraged Catholics. The Schools' War ushered in a period of Catholic Party dominance in Belgian politics which would last (almost unbroken) until the 1917.

Religious problems also extended to university education, where secular universities like the Université Libre de Bruxelles competed with Catholic universities like the Catholic University of Leuven.

Linguistic conflict[]

The majority of those in the north of the country spoke Dutch and other Low Franconian languages while those in the south spoke Langues d'oïl such as French, Walloon and Picard. French became the official language of government after the separation from the Netherlands in 1830 and Belgian cultural life was especially dominated by the French influence,[48][49] reinforced by economic domination of the industrial south. Flemish was "reduced to the tongue of a second-class culture."[50] Parts of the Flemish population reacted against this, agitating for the equality of their language with French. This was partly due to a sense of growing Flemish identity, made possible through greater awareness of Flemish culture and history from the 1840s. Flemish victories, like the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302 were celebrated and a Flemish cultural movement, led by figures like Hendrik Conscience was born.

Their goal of linguistic equality (especially in schools and courts) was only finally achieved by a series of laws in the 1920s and 1930s Template:Which that made Flemish the language of government, education, and the courts in the northern provinces of East Flanders and West Flanders, Antwerp, Limburg, and eastern Brabant. Brussels, the capital, which had seen a major language shift to French, became an officially bilingual region.

Foreign relations and military policy[]

File:Medaille Commemorative 1870 71 Belgique AVERS.jpg

Commemorative Medal awarded to Belgian soldiers who had served during the Franco-Prussian War.

See also Belgium and the Franco-Prussian War

In the mid-1860s during the "Mexican Adventure", around 1,500 Belgian soldiers joined the "Belgian Expeditionary Corps," better known as the "Belgian Legion" to fight for Emperor Maximilian I, whose wife, Charlotte was the daughter of Leopold I of Belgium.[51]

Belgium was not a belligerent in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71, but the proximity of the war led to the mobilisation of the army.[52] The 1839 international guarantee of Belgian neutrality was not violated.

After the conflict, there was talk of modernising the military. The system of Remplacement (whereby wealthy Belgians conscripted into the military could pay for a "replacement") was abolished and an improved system of conscription implemented. These reforms, led by d'Anethan under pressure from Leopold II, divided Belgian politics. The Catholics united with the Liberals under Frère-Orban to oppose them, and the reforms were finally defeated when d'Anethan's government fell during an unrelated scandal.[53] Eventually, the military was reformed. The 1909 System instituted compulsory military service of eight years' service on active duty and five years in the reserves. This swelled the size of the Belgian army to over 100,000 well-trained men.[37] Construction of a chain of forts along the border was intensified, and let to a series of very modern fortifications, including the so-called "National redoubt" at Antwerp, at Liège and Namur, many of them designed by the great Belgian fortress architect, Henri Alexis Brialmont.

Rise of the Socialist Party and the trade unions[]

See also Belgian Labour Party and Belgian general strikes

The economy was stagnant during the long depression of 1873-95, as prices and wages fell and labour unrest grew.[54] The Belgian Workers' Party was founded in 1885 in Brussels. It issued the Charter of Quaregnon in 1894 calling for an end to capitalism and a thorough reorganization of society. Though, the Belgian Workers' Party was not elected to government until the late 20th century, it exerted considerable pressure on the rest of the political process, both through direct participation in politics themselves, but also through general strikes.

During the late 19th century, general strikes became an established aspect of the political process. Between 1892 and 1961, there were 20 major strikes, including 7 general strikes. Many of these had overtly political motives, like the 1893 General Strike that helped achieve universal suffrage.

On several occasions, Belgian general strikes escalated into violence. In 1893, soldiers fired on the striking crowd, killing several. Karl Marx wrote, "There exists but one country in the civilised world where every strike is eagerly and joyously turned into a pretext for the official massacre of the Working Class. That country of single blessedness is Belgium!"[55]

Nevertheless, Belgium created a welfare net particularly early, thanks in part to the trade unions. Sickness compensation was established in 1894, voluntary old-age insurance in 1900 and unemployment insurance in 1907, achieveing good coverage nationwide much more quickly than its neighbours.[56]

Voting Rights[]

File:Bardouxha Mont 1893-mw-c.jpg

The "Fusilade of Mons" during the 1893 strike as the Borains are fired on by the Garde Civique during the protests for universal suffrage.

See also Belgian general strike of 1893

In 1893 the government rejected a proposal for universal male suffrage. Outraged, the Belgian Labour Party called a General Strike; by April 17, there were more than 50,000 strikers. Violent confrontations broke out with the Garde Civique (the Civil Guard or militia) around the country, as in Mons, where several strikers were killed. Violence escalated. The government soon backed down, and passed universal suffrage, with multiple votes based on wealth, education and age. The Catholic conservatives, with 68% of the seats, remained in power, as the Liberals dropped to only 13% of the seats and the Socialists held their share.[57]

As in many countries, women's suffrage was introduced at the end of the First World War, however the last restrictions of Women's voting were only lifted in 1948.[58]


High culture in Belgium began a revival, towards the late 19th century. Particularly, among Walloons with the new French language literary and artistic review La Jeune Belgique (1881–97). Prominent writers in French of the period include the great romantic and symbolist poet Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949, who won a Nobel Prize in 1911), dramatists Michel de Ghelderode (1898–1962), Henri Michaux (1899–1984), and the poet and playwright Émile Verhaeren (1855–1916): one of the founders of symbolism.

Belgian study of history was led by Godefroid Kurth (1847-1916), a student of the German historian Ranke. Kurth taught there historical methods to his students at the University of Liege; the great Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) was influenced by this method during his period as a student of Kurth.[59]

Architecture and Art Nouveau[]


The Cinquantenaire Arch, built in 1905

See also Art Nouveau

At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, monumental Historicism and Neoclassicism dominated the urban Belgian landscape, particularly in government buildings, between the 1860s and 1890s. Championed in part by King Leopold II (known as the "Builder King"), the style can be seen in the Palais de Justice (designed by Joseph Poelaert) and the Cinquantenaire, both of which survive in Brussels.

Nevertheless, Brussels became one of the major European cities for the development of the Art Nouveau style in the late 1890s. The architects Victor Horta, Paul Hankar, and Henry van de Velde became particularly famous for their designs, many of which survive today in Brussels. Four buildings designed by Horta are listed by UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tragically, Horta's largest work, the Maison du Peuple was demolished in 1960.


See also Belgian colonial empire

Congo Free State and Belgian Congo[]

File:Punch congo rubber cartoon.jpg

A 1906 British Punch cartoon depicting Leopold II as a rubber vine entangling a Congolese man

Main articles: Congo Free State and Belgian Congo

At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 the Congo was attributed solely to Leopold II of Belgium, who named the territory the Congo Free State, originally intended to be an international Free Trade zone, open all European traders.[60] King Leopold had been the principal shareholder in the Belgian trading company which established trading stations on the lower Congo between 1879 and 1884.[61] Power was finally transferred to Belgium in 1908 under considerable international pressure following numerous reports of misconduct and abuse to native labourers.

European exploration and administration of the Congo took place from the 1870s until the 1920s. First by Stanley who undertook his explorations mainly under the sponsorship of Leopold II, who desired what was to become the Congo as a colony. In a succession of negotiations Leopold, professing humanitarian objectives in his capacity as chairperson of the Association International Africaine, played one European rival against the other. The Congo territory was acquired formally by Leopold at the Conference of Berlin in 1885. The country, under his personal jurisdiction, was named the Congo Free State. Congolese territory, covering just under 1 million miles squared,[62] more than 80 times the size of Belgium.Template:Citation needed The first development projects took place during the Free State period, such as a railway that ran from the Léopoldville to the coast which took several years to complete.

The era of the Congo Free State is most infamous for the large number of atrocities committed under it. Since it was, in effect, a business proposition (it was run by a private company, headed by Leopold himself), it aimed to gain as much money as possible from primary exports from the territory.[63] Leopold's personal fortune was greatly increased through the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had never previously been mass-produced in such surplus quantities, for the growing market for tyres. During the period between 1885 and 1908, between three[64] and thirteen[65] million. A commonly cited figure is eight million[66] Congolese died through of exploitation and disease while the birth rate also dropped.[67] However, these estimates are guesses and no figures are available for the period.[68]

To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was created. Whilst the Force Publique was nominally a military force (it would later fight during both First and Second World Wars), during the Congo Free State period its primary duties involved enforcing rubber quotas in rural areas. Imprisonment and summary executions were common. Decapitating limbs was sometimes used by the Force Publique as a method of enforcing the quotas.[69]

Following reports from missionaries and those who had traveled to the Congo free state first hand, a moral outrage campaign against the Congo Free State was born, particularly in Britain and the United States. The Congo Reform Association, led by Edmund Dene Morel, was particularly important in the campaign, and published numerous best-selling tracts and pamphlets (including Red Rubber) which were reached a vast public. The campaign also benefited from other material, supplied by other figures including British diplomat Roger Casement, who published a detailed report on the subject in 1904, as well as famous writers such as Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle. Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness also takes place in Congo Free State. King Leopold appointed and financed his own commission to put these rumours about the Congo Free State to rest, but in the end his own commission confirmed and investigated the atrocities.

The Belgian parliament long refused to take over the colony as a financial burden. In 1908, the Belgian parliament responded to the international pressure, annexing the Free State, as the campaigners had argued for. After World War II, Belgian was criticized by the United Nations for making no progress on the political front as other contemporary colonial states were doing.

Political rights were not granted to the Africans until 1956 when a the growing middle class (the so-called Évolué) received the franchise and the economy remained relatively undeveloped despite the mineral wealth of Katanga. For 18 months from January 1, 1959 there was political uncertainty and African national feeling became more apparent with the effect that the Belgian government resolved on independence for the colony in June 1960.

At the Round Table Talks on independence, Belgium requested a process of gradual independence over 4 yearsTemplate:Citation Needed, but following a series of riots in 1959, the decision was made to bring forward independence in matter of months. The chaos in which Belgium departed the Congo causedTemplate:Citation Needed the secession of rich Western-backed province Katanga and the prolonged civil war known as the Congo Crisis.

China 1902-31[]

The Belgian Tianjin Concession in China was established in 1902. There was little investment and no settlement. However it led to a contract to supply an electric light and trolley system. In 1906, Tianjin became the first city in China with a modern public transportation system. The supply of electricity and lighting and the trolley business were profitable ventures. All the rolling stock was supplied by Belgian industries and by 1914, the network also reached nearby Austrian, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian concessions.

Rwanda-Urundi 1917-61[]

After the defeat of Germany in World War I, Belgium inherited League of Nations mandates over Rwanda-Urundi.

The colony was administered in a similar way as by the former German administrators, continuing policies such as ethnic identity cards. In 1959, moves towards independence could be seen in the territory and agitation by PARMEHUTU a Hutu political party was evident. In 1960, the Rwandan Revolution occurred and Belgium changed the appointments of chiefs and vice-chiefs to promote Hutus into the posts.

Ruanda-Urundi gained independence in 1962 and its two regions, Rwanda and Burundi, separated.

World War One[]

File:Belgian machinegunner in 1918 guarding trench.jpg

A Belgian machine gunner at the front lines in 1918, firing a Chauchat machine gun.

See also: Belgium in World War I

When World War I began, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg as part of the Schlieffen Plan, trying to take Paris quickly. It was this action that caused the British to enter the war, as they were still bound by the 1839 agreement to protect Belgium in the event of a war. The Belgians army is remembered for their stubborn resistance during the early days of the war, with the army - around a tenth the size of the Germany Army - holding up the German offensive for nearly a month, giving the French and British forces time to prepare for the Marne counteroffensive later in the year. The German invaders treated any resistance—such as sabotaging rail lines—as illegal and subversive, and shot the offenders and burned buildings in retaliation.

Belgium had a prosperous economy in 1914 but after four years of occupation, it emerged ruined at the end of the war. On the other hand it suffered few deaths in combat. The Germans had "brutally and efficiently stripped the country bare. Machinery, spare parts, whole factories including the roofs, had disappeared eastward. In 1919, 80 percent of its workforce was unemployed."[70]

Military Role[]

See also Battle of the Yser

Belgian soldiers fought delaying actions in 1914 during the initial invasion. They succeeded in throwing the elaborate German invasion plan off schedule and helped sabotage the Schlieffen Plan that Berlin had counted on a for a quick victory over France, At the Battle of Liège, the town's fortifications were able to hold off the invaders for over a week, buying valuable time for the Allies. The German "Race to the Sea" was by Belgian forces at the Battle of the Yser. King Albert I stayed in the Yser as commander of the military to lead the army while Broqueville's government withdrew to nearby Le Havre in France. Belgian units continued to serve on the front until 1918.

Forces from the Belgian Congo also played a major role in the African Campaign and a small unit of Belgian also served on the Eastern Front.

Occupation 1914-18[]

File:Deutsches Reich - Belgien 1.jpg

German stamp, overprinted with Belgien (Belgium) for use in the occupied country

See also Rape of Belgium

The Germans governed the occupied areas of Belgium through a General Governorate of Belgium, while a small area of the country remained unoccupied by the Germans.

The whole country was ruled under martial law.[71] On the advice of the government, civil servants remained in their posts for the duration of the conflict, carrying out the day-to-day functions of government.[71] Belgian workers were conscripted into forced labour projects, by 1918, the Germans had deported 120,000 Belgian workers to Germany.[72]

The German army executed over between 5,500[71] and 6,500[73] French and Belgian civilians between August and November 1914, usually in near-random large-scale shootings of civilians ordered by junior German officers. Individuals suspected of partisan activities were summarily shot.[74] Several important Belgian figures, including politician Adolphe Max and historian Henri Pirenne were deported to Germany.

Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities viewed the Flemish as an oppressed people and had had taken several Flemish-friendly measures, known as Flamenpolitik. This included introducing Flemish as the language of instruction of all state-supported schools in Flanders in 1918.[75] This prompted a renewed Flemish movement in the years following the war. The Flemish Frontbeweging (Soldiers' Movement) was formed from Flemish soldiers in the Belgian army to campaign for greater use of Flemish language in education and government, though not separatist.[76]

International relief[]

Belgium faced a food crisis and an international response was organized by the American engineer Herbert Hoover.[77] It was unprecedented in world history. Hoover's Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) had the permission of Germany and the Allies.[78] As chairman of the CRB, Hoover worked with the leader of the Belgian Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation (CN), Emile Francqui, to feed the entire nation for the duration of the war. The CRB obtained and imported millions of tons of foodstuffs for the CN to distribute, and watched over the CN to make sure the German army didn't appropriate the food. The CRB became a veritable independent republic of relief, with its own flag, navy, factories, mills, and railroads. Private donations and government grants (78%) supplied an $11-million-a-month budget.[79]

At its peak, the American arm, the ARA fed 10.5 million people daily. Great Britain grew reluctant to support the CRB, preferring instead to emphasize Germany's obligation to supply the relief; Winston Churchill led a military faction that considered the Belgian relief effort "a positive military disaster."[80]

Belgium had a prosperous economy in 1914 but after four years of occupation, Belgium emerged ruined at the end of the war—the Germans had "brutally and efficiently stripped the country bare. Machinery, spare parts, whole factories including the roofs, had disappeared eastward. In 1919, 80 percent of its workforce was unemployed."[70]

Interwar Period[]

File:1920 olympics poster.jpg

Poster for the 1920 Summer Olympics, held at Antwerp

King Albert returned as a war hero, leading the victorious army and acclaimed by the population. In contrast, the government and the exiles came back discreetly. Belgium had been wrecked—not so much by combat as by German seizure of valuable machinery. Only 81 operable locomotives remained, out of the 3,470 available in 1914. 46 of 51 steel mills were damaged, with 26 destroyed totally. More than 100,000 houses had been destroyed, as well as and more than 300,000 acres of farmland.[81]

Waves of popular violence accompanied liberation in November and December 1918 and the government responded through the judiciary punishment of collaboration with the enemy conducted between 1919 and 1921. Shop windows were broken and houses sacked, men were harassed, and women's heads were shaved. Manufacturers who had closed their businesses sought the severe repression of those who had pursued their activities. Journalists who had boycotted and stopped writing called for harsh treatment of the newspapers that submitted to German censorship. Many people stigmatized profiteers and demanded justice. Thus in 1918, Belgium was already confronted with the problems associated with occupation that most European countries only discovered at the end of World War II.[82]

However, despite the status quo, Belgium recovered surprisingly quickly. The first postwar Olympic Games were held in Antwerp in 1920. In 1921, Luxembourg formed a customs union with Belgium.


German reparations to Belgium for damage incurred during the First World War was set at £12.5 billion pounds sterling. In 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles the area of Eupen-Malmedy, along with Moresnet was transferred to Belgium. "Neutral Moresnet" was transferred to Belgium, as well as the Vennbahn railway. An opportunity was given to the population to "oppose" against the transfer by signing a petition, which gathered few signatures, in large part thanks to intimidation by local authorities, and all regions remain part of Belgium today.

Belgian requests to annex territory considered as historically theirs, from the Dutch, who were perceived as collaborators, was denied.[81]

Between 1923 and 1926, Belgian and French soldiers were sent to the Ruhr in Germany to force the German government to agree to continue reparation payments. The Occupation of the Ruhr led the Dawes Plan which allowed the German government more leniency in paying reparations.

The League of Nations in 1925 made Belgium the trustee for the former German East Africa which bordered the Belgian Congo to the east. It became Rwanda-Urundi (or "Ruanda-Urundi") (modern day Rwanda and Burundi).[83] Although promising the League it would promote education, Belgium left the task to subsidised Catholic missions and unsubsidised Protestant missions. As late as 1962, when independence arrived, fewer than 100 natives had gone beyond secondary school. The policy was one of low-cost paternalism, as explained by Belgium's special representative to the Trusteeship Council: "The real work is to change the African in his essence, to transform his soul, [and] to do that one must love him and enjoy having daily contact with him. He must be cured of his thoughtlessness, he must accustom himself to living in society, he must overcome his inertia."[84]

Art and culture[]

The Expressionism painting movement found a distinctive form in Flanders under artists like James Ensor, Constant Permeke and Léon Spilliaert.

Belgian Surrealist art grew during the inter-war period. René Magritte's first surrealist painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), appeared in 1926. Paul Delvaux was also an extremely influential painter in this area.

Comic strips became extremely popular in Belgium during the 1930s. One of the most popular comics of the 20th century, Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in 1929. The growth of comic strips was also accompanied by a popular art movement, exemplified by Edgar P. Jacobs, Jijé, Willy Vandersteen and André Franquin.

World War Two[]

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-127-0362-14, Belgien, belgischer Panzer T13.jpg

German soldiers examine an abandoned Belgian T13 Tank, 1940

Outbreak and the Phoney War[]

As the German army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Belgian government announced its neutrality on September 3.

On November 7, King Leopold III made a joint public appeal with the Queen of the Netherlands, calling on all belligerents to accept mediation to terminate the war.[85]

The "18 Days' Campaign" 1940[]

See also Battle of Belgium

The Invasion of Belgium by Nazi Germany started on May 10, 1940 under the operational plan Fall Gelb and formed part of the greater Battle of France together with invasions of the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Belgian Albert Canal fortifications, some of the most modern defensive networks in Europe, proved near useless, as the Germans deployed glider-borne Fallschirmjäger against them, capturing the important fort at Eben-Emael.

The government's policy of neutrality had left Belgium with a quite outdated army, which managed to hold out against overwhelming odds against German forces for 18 days. Leopold III surrendered personally on May 28, contrary to the advice of Pierlot's government, having decided the Allied cause was lost.[86] The King remained in Belgium during the war as a German prisoner while the government went into exile and continued military action in the Allied cause.[87]

Belgian Army in the United Kingdom[]


Belgian-Congolese Force Publique soldiers, 1943

See also Free Belgian Forces

After the defeat in 1940, significant numbers of Belgian soldiers and civilians managed to escape to Britain to join the Belgian army in Exile. The Belgian government, under Hubert Pierlot had been evacuated to London where it remained until the liberation in 1944.

Belgian soldiers formed the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade, which also included a battery of soldiers from Luxembourg, more often known as the Brigade Piron after its commanding officer, Jean-Baptiste Piron. The Brigade Piron was involved in the Normandy Invasion and the battles in France and the Netherlands until liberation. Belgians also served in British special forces units during the war, forming a troop of No.10 Commando which was heavily involved in the Italian Campaign and Landings on Walcheren. The 5th Special Air Service (SAS) was entirely made up of Belgians.

Two Belgian squadrons, amounting to over 400 pilots, served in the Royal Air Force during the war, both 349 and 350 Squadrons, which claimed over 50 'kills'.[88]

Two Corvettes and a group of Minesweepers were also operated by the Belgians during the Battle of the Atlantic, comprising some 350 men in 1943[89]

A significant contribution was made by the Belgian Congo. Congolese soldiers of the Force Publique were involved in fighting with Italian forces during the East African Campaign. Congolese soldiers also served in the Middle East and Burma. The Congo was also a vitally important economic assett to the allied powers, particularly through its exports of rubber and uranium; in fact the uranium used during the Manhattan Project - including that used for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was supplied by the Belgian firm Union Minière du Haut Katanga from Katanga Province in the Belgian Congo.

Occupation 1940-44[]


The gallow at Breendonk Concentration Camp, near Mechelen

See also History of Belgium (1939-1945), Military Government and The Holocaust in Belgium

Belgium was run by a Germany military government between its surrender and liberation in September 1944.

The former fort at Breendonk, near Mechelen was requisitioned by the Nazis and used for detainment and interegation of Jews, political prisoners and captured members of the reistance. Of the 3,500 incarcerated in Breendonk between 1940–44, 1,733 died.[90] About 300 people were killed in the camp itself, with at least 98 of them dying from deprivation or torture.[91][92]

In 1940, nearly 70,000 Jews were living in Belgium. Of these, 46 percent were deported from the Mechelen transit camp, while a further 5,034 people were deported via the Drancy internment camp (close to Paris). From the summer of 1942 until 1944, twenty-eight transports left Belgium carrying 25,257 Jews and 351 Roma to eastern Europe. Their destination was often Auschwitz Death Camp. Over the course of the war, 25,257 Jews were transported (including 5,093 children) and 352 Roma over the Mechelen-Leuven railway to concentration camps. Only 1,205 returned home alive at the end of the war.


See also Belgian Resistance and CDJ

Resistance against the German occupiers of Belgium can be seen at all levels and from all quarters of the political spectrum, but was highly fragmented. The Government in Exile dealt with resistance collectively under the name Armée Secrète, however this was just a broad name for the many resistance organisations which existed. Some organisations were very left-wing, like the Communist Front de l'Indépendance, but there was also a far-right resistance movement, the Légion Belge which comprised dissident Rexists. However, there were also other groups like Groupe G which had no obvious political affiliation.

Resistance to the occupiers chiefly came in the form of helping allied airmen escape, and numerous lines were set up to organise this, for instance the Comet line which evacuated an estimated 14,000 allied airmen to Gibraltar.[93] Sabotage was also used, and Group G's activities alone are estimated to have cost the Nazis 20 million man-hours of labor to repair damages done.[94] The resistance were also instrumental in saving Jews and Roma from deportation to death camps, for instance the attack on the Twentieth convoy to Auschwitz Death Camp.There was also significant low-level resistance, for instance in June 1941, the City Council of Brussels refused to distribute Stars of David badges.[95] Many Belgians also hid Jews and political dissidents during the occupation, with one estimate putting the number at some 20,000 people.[96]



The flag of the francophone pro-Nazi Rexist party

See also Rexism, DeVlag, VNV and Verdinaso

During the period of Nazi occupation, some Belgians collaborated with their occupiers. There were pro-Nazi political organizations in both Flemish and Walloon communities before and during the war. The most significant were the Flemish DeVlag and Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV) as well as the Catholic Walloon Rexist movement. These organisations were also fundamental to encouraging Belgians to enlist into the German army. Two divisions of the Waffen SS, the Flemish 27th SS "Langemarck" Division and the Walloon 28th SS "Wallonien" Division. Some organisations, like Verdinaso appealed directly to Flemish separatist ideologies, though they did not become very popular.

After the war, many of those who had collaborated - including many of the guards at Fort Breendonk - were tried, imprisoned or shot.

Allied liberation 1944-45[]

Belgium was liberated late in 1944 by Allied forces, including British, Canadian, and American armies, including the Brigade Piron. On 3 September 1944 the Welsh Guards liberated Brussels. The British Second Army seized Antwerp on 4 of September 1944, and the First Canadian Army began conducting combat operations around the port that same month. Antwerp became a highly prized and heavily fought-over objective because its deep-water port was necessary to keep the allied armies supplied. The Battle of the Scheldt in October 1944 was fought primarily on Dutch soil, but with the objective of opening the way for boats to Antwerp. The port city was also the ultimate objective of German armies during the Ardennes Offensive which resulted in heavy fighting on Belgian soil during the winter of 1944-5.

Following liberation, large numbers of Belgians who had remained in the country during the occupation were mobilised into the Belgian army in 57 "Fusilier Battalions". 100,000 Belgians were mobilised for the allies by the end of the war.

Postwar Belgium[]

The "Royal Question"[]

See also Royal Question and General strike against Leopold III of Belgium

Immediately after the war, Léopold III had surrendered himself to the German army in 1940 was released, however, the issue of whether he had betrayed his country by surrendering (while most government ministers had escaped to the United Kingdom) presented an important constitutional dilemma. In particular, the Belgian public was concerned that he might be a collaborator - he had met Hitler in Berchtesgaden on November 19, 1940 and had even re-married (to Lilian Baels) during the war. Many Belgians, especially the Socialists, strongly opposed his return to power. He was kept in exile in Switzerland until 1950, while his brother Prince Charles presided as regent.

A referendum was proposed in 1950 to solve the problem. However, it produced a very close result. In Flanders, the electorate voted 70% favour ("Yes") of his return but Wallonia voted 58% against. Brussels also returned a 51% "No" vote. Although the referendum narrowly produced a favourable result for Léopold (about 57,68% in the country as a whole), the militant socialist movement in Liège, Hainaut and other urban centres incited major protests and even called a General Strike against his return.

Because of the possibility that the situation might escalate even further, Léopold III abdicated on July 16, 1951 in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin I.

Occupation of Germany, Korean War and EDC[]

File:Belgische Strijdkrachten Duitsland.gif

Map showing the area of West Germany occupied by Belgian forces after the Second World War, known as FBA-BSD

After the defeat of Germany in 1945, Belgian soldiers were assigned to occupy a section of West Germany, known as Belgian Forces in Germany (French: Forces belges en Allemagne, Dutch: Belgische strijdkrachten in Duitsland) or FBA-BSD. The last Belgian soldiers left Germany in 2002.[97]

The European Defence Community planned in the early 1950s would have involved Belgian soldiers, as well as soldiers from Germany, France and other Benelux countries. Though the planned EDC was never actually realised, it was still responsible for a major re-organisation of the Belgian army along US Army lines. Belgium was also involved in NATO.

In 1950, a unit of volunteers from the Belgian army was sent to fight for the United Nations in the Korean War against Chinese and North Korean invaders. The Belgian United Nations Command (or BUNC) arrived in Korea in early 1951, and fought at several key engagements of the conflict, including at the Battle of the Imjin River, Haktang-ni and Chatkol. BUNC was decorated and received presidential citations from both the United States and Republic of Korea. Over 300 Belgians were killed in action during the conflict. The last Belgian soldiers returned from Korea in 1955.[98][99]

Benelux and Europe[]

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-39998-0427, Paul-Henri Spaak.jpg

Paul-Henri Spaak, three-times Prime Minister and author of the Spaak Report, was a stauch believer in international bodies, including the ECSC and EEC

See also Benelux, Nato, ECSC and EEC

On September 5, 1944, the Benelux Customs Union was created. It entered into force in 1948, and ceased to exist on 1 November 1960, when it was replaced by the Benelux Economic Union after a treaty signed in The Hague on February 3, 1958. The Benelux Parliament was created in 1955.

The Treaty of Brussels, signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom, is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement, which Belgium became an official member of on April 4, 1949. The headquarters of NATO are located in Brussels, and the headquarters of SHAPE near Mons.

Belgium was also one of the original founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in July 1952 and of the European Economic Community formed by the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.[100] Belgium has been a member of the Schengen area since 1985.[101]

The Belgian "Economic Miracle"[]

During the period 1945–1975, Keynesian economic theory guided politicians throughout Western Europe and this was particularly influential in Belgium. After the war, the government cancelled Belgium's debts. It was during this period that the well-known Belgian highways were built. In addition, both the economy the average standard of living rose significantly. As noted by Robert Gildea:

“Social and economic policy was designed to restore liberal capitalism tempered by social reform, as prepared for during the war. Trade unions were also involved in a price and wage policy to cut inflation and this, together with the Allied use of Antwerp as the main entry point for war supplies, produced the so-called Belgian miracle of high economic growth combined with high wages.”[102]

Despite postwar affluence, however, many Belgians continued to live in poverty. An organisation of several poverty action groups, known as the National Action for Security of Subsistence, claimed that more than 900,000 Belgians (about 10% of the population) lived in poverty in 1967, while in the early Seventies, a group of social scientists called the Working Group on Alternative Economics estimated that about 14.5% of the Belgian population lived in poverty.[103]

In the sphere of economics, World War II marks a turning point. Because Flanders had been widely devastated during the war and had been largely agricultural since the Belgian uprising, it benefited most from the Marshall Plan. Its standing as an economically backward agricultural region meant that it obtained support from Belgium's membership of the European Union and its predecessors. At the same time, Wallonia experienced a slow relative decline as the products of its mines and mills came to be less in demand. The economic balance between the two parts of the country has remained less in favour of Wallonia than it was before 1939.

The Second "Schools War" 1950–59[]

After victory in the 1950 elections, a Christian Social Party (PSC-CVP) government came to power in Belgium. The new education minister, Pierre Harmel increased the wages of teachers in private (Catholic) schools and introduced laws linking the subsidies for private schools to the number of pupils. These measures were perceived by the anti-clerical Liberals and Socialists as a "declaration of war".

When the 1954 elections brought to power a coalition of Socialists and Liberals, the new Education Minister, Leo Collard, immediately set out to reverse the measures taken by his predecessor, founding a large number of secular schools and only permitting teachers with a diploma, forcing many priests out of the profession. These measures sparked mass protests from the Catholic bloc. A compromise was eventually found by the next government (a Catholic minority led by Gaston Eyskens), and the "Schools War" was concluded by the November 6, 1958 "School Pact".[104]

Congolese independence and the Congo Crisis[]

File:Congo Crisis dead hostages.jpg

Belgian soldier taking cover by the corpses of dead hostages, November 1964 in Stanleyville during Operation Dragon Rouge

After riots in the Congo in 1959, the scheduled gradual transition to independence was speeded up dramatically. In June 1960, the Belgian Congo was replaced by the short lived First Republic of Congo, led by the democratically elected and charismatic Congolese statesman Patrice Lumumba, a former political prisoner. Belgian forces withdrew, leaving the military force, the Force Publique, under Congo's control. Order broke down as mutinying soldiers attacked whites who remained in the country. Belgians forces were briefly sent in to evacuate the white civilian population and army officers.

In July 1960, the southern state of Katanga Province declared its independence, forming the State of Katanga. Katanga's bid for sovereignty was supported by Belgian mining companies and soldiers, who had considerable assets in the area. Later that month, United Nations peacekeepers were deployed to the country. During this period of anarchy, the region of South Kasai also declared independence. Faced with the possibility that the Soviet Union would attempt to use the situation to install a sympathetic regime, western powers including Belgium, supported Joseph Mobutu who installed his own, right-wing regime in the Congo. Lumumba was murdered and civil war ensued. Belgian paratroopers were again deployed to the country, this time to rescue civilian hostages captured in Stanleyville during an unsuccessful operation known as Dragon Rouge. At the end Mobutu emerged as the ruler of the re-unified country, which he named Zaire.

The General Strike of 1960-61[]

File:Metingue Brussele1960a.jpg

Walloon workers demonstration in Brussels in the winter of 1960

See also 1960–1961 Winter General Strike

In December 1960, Wallonia was gripped by a general strike in response the general decline of Wallonian manufacturing but it succeeded only in Wallonia, in a period of turbulence in the aftermath of the Second Schools War. The Wallonian workers demanded federalism, in addition to structural reforms. Even though the strike had been intended to be nation-wide, Flemish workers appeared reluctant to support it.

The Strike was led by André Renard, the founder of "Renardism" which combined militant socialism with Walloon nationalism. The historian Renée Fox described Wallonia's alienation:

At the beginning of the 1960s (...), a major reversal in the relationship between Flanders and Wallonia was taking place. Flanders had entered a vigorous, post–World War II period of industialization, and a significant percentage of the foreign capital (particularly from the United States, coming into Belgium to support new industries, was being invested in Flanders. In contrast, Wallonia's coal mines and time-worn steel plants and factories were in crisis. The region had lost thousands of jobs and much investment capital. A new Dutch-speaking, upwardly mobile "populist bourgeoisie" was not only becoming visible and vocal in Flemish movements but also in both the local and national policy... [The strike of December 1960 against the austerity law of Gaston Eyskens ] was replaced by a collective expression of the frustrations, anxieties, and grievances that Wallonia was experiencing in response to its altered situation, and by the demands of the newly formed Walloon Popular Movement for...regional autonomy for Wallonia...[105]

Nationwide the economy was generally healthy with an annual growth rate of 5% in the 1960s. However old inefficient factories were being shut down in textiles and leather goods. Coal miners were angered by the closure of used-up mines. Limburg miners at the Zwartberg mine rioted in 1966 to protest its closure. Two miners were killed by police and ten were injured, while nineteen policemen were hurt.[106] In 1973 a series of worldwide crises adversely affected the Belgian economy.

The "Linguistic Wars"[]

This Flemish resurgence has been accompanied by a corresponding shift of political power to the Flemish, who always constituted the majority of the population (around 60%). Only in 1967 was an official Dutch version of the Constitution accepted.[107]

The linguistic wars attained their climax around 1968 with the splitting of the Catholic University of Leuven into the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Université Catholique de Louvain. The government of Paul Vanden Boeynants fell over the issue in 1968.

The rise of the federal state[]

File:Vlaamse vlag.jpg

The flag of Flanders incorporating the Flemish lion, also used by the Flemish Movement.

The successive linguistic wars have made the successive Belgian governments very unstable. The three major parties (Liberal -right wing-, Catholic -center- and, Socialist -left wing-) all split in two according to their French- or Dutch-speaking electorate. A language border was determined by the first Gilson Act of November 8, 1962. The boundaries of certain provinces, arrondissements and municipalities were modified (among others, Mouscron became a part of Hainaut and Voeren became a part of Limburg) and facilities for linguistic minorities were introduced in 25 municipalities. On August 2, 1963, the second Gilson Act entered into force, fixing the division of Belgium into four language areas: a Dutch, a French and a German language area, with Brussels as a bilingual area.

In 1970, there was a first state reform, which resulted in the establishment of three cultural communities: the Dutch Cultural Community, the French Cultural Community and the German Cultural Community. This reform was a response to the Flemish demand for cultural autonomy. The constitutional revision of 1970 also laid the foundations for the establishment of three Regions, which was a response to the demand of the Walloons and the French-speaking inhabitants of Brussels for economic autonomy. On February 18, 1970, Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens announces the end of "La Belgique de papa".

The second state reform took place in 1980, when the cultural communities became Communities. The Communities assumed the competencies of the cultural communities with regard to cultural matters, and became responsible for the 'matters relating to the person', such as health and youth policy. From then on, these three Communities were known as the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community. Two Regions were established as well in 1980: the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region. However, in Flanders it was decided in 1980 to immediately merge the institutions of the Community and the Region. Although the creation of a Brussels Region was provided for in 1970, the Brussels-Capital Region was not established until the third state reform.

During the third state reform in 1988 and 1989, under Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, the Brussels-Capital Region was established with its own regional institutions, as well as Dutch and French institutions for community matters. The Brussels-Capital Region remained limited to 19 municipalities. Other changes included that the competencies of the Communities and Regions were expanded. One notable responsibility that was transferred to the Communities during the third state reform was education.

File:Belgium province Brabant.png

Map showing the division of Brabant into Flemish Brabant (yellow), Walloon Brabant (red) and the Brussels-Capital Region (orange) in 1995

The fourth state reform, which took place in 1993 under Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, consolidated the previous state reforms and turned Belgium into a fully-fledged federal state. The first article of the Belgian Constitution was amended to read as follows, “Belgium is a Federal State which consists of Communities and Regions”. During the fourth state reform, the responsibilities of the Communities and the Regions were expanded again, their resources were increased and they were given more fiscal responsibilities. Other major changes included the direct election of the parliaments of the Communities and the Regions, the splitting up of the Province of Brabant into Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant, and the reformation of the Federal Parliament's bicameral system and the relations between the Federal Parliament and the Federal Government. The first direct elections for the parliaments of the Communities and the Regions took place on May 21, 1995.

However, the fourth state reform was not the end of the process of federalization. In 2001, a fifth state reform took place,[108] under Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, with the Lambermont and the Lombard Accords. During the fifth state reform, more powers were transferred to the Communities and the Regions, with regard to agriculture, fisheries, foreign trade, development cooperation, auditing of electoral expenses and the supplementary financing of the political parties. The Regions became responsible for twelve regional taxes, and local and provincial government became a matter for the Regions. The first municipal and provincial elections under the supervision of the Regions were the 2006 municipal elections. The functioning of the Brussels institutions was also amended during the fifth state reform, which resulted among other things in a guaranteed representation of the Flemish inhabitants of Brussels in the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region.

The fifth state reform is the last state reform to date. However, several Flemish political parties want a sixth state reform following the 2007 general election, while the vast majority of Walloon politicians oppose this. Major issues that a sixth state reform would have to deal with include, among others, Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde. After the 2007 elections nine months of extremely troublesome negotiations between Flemish and Walloon parties followed, resulting in the formation of the first Leterme cabinet on March 20, 2008. Decisions on further state reforms were delayed and remained a matter of considerable debate.

Belgium was one of the founders of the European Union. Between 1999 and 2002, the Euro gradually replaced the Belgian franc (the currency of Belgium since 1830) at the rate of 1 EUR=40.3399 BEF[109] Belgian Euro coins usually depict King Albert II on the reverse.

Political parties[]

See also Political parties in Belgium

From the 1960s, most political parties, which had previously stood in elections in both Flemish and Walloon areas, split down linguistic divides. The Catholic party split in 1968 while the Belgian Socialist Party split in 1978 into the French-speaking Parti Socialiste and Flemish Socialistische Partij.[110] The Liberals also split on regional lines in 1992.

he three-party (i.e. six plus some purely Flemish and Walloon parties) political systems got disturbed by the Green parties (the Dutch-speaking Agalev, now Groen!, and the French-speaking Ecolo) in the 1980s which took a lot of influence after the Marc Dutroux Scandal and the "dioxin affair", a food scandal (chickens containing dioxin levels far above the maximum allowed) which would not have had any major repercussions, had it not erupted just days before the elections.

1990 to present[]

The Marc Dutroux Scandal[]

In 1996, confidence in the s political and criminal justice systems was shaken by the news that one Marc Dutroux and his accomplices had kidnapped, tortured, and murdered young girls. Parliamentary inquiries found the police forces were incompetent and bureaucratic, and the judicial system suffered from bureaucracy, very poor communication with, and support for, the victims, slow procedures and many loopholes for criminals. On October 26, 1996, about 300,000 Belgians joined the "White March" in Brussels in protest.[111]

Belgian military intervention since 1990[]

Rwandan Genocide 1994[]

File:UNAMIR Blue Barrets memorial Kigali (3).jpg

Memorial to the murdered Belgian UN personnel in Kigali, Rwanda

The United Nations mission in Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, known as UNAMIR, involved a significant Belgian contigent under the command of the Canadian, Roméo Dallaire. Belgium, as the former colonial power in the country, sent the largest contigent, with 400 soldiers of the 2nd Commando Battalion sent as peace keepers.

After the downing of the Rwandan and Burundian presidential plane 10 Belgian peacekeepers were kidnapped, mutilated and murdered by the Hutu-dominated government army. In response, Belgium withdrew all of its peacekeepers, blaming UNAMIR for failing to rescue their men.[112] The Belgians had represented the largest and most capable element in the UNAMIR mission, leaving it incapacitated and unable to cope with the events of the Rwandan Genocide.

United Nations and NATO missions[]

Successive Belgian government have been keen to support the United Nations since its foundation, even sending soldiers to Korea in 1950.

Belgian paratroopers were deployed to Somalia during Operation Restore Hope as part of UNOSOM tasked with securing aid deliveries and peacekeeping. Several Belgian soldiers were killed during the deployment.

During the Kosovo crisis of 1999, 600 Belgian paratroopers participated in Operation Allied Harbour, a NATO operation to protect and provide assistance to the huge number of ethnic Albanian refugees in Albania and Macedonia. That same year, 1,100 Belgian soldiers left for Kosovo to participate in the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

Belgian soldiers have served in Lebanon, under the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Approximately 394 Belgians have served in Lebanon, in demining and medical operations, and a frigate is also present.[113][114][115]

In the 2011, the Belgian Air Force deployed six F-16 fighter jets in support of the NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Belgian aircraft were involved in airstrikes on pro-Ghadaffi forces.

War in Afghanistan 2001-present[]

File:Belgian military F-16 Fighting Falcon conducts a combat patrol over Afghanistan.JPG

Belgian F-16 conducts a combat patrol over Afghanistan, 2008

Belgium is part of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, joint with soldiers from Luxembourg. Its continent is named BELU ISAF 21, with the main objective of providing security at Kabul International Airport, while detachments (KUNDUZ 16) assist in the northern PRTs of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif. In September 2008, four F‑16 jets with about 140 support personnel were deployed. They operate from Kandahar Airport.[116] The Belgian Air Force operated close together with the Dutch F-16 fighter jets already deployed there.

Debt and economic slowdown[]

Template:Expand section Belgium created huge debts during times when rates were low and generated new debts to service the initial debt. Its debts amounted to about 130% of the GDP in 1992 and were reduced to about 99% in 2001 when Belgium entered the Eurozone. This drastic economic policy resulted in deep budget spending cuts, such as significant cuts to scientific research.

See also[]

  • Jean-Luc Dehaene
  • Philippe Maystadt

Internal politics[]

In the 1999 Belgian general election, the traditional government parties were suffered a significant defeat due to the so-called "dioxin affair", leading to the fall of Jean-Luc Dehaene's government after eight years in office. Guy Verhofstadt formed a government of Liberals, Socialists and Greens. For the first time in since 1958, Belgium had a government that did not include the Catholic Christian People's Party (Christelijke Volkspartij).

In July 1999, a government of Greens and Flemish Liberals and Democrats announced a gradual phase-out of Belgium's seven nuclear reactors after 40 years of operation. Though it was speculated that the next government without Greens would immediately revoke this legislation,.[117] after the 2003 elections there was still no sign of a policy reversal,[118] particularly in the aftermath of the incident at Tihange reactor in 2002.[119] In 2006, the Christian-Democratic and Flemish proposed a reconsideration of the phase out.

The Belgian government was strongly opposed to the Iraq War during the Iraq crisis of 2003. The stance taken by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was that a solution to the WMD situation had to be found and that Saddam Hussein had to leave Iraq, but that the solution should be diplomatic and that military action could only be considered after talks. He also argued that a mandate was required from the United Nations before military action was taken.[120]

On January 30, 2003, Belgium became the second country in the world to legally recognize same-sex marriage. However, this law did not permit adoption by same-sex partners; and as birth within a same-sex marriage did not imply affiliation, the same-sex spouse of the biological parent had no way to become the legal parent. On December 1, 2005, a controversial proposal of the "Different" Socialist Party to permit adoption was approved by the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, thereby enabling legal co-parenting by same-sex couples.

Political Crisis 2010–11[]

File:Elio di Rupo-15-12-2007.jpg

Elio di Rupo, the current Prime Minister of Belgium

See also Belgian general election, 2010 and 2010–2011 Belgian government formation

The 2010 Belgian general election produced a highly fragmented political landscape, with 11 parties elected to the Chamber of Representatives, none of which had more than 20% of the seats. The separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), the largest party in Flanders and the country as a whole, controlled 27 of 150 seats in the lower chamber. The Francophone Socialist Party (PS), the largest party in Wallonia, controlled 26 seats. Belgium beat the world record for time taken to form a new democratic government after an election, at 353 days.[121] Finally a government coalition was sworn in on 6 December 2011, with Socialist Elio Di Rupo becoming Prime Minister of the Di Rupo I Government.


Modern historiography of Belgium began to appear in the later 18th century, as scholars moved beyond the chronicles particular provinces, cities or leaders and relied on rapidly accumulating data. The wrote dissertations using critical approach to particular historical problems. This development was sponsored by the The Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium and reflected Enlightenment influences—such as that of Voltaire—in exploring the history of the people. They pondered questions of causality. Their goal was building the blocks for a general history of the Austrian Netherlands, thus marking an important step toward the creation of a Belgian national history.[122]

Since Belgium became an independent nation only in 1830, defining nationhood was a special issue for the historians of the late 19th century. The usual European solutions which defined nationhood in terms of language would not work. The Romantic Joseph-Jean de Smet portrayed his country as a "phoenix" (a reference to the great bird that rose from the dead.) The challenge of defining the nation's past and present in the face of Dutch, Spanish, Austrian, French, and German influences posed a central problem. Defending the boundaries of Belgium (especially why Flanders should not be in the Netherlands) was another issue that preoccupied historical writers such as Pirenne.[123]

The medievalist Godefroid Kurth (1847-1916) was a student of Germany's famous professor Leopold von Ranke. Kurth introduced Ranke's advanced scholarly methods in his seminar at the Universite de Liège. Belgian historiography achieved international stature in the early 20th century with the work of medievalist Henri Pirenne (1862-1935).[124]

Historiography at Ghent University was pioneered by medievalists, especially Hubert Van Houtte. After 1945 Charles Verlinden introduced the methods of the French Annales School of social history. Research topics at Ghent included colonial and maritime history, the history of prices and wages, agrarian history, business history, and the textile industry. In the 1970 and 1980s came a broadening to such topics as historical demography; living standards and lifestyles; beggary and crime; and the history of culture and mind-sets.[125]

See also[]

  • List of Belgians
  • History of the Jews in Belgium
  • History of Wallonia
  • History of Flanders
  • History of the Netherlands
  • Politics of Belgium
    • Politics of Flanders
    • Politics of Wallonia
  • List of World Heritage Sites in Belgium


Reference and surveys[]

Political history topics[]

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  • Fishman, J. S. Diplomacy and Revolution. The London Conference of 1830 and the Belgian Revolt (Amsterdam 1988).
  • Mansel, Philip. "Nation Building: the Foundation of Belgium." History Today 2006 56(5): 21-27. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Pirenne, Henri. Belgian Democracy, Its Early History (1910, 1915) 250 pp. history of towns in the Low Countries online free
  • Pirenne, Henri. "The Formation and Constitution of the Burgundian State (Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries)." The American Historical Review. Volume 14, Issue 3, Page 477, Apr 1909 in JSTOR
  • Polansky, Janet L. Revolution in Brussels 1787-1793 (1987)
  • Stanard, Matthew G. "Selling the Empire Between the Wars: Colonial Expositions in Belgium, 1920-1940." French Colonial History 2005 6: 159-178. Issn: 1539-3402 Fulltext: Project Muse
  • Strikwerda, C. J. Mass Politics and the Origin of Pluralism: Catholicism, Socialism and Flemish Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Belgium (Lanham, MD and Leuven, 1997)
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  • Tollebeek, Jo. "Historical Representation and the Nation-State in Romantic Belgium (1830-1850)," Journal of the History of Ideas 59.2 (1998) 329-353 in Project Muse
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Economic history[]

  • Blomme, J. The Economic Development of Belgian Agriculture, 1880-1980 (Leuven, 1992)
  • de Vries, Johan. "Benelux, 1920-1970," in C. M. Cipolla, ed. The Fontana Economic History of Europe: Contemporary Economics Part One (1976) pp 1–71
  • Dhondt, Jan, and Marinette Bruwier in Carlo Cipolla, The Emergence of Industrial Societies-1 (Fontana, 1970) pp. 329–355
  • Houtte, J. A. Van. "Economic Development of Belgium and the Netherlands from the Beginning of the Modern Era," Journal of European Economic History(1972), 1:100-120
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  • Mokyr, Joel. "The Industrial Revolution in the Low Countries in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century: A Comparative Case Study," Journal of Economic History (1974) 34#2 pp 365-99 in JSTOR
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  • Mommens, A. The Belgian Economy in the Twentieth Century (London, 1994)

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  • Violet Soen, "Reconquista and Reconciliation in the Dutch Revolt: The Campaign of Governor-General Alexander Farnese (1578-1592)," Journal of Early Modern History (2012) 16#1 pp 1-22.
  • Geert H. Janssen, "The Counter-Reformation of the Refugee: Exile and the Shaping of Catholic Militancy in the Dutch Revolt," Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2012) 63#4 pp 671-692
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  • Kurth, Godefroid, "Belgium" in Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) online
  • For a religion map see map
  • Schama, "The Rights of Ignorance: Dutch Educational Policy in Belgium 1815-30," p 86
  • Schama, "The Rights of Ignorance: Dutch Educational Policy in Belgium 1815-30," p 87
  • J. C. H. Blom; E. Lamberts et al. History of the Low Countries (1999) pp 307-12
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  • Joel Mokyr, "The Industrial Revolution in the Low Countries in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century: A Comparative Case Study," Journal of Economic History (1974) 34#2 pp 365-99 in JSTOR
  • Chris Evans, Göran Rydén, The Industrial Revolution in Iron; The impact of British Coal Technology in Ninenteenth-Century Europe (Ashgate, 2005, pp. 37-38).
  • Muriel Neven and Isabelle Devos, 'Breaking stereotypes', in M. Neven and I. Devos (editors), 'Recent work in Belgian Historical Demography', in Revue belge d'histoire contemporaine, (2001) 31#3-4, pp 347-359 FLWI.ugent.be
  • Carl Strikwerda, A house divided: Catholics, Socialists, and Flemish nationalists in nineteenth-century Belgium (1997) p 44-46
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  • Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions. Edited with an introduction and notes, by Kenneth Lapides, Originally published, Praeger, New York, 1987, p. 69 ISBN 0-7178-0676-6
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  • William Roger Louis, Ruanda-Urundi 1884-1919 (Oxford U.P., 1963).
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  • Appendix 11 in Belgium: The Official Account of What Happened (London, 1941) p. 79
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  • J. Lee Ready, Jefferson: McFarland, Forgotten Allies (Vol.1), (1985) pp.254
  • Nigel Thomas Foreign Volunteers of the Allied Forces: 1939 - 45 (Osprey, 1998) pp. 17
  • N. C., « Breendonk, Le Mémorial ne changera pas de nom », dans Le Soir, 6 décembre 2007, p. 5
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  • Jo Tollebeek, "At the crossroads of nationalism: Huizinga, Pirenne and the Low Countries in Europe," European Review of History (2010) 17#2 pp 187-215.
  • Hugo Soly, "Honderd Jaar Geschiedenis van de Nieuwe Tijd Aan de Universiteit Gent: De Dynamiek van een Selectief En Kritisch Eclectisme," [One hundred years of modern history at the University of Ghent: the dynamics of a selective and critical eclecticism], Handelingen der Maatschappij voor Geschiedenis en Oudheidkunde te Gent (2006), Vol. 60, pp 49-62.
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