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The history of Belgiummarker, from pre-history to the present day, is intertwined with the histories of its European neighbours, in particular those of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Before independence


The oldest primitive stone instruments found in the area of today's Belgium date 800,000 BC. Circa 400,000 BC, Neanderthals are claimed to be living on the edge of the Meusemarker river, near the village of Spymarker. From 30,000 BC onwards the inhabitants were Homo sapiens. Neolithic remains can be found today at Spiennesmarker where there was a flint mine. The first signs of Bronze age activity in Belgiummarker date from around 1750 BC. From 500 BC Celtic tribes settled in the region and traded with the Mediterraneanmarker world. From c. 150 BC, the first coins came into use. The earliest named inhabitants of Belgium were the Belgae (after whom modern Belgiummarker is named). The population covered a significant area of Gaulish or Celtic Europe, living in northern Gaul at the time of the Roman occupation. The distinction between the Belgae to the North and the Gauls to the south of them is disputed, but it seems clear that the Gauls were the dominant group in the area until the Roman and Germanic influence came to dominate. The arrival of Germanic tribes from the north and east is cited by Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico. Linguists have proposed that there is evidence that the Belgae had previously spoken an Indo European language intermediate between Celtic and Germanic. This language or group of languages is sometimes referred to as the Nordwestblock.


By 51BC, the Belgae were overrun by the armies of Julius Caesar, as described in his chronicle De Bello Gallico.

In this same work Julius Caesar referred to the Belgae as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae").

What is now Belgium flourished as a province of Romemarker. This province was much larger than the modern Belgium and included five cities: Nemetacum (Arrasmarker), Divodurum (Metzmarker), Bagacum (Bavaymarker), Aduatuca (Tongerenmarker), Durocorturum (Reimsmarker).

At the northeast was the neighbouring province of Germania Inferior. Its cities were Traiectum ad Mosam (Maastrichtmarker), Ulpia Noviomagus (Nijmegenmarker), Colonia Ulpia Trajana (Xantenmarker) and Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). Both provinces include what are now known as the Low Countries.

Early Middle Ages

After the Roman Empire collapsed (5th century), Germanic tribes invaded the Roman province of "Gallia". One of these peoples, the Franks, eventually managed to install a new kingdom 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, but his empire included today's Belgium. He converted to Christianity. Christian scholars, mostly Irishmarker 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. After Charles Martel countered the Moorish invasion from Spain (732 — Poitiers), the King Charlemagne (born close to Liègemarker in Herstalmarker or Jupillemarker) brought a huge part of Europe under his rule and was crowned the "Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire" by the Pope Leo III (800 in Aachenmarker).

The Vikings were defeated in 891 by Arnulf of Carinthia near Leuvenmarker.The Frankish lands were divided and reunified several times under the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, but eventually were firmly divided into Francemarker and the Holy Roman Empire. The parts of the County of Flanders stretching out west of the river Scheldtmarker (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.

As the Holy Roman Emperors 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 mostly independent feudal states:

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Rheno-Mosan or Mosan art movement flourished in the region moving its centre from Cologne and Triermarker to Liègemarker, Maastrichtmarker and Aachenmarker. Some masterpieces of this Romanesque art are the shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, the baptistry of Renier de Huy in Liègemarker, the shrine of Saint Remacle in Stavelotmarker, the shrine of Saint Servatius in Maastricht or, Notger's gospel in Liège.

13th and 14th centuries

Burgundian and Habsbourgian Netherlands

Philip the Good, painted c.
1450 by Rogier van der Weyden

By 1433 most of the Belgian and Luxembourgianmarker 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 Spainmarker under the Habsburg Dynasty after Charles V inherited several domains.

Especially during the Burgundy period (the 15th and 16th centuries), Ypresmarker, Ghentmarker, Brugesmarker, Brusselsmarker, and Antwerpmarker took turns at being major European centers for commerce, industry (especially textiles) and art. The Flemish Primitives were 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). Flemish tapestries hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe. See also:

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 Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, and Luxembourgmarker except for the lands of the Bishopric of Liègemarker.

After the Burgundian regime in the Low Countries (1363–1477), the Southern Netherlands (whose area roughly encompassed that of present-day Belgiummarker and Luxembourgmarker) as well as the northern provinces (whose area roughly corresponded to that of the present-day Kingdom of The Netherlands) had dynastic links with the Austrian Habsburgs and then with Spainmarker and the Austrian Habsburgs together. Later, 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 Luxembourgmarker remained linked to The Netherlandsmarker until 1867, Belgium’s union with The Netherlands ended with the 1830 revolution. Belgian nationality is generally considered to date from this event.

The Burgundian period, from Philip II (the Bold) to Charles the Bold, was one of political prestige and economic and artistic splendour. The “Great Dukes of the West,” as the Burgundian princes were called, were effectively considered national sovereigns, their 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 under the Burgundians the economic mainstay of northwestern Europe.

The death of Charles the Bold (1477) and the marriage of his daughter Mary to the archduke Maximilian of Austria proved fatal to 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.

However, 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. 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 Antwerpmarker. This can be seen as the start of Belgium as one region. That same year, the northern Low Countries (i.e. the Netherlands proper) seized independence in the Act of Abjuration (Plakkaat van Verlatinghe) and started the United Provinces and the Dutch Golden Age. For them, the war lasted until 1648 (the Peace of Westphalia), when Spain recognized the independence of the Netherlands, but held onto the loyal and Catholic region of modern-day Belgium which was all that remained of the Spanish Netherlands. See also:

Rubens' Adoration of the Magii

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

Until 1581 the history of Belgium (except the Bishopric of Liègemarker), the grand duchy of Luxembourgmarker 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).

During the 17th century, Antwerp was still 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:

The Belgian and Luxemburgian territories except the Bishopric of Liègemarker were transferred to the Austrianmarker Habsburgs 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. See also:

French period

With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the Austrian Netherlands declared their independence, but were reoccupied by the Austrians in a year. 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 Hapsburg rule in the region. They were divided into nine united départements and became an integral part of Francemarker. The Bishopric of Liègemarker was dissolved. Its territory was divided over the départements Meuse-Inférieure and Ourtemarker. Austriamarker confirmed the loss of the Austrian Netherlands by the Treaty of Campo Formio, in 1797.

Until the establishment of the Consulate in 1799, Catholics were heavily repressed by the French. The University of Leuven (Louvain) was closed in 1797, priests were considered criminal and churches were plundered. During this early period of the French rule, the Belgian economy was completely paralyzed: it was forbidden to export from the port of Antwerpmarker, heavy taxes had to be paid in hard currencies while goods bought by the French were paid for with worthless assignats. Within this period of systematic exploitation, about 800,000 Belgians fled the Southern Netherlands. The French occupation in Belgium led to further suppression of Dutch across the country, including its abolition as an administrative language. 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. 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. The Peasant's War is often seen as the starting point of the modern Flemish movement.

In 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate by the Allies and was exiled to Elbamarker, ending the French period. However, Napoleon managed to escape from Elba and quickly returned to power during the Hundred Days. Napoleon knew that his only chance of remaining in power was to attack the existing Allied forces in Belgium before they were reinforced. He crossed the Belgian frontier with two armies and attacked the Prussians under the command of General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at the Battle of Ligny on June 16, 1815. Meanwhile, Ney engaged the forces of the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Orange in the Battle of Quatre Bras on the same day.

The Butte du Lion

Napoleon was finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at Waterloomarker in present-day Belgiummarker on June 18, 1815. Napoleon's strategy failed and his army was driven from the field in confusion, by a combined Allied general advance. The next morning the Battle of Wavremarker ended in a hollow French victory. Napoleon was forced to surrender and was exiled to Saint Helena.

King William I of the Netherlands had the Butte du Lionmarker erected on the battlefield of Waterloo to commemorate the location where his son, William II of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange), was knocked from his horse by a musket ball to the shoulder and as a tribute to his courage. It was completed in 1826. The younger William had fought as commander of combined Dutch and Belgian forces at the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloomarker.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloomarker in 1815, the major victorious powers (Britainmarker, Austriamarker, Prussia, Russiamarker) 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 of Orange. 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 Liègemarker which became now formally part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.


In August 1830, stirred by a performance of Auber's La Muette de Portici at the Brussels opera house La Monnaiemarker (Dutch: De Munt), the Belgian Revolution broke out, and the country wrested its independence from the Dutch, aided by French intellectuals and French armed forces. The real political forces behind this were the Catholic clergy, which was against the Protestant Dutch king, William I, and the equally strong liberals, who opposed the royal authoritarianism, and the fact that the Belgians were not represented proportionally in the national assemblies at all. At first, the Revolution was merely a call for greater autonomy, but due to the clumsy responses of the Dutch king to the problem, and his unwillingness to meet the demands of the revolutionaries, the Revolution quickly escalated into a fight for full independence.

The European powers were fearful of Belgium either becoming a republic or being annexed to France, so they intervened and found a monarch invited in from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germanymarker by the British. The major powers in Europe agreed, and on July 21 1831, the first king of Belgium, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was inaugurated. This day is still the Belgian national holiday. Even though the Belgian Revolution violated the accords made in 1815, the Belgians received the sympathy of the liberal governments of both Great Britainmarker and France. France itself had undergone a liberal revolution that year. The other major powers of Europe - Austriamarker and Prussia, took a much dimmer view of Belgian independence but they were disinclined to take any action, being preoccupied with the November Uprising in Poland.

The Netherlands still fought on for 8 years, but in 1839 a treaty was signed between the two countries. Belgium thus became a sovereign, independent state with a liberal constitution (constitutional monarchy), but with suffrage restricted to the haute-bourgeoisie and the clergy, all together less than 1% of the adult population, and fully French speaking in a country where French was not the majority language.

By the treaty of 1839, Luxembourg did not fully join Belgium, and 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 Vlaanderenmarker and French Flanders (Dutch: Frans Vlaanderen) and Eupenmarker, four territories which it had all 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 Confederationmarker, although it would pass to Belgium after World War I as compensation for the war.

The Belgian Revolution had many causes:
  • At the political level:
    • The Belgians felt significantly under-represented in the Netherlands' elected Lower Assembly.
    • The low popularity of Prince William, later King William II was representative of the King William I in Brussels.
    • The treatment of the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the Dutch dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • At the religious level:
    • The difference of religion between the Catholics Belgians and their Protestant Dutch king.
  • At the economic level:
    • The Belgians had little influence over the traditional economy of trade centered in Amsterdam.
    • The Dutch were for free trade, while industries in Belgium called for the protection of tariffs.
    • Low-taxed imports from the Baltic depressed agriculture in Belgian grain-growing regions.
  • At the international level:
    • French July Monarchy's support.
    • The passive agreement of the British.

From the independence to WWI

See also

Laicity and Catholicism

In the 19th century, the Belgian politics is a bipartisan system very deeply influenced by the conflict between the Catholics and the laics.

See also

Industrial revolution

Léopold I went on to build the first railway in continental Europe in 1835, between Brusselsmarker and Mechelenmarker. The first trains were drawn by Stephenson engines imported from Great Britain. Wages were low, as there was no labor movement in Belgium before the 1870s.

See also

Rise of socialist party and trade unions

See also

The Congolese colony

Main articles: Congo Free Statemarker and Belgian Congo

At the Berlin conference of 1884–1885 the Congomarker was attributed solely to Leopold II of Belgium, who named the territory the Congo Free Statemarker. Power was finally transferred to Belgiummarker in 1908 under considerable international pressure following numerous reports of gross misconduct and abuse to native labourers.

The integration of traditional economies in the Congo within the framework of the modern, capitalist economy was brilliantly executed; for example, several railroads were built through dense regions of jungle. Leopold's fortune was greatly increased through the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had never been mass-produced in such surplus quantities.

Many atrocities were committed in the colony, especially when it still was Leopold II's personal possession. The behaviour of the Belgian colonists in Congo is still a conflict-laden topic in present-day Belgium.

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. He made the land his private, personal property and named it the Congo Free State. Congolese territory was more than 80 times as large as Belgium's.

Leopold's regime began undertaking various development projects, such as a railway that ran from the coast to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) which took years to complete. Nearly all of these projects were aimed at increasing the capital Leopold and his cohorts could extract from the colony, leading to atrocious exploitation of Africans. In the Free State, the local population was brutalized in exchange for rubber, a growing market with the development of rubber tires. The selling of the rubber made a fortune for Leopold, who built several buildings in Brussels and Ostend to honour himself and his country.

During the period between 1885 and 1908, between five and fifteen (the commonly accepted figure is about ten) million Congolese died because of exploitation and diseases. To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was called in. The FP was an army, but its aim was not to defend the country, but to terrorize the local population The Force Publique made the practice of cutting off the limbs of the natives as a means of enforcing rubber quotas a matter of policy; this practice was disturbingly widespread. However, there were international protests spearheaded mainly by Edmund Dene Morel and British diplomat/Irish patriot Roger Casement, whose 1904 report on the Congo condemned the practice, as well as famous writers such as Mark Twain (who wrote King Leopold's Soliloquy) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness also takes place in Congo Free State. In 1908, the Belgian parliament bowed to international pressure in order to save their last bit of prestige in Europe, forcibly adopting the Free State as a Belgian colony from the king. From then on, it became the Belgian Congo.

See also

The Cinquantenaire Arch in winter

Historicism and Art Nouveau

At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, the historicism style dominates the urban Belgian landscape (e.g. Justice Palace of Brusselsmarker, 50th-Anniversary Parkmarker in Brusselsmarker). Nevertheless, Brussels became one of the major European cities for the development of the Art Nouveau (Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde).

From WWI to WWII

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 and catch the French off guard by invading through neutral countries. It was this action that technically 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. To this day, the Belgians are 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 their Frenchmarker and Britishmarker allies time to strengthen for the Marne counteroffensive later in the year.

The Germans were stopped by the Allies at the front-line along the Ysermarker, the Battle of the Yser. King Albert I stayed in Belgium with his troops to lead the army while the government withdrew to Le Havremarker, Francemarker. A small area of the country remained unoccupied by the Germans.

Flanders saw some of the greatest losses of life of the First World War including the firstmarker and second battles of Ypresmarker. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties, the poppies that sprang up from the battlefield and that were immortalized in the poem In Flanders Fieldsmarker, have become an emblem of human life lost in war. It is perfectly normal for poppies to invade disturbed arable ground.

Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities had taken several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly, the experiences of the Dutch-speaking soldiers on the front led by French speaking officers catalyzed Flemish emancipation. Their suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage and Wake of the Yser (the latter associated with Right wing extremists) in Diksmuidemarker at the monument of The Yser towermarker.

Between the wars

War Reparations

Belgium did not receive the war reparations that she was to receive from Germany. This had a significant effect on the Belgium economy, which, like the economies of many countries involved in World War I, had been bankrupt by the war. On a brighter note, the first postwar Olympic Games were held in Antwerp in 1920.


After the defeat of Germany, the two former German colonies, Rwandamarker and Burundimarker, were mandated to Belgium by the League of Nations.

After a period of alliance with France, Belgium tried to return to neutrality in the 1930s.

Development of fine arts

Flemish expressionism: The expressionism painting movement found a distinctive form in Flanders (James Ensor,Constant Permeke, Léon Spilliaert).

Belgian surrealism: The surrealism movement has major representatives in Belgium: Paul Delvaux, René Magritte.

The Franco-Belgian comics: The Comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, one of the most popular 20th century European comics, was created in 1929 by Hergé. Major Belgian representatives of this popular art movement are Edgar P. Jacobs, Jijé, Willy Vandersteen and André Franquin. See also: Franco-Belgian comics magazines, Franco-Belgian publishing houses.

See also

World War II

Period of the Phoney War

As the German army invaded Polandmarker on September 1, 1939, the Belgian government announced its neutrality on September 3. On November 7, 1939, the King of Belgium made a joint public appeal with the Queen of the Netherlands, calling on all belligerents to accept mediation to terminate the war.

German invasion

Invasion of Belgium by Nazi Germany (see Battle of Belgium) 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. Remembering 1914, the Belgians put up a stubborn resistance and it took three weeks of fighting before the country was subdued. The Belgian king surrendered on May 28. The King remained in Belgium during the war.

Allied liberation

Belgium was liberated beginning in 1944 by Allied forces, including Britishmarker, Canadianmarker, and Americanmarker armies, including a small Belgian national contingent. The British second Army seized Antwerpmarker in 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 due to its deep-water port facilities and the fact that French ports remained in German hands until late in the war. The Battle of the Scheldt in October 1944 was fought primarily on Dutch soil, but with the intent of opening the waterway to Antwerp. The port city was also the main objective of German armies in December; the inability of the Allies to end the war in 1944 meant that Allied troops had to winter in Belgium, during which time the Ardennes Offensive was launched by the Germans, resulting in heavy fighting on Belgian soil lasting into 1945.

During the war, the largest known reserves of uranium were in the Katangamarker (a province of the Belgian Congo). The Belgian company Union Minière du Haut Katanga provided the United Statesmarker the uranium required by the Manhattan Project and the early cold war (see: history of nuclear weapons).

See also

After WWII

The royal question

A dispute over King Léopold III's conduct during World War II caused civil uprisings, and eventually led to his abdication in 1951 following a statewide referendum. In Flanders they voted in favor of his return, in Walloniamarker against (especially the provinces of Liègemarker and Hainautmarker; Namurmarker and Luxembourgmarker being split 50/50). Although he narrowly won the referendum, the militant socialist movement in Liège, Hainaut and other urban centres incited major protests and strikes. Because of the probability of the escalation of the conflict, Léopold III abdicated on July 16, 1951 in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin.

During Leopold's exile in Switzerland (1945–1950), Prince Charles of Belgium acted as the regent.

See also

Post-war economic growth

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. At night, their streetlights make them easily seen from space.

In this 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 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.

European and international integration

See also

The second school war (1950–1959)

The second school war started around 1950, when the Catholic minister Pierre Harmel decides to increase the subsidies for the free secondary education, and culminated in 1955 when the socialist minister Leo Collard tried to curb the 'freedom' of the Catholic schools by decreasing the subsidies for Catholic schools and firing 110 Catholic teachers from public schools. On 6 November 1958, a School Pact between the three major parties ended the school war.

The Congo crisis (1960–1965)

The Congo became independent in 1960. Belgium played in this crisis an ambiguous role which led to the murder of Patrice Lumumba and to the establishment of Zairemarker.

The tragedy of Zwartberg

On Monday, January 31, 1966, a group of about 500 angry coal miners from the mine of Zwartberg headed towards the mine of Waterschei to convince their colleagues to join the strike in protest of the announced closure of Zwartberg. At the entrance of the Waterschei mine, a small group of gendarmes awaited them, who were cornered by the protesters. When a lorry carrying a load of mining wood passed by, the miners forced the driver to drop his load. When the miners threw wood and other objects at the gendarmes, the officer in charge ordered his men to fire into the air during a first charge. When the miners threatened the gendarmes again, the gendarmes fired at the protesters, mortally wounding Jan Latos and injuring his colleague Theo Van Hecke. Later that day, Valère Sclep died after being hit on the head by a tear gas grenade.

The news of the tragedy travelled around the world and the government decided to withdraw the gendarmes and leave the maintenance of public order to Para-Commandos. The riots continued until the unions and the management reached an agreement on February 3 of the same year.

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.

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

Well-known "battles" (physically harmless ones) found place in Voerenmarker between the Taal Aktie Komitee and the Walloon leader Jose Happart.

See also

The rise of the federal state

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-) 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, Mouscronmarker became a part of Hainautmarker and Voerenmarker became a part of Limburgmarker) 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, and Brusselsmarker as a bilingual area with both French and Dutch as its official languages.

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 Walloonsmarker and the French-speaking inhabitants of Brusselsmarker 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 Regionmarker and the Walloon Regionmarker. 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 Regionmarker 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 Regionmarker 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 is education.

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 Brabantmarker into Flemish Brabantmarker and Walloon Brabantmarker, and the reformation of the Federal Parliament'smarker 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, 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 Regionmarker.

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 opposes 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.

See also

The fall of the Belgian economic miracle

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.

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The Marc Dutroux Scandal

In 1996, Belgium's political and criminal justice systems were shaken when Marc Dutroux was arrested and charged with several counts of murder and kidnapping. Many felt that local law enforcement had not acted competently enough to observe and eventually arrest Dutroux and his accomplices before they kidnapped at least six girls (Julie & Melissa, An & Eefje, Sabine & Laetitia) of which they murdered four (Sabine & Laetitia being rescued just in time) and most probably some gang members. Dutroux went on trial in March 2004 and got a life sentence in prison.

Subsequent parliamentary inquiries indeed proved that the three main police forces were horribly incompetent, bureaucratic, with considerable degree of infighting. On top of that, the judicial system appeared to suffer from similar problems: bureaucracy, very poor communication with, and support for, the victims, slow procedures and many loopholes for criminals.

Following the scandal, on October 26, 1996, about 300,000 Belgians marched in Brussels to protest at the failures of the police force and judicial system in this affair. It was one of the largest demonstrations in Belgium's history and was called the "White March" (French: "Marche Blanche", Dutch: "Witte Mars").

The rise of the Green parties

The 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.

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In the 1999 Belgian general election, the government parties suffered an historical defeat due to the so-called "dioxin affair" and Jean-Luc Dehaene's reign of eight years ended. 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 Christian People's Party (Christelijke Volkspartij).

During the Kosovo crisis of 1999, 600 Belgian paratroopers participated in Operation Allied Harbour, a NATOmarker operation to protect and provide assistance to the huge number of ethnic Albanian refugees in Albaniamarker and Macedoniamarker. That same year, 1100 Belgian soldiers left for Kosovomarker to participate in the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led peacekeeping force for Kosovo. In December 1999, the Belgian Federal Government announced that it would again pursue an active foreign policy, particularly in Central Africa where among others Belgium's former colony, the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker, is situated. As soon as there would be peace in the region, Belgium would support the reconstruction.

In July 1999, Belgium's nuclear phase-out legislation was decided by the Flemish Liberals and Democrats-led Government including the Belgian Green party, Groen!. The phase-out law calls for each of Belgium's seven reactors to close after 40 years of operation with no new reactors built subsequently. When the law was being passed, it was speculated it would be overturned again as soon as an administration without the Greens was in power. After a new government was elected in 2003 without the Greens, there is still no indication the current Government will revoke the phase-out law after the incident at Tihange in November 22, 2002 turned public opinion against nuclear power. Christian-Democratic and Flemish in 2006 proposed reconsidering the planned phase-out and stated that it intends to bring the nuclear phase-out up again during the negotiations for forming the next government following next year's election. On December 2, 2006, the Humanist Democratic Centre proposed adopting a new timetable for the phase-out.

On January 1, 1999, the euro was introduced and the Belgian franc ceased to exist independently, when it became fixed at one EUR=40.3399 BEF. New notes and coins were introduced on January 1, 2002. Old coins and notes lost their legal tender status on February 28, 2002.

Belgium pursued a policy of strong anti-Iraq-war diplomacy during the Iraq crisis of 2003, and formally and officially opposed the Iraq War. The stance of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was that Saddam Hussein had to leave and Iraqmarker had to disarm, but that a solution had to be found by diplomatic means, and that military action could only be considered if that failed and only after approval by the United Nations.

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 SP.A to permit adoption was approved by the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, thereby enabling legal co-parenting by same-sex couples.

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  2. Appendix 11 in Belgium: The Official Account of What Happened (London, 1941) p. 79
  3. [1] Ethnic structure, inequality and governance of the public sector in Belgium, Kris Deschouwer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, January 2004

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