The Kingdom of Belgium (Dutch: Koninkrijk België, French: Royaume de Belgique, German: Königreich Belgien) is a country in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea. Belgium sits at a cultural crossroads between Germanic Europe and Romance Europe.
It has two main population groups: the Flemings, Dutch speakers living in the northern part and in Brussels; and the Walloons, French speakers, mainly in the south and in Brussels; plus a small number of German speakers in the east.
This cultural and linguistic diversity is reflected in its complex institutions and political history.
The Kingdom of Belgium
National motto: Dutch: Eendracht maakt macht; French: L'union fait la force; German: Einigkeit macht stark (English: Strength lies in unity)
Official language: Dutch, French, German
Largest City: Brussels
King: Albert II
Area: 30,510 km²
Independence: 1830 Currency: Euro (€)1, Prior to 1999: Belgian franc.
Time zone: CET (UTC+1), - in summer CEST (UTC+2)
National anthem: The Brabançonne
Internet TLD: .be
Calling Code: +32
Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different cultures.
Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots.
During most of its history, Belgium has been part of the Low Countries, which also comprises the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The first named inhabitants of the Low Countries were the Belgae.
They were (mostly) Celtic tribes.
In 54 BC, the Belgae were overcome by Caesar.
The name Belgium comes from the name Gallia Belgica of the Roman province in northern Gaul.
After the Roman Empire collapsed (5th century), Germanic tribes invaded the Roman province.
One of these peoples, the Franks, finally installed a new kingdom under the rulers of the Merovingian Dynasty, which turned into the Carolingian Dynasty in 751.
After the Treaty of Verdun (843), the Lower Countries were divided into Middle Francia (Lotharingia) and Western Francia (France).
As the Holy Roman Emperors lost effective control of their domains, the Lower Countries were divided into mostly independent feudal states; the most important were the Duchy of Brabant, the county of Flanders, and the Bishopric of Liège.
Many cities gained their independence from their heirs (Battle of the Golden Spurs).
Huge trade within the Hanseatic League.
By 1433, the Low Countries (except the Bishopric of Liège) became part of Burgundy under Philip the Good.
In 1477, Mary of Burgundy married Maximilian I.
The Low Countries (except the Bishopric of Liège) came under the Habsburgian Dynasty.
The charter of rights, known as "the Great Privilege" (1477), provided the basis of the Seventeen Provinces established by Pragmatic Sanction of 1549.
In 1556, the Lower Countries came under the Spanish Habsburg line.
The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) divides the Seventeen Provinces into two.
The United Provinces (now the Netherlands) became independent in 1581, and the southern provinces (now Belgium and Luxembourg, except the bishopric of Liège) remained under Spanish rule and participated in the Franco-Spanish wars during the 17th century.
The war of the Spanish Succession ended with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The southern provinces (except the bishopric of Liège) came under Austrian Rule.
However, the Austrians themselves generally had little interest in the region.
Following the Campaigns of 1794 of the French Revolutionary Wars, in 1795 the entire region (including territories that were never under Habsburg rule, like the Bishopric of Liège) was overrun by France, ending the existence of this territory as the Spanish/Austrian Netherlands.
After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the region was given to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands; however, after the Belgian Revolution of 1830 it separated and became the independent state of Belgium.
The Belgian Revolution was a conflict in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands that began with a riot in Brussels in August 1830 and eventually led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic and neutral Belgium (William I, king of the Netherlands, would refuse to recognise a Belgian state until the Treaty of London, 1839).
The Belgian Revolution had many causes: The Belgians felt significantly under-represented in the Netherlands' elected Lower Assembly.
The low popularity of Prince William, later King William II, 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.
The difference of religion between the Belgians and their Dutch king.
The Belgians had little influence over the traditional economy of trade centred 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.
From the revolution to WW II, the democratic system evolves from an oligarchy characterised by two main parties, the Catholics and the Liberals, to a universal democracy characterised by one more party, the Belgian labour party, and a strong implication of the trade unions.
The country experiences a fast expanding industrialisation particularly in the French-speaking regions of Liège and Charleroi with the development of steel and mining industry.
Originally, Belgium had only one official language, French, which was the adopted language of the nobility and the bourgeoisie.
The country evolved to a bilingual Dutch-French system.
Belgium possessed one primary foreign colony, the Congo Free State, later called the Belgian Congo, which was given to King Leopold II in 1885.
The local population was brutalised in exchange for rubber, which had a growing market with the development of rubber tires.
Belgium's neutrality was violated in 1914 when Germany invaded Belgium as part of the Schlieffen Plan.
The two former German colonies, Rwanda and Burundi, were mandated to Belgium by the League of Nations.
Belgium tried to return to neutrality in the 1930s but was once again invaded by Germany in 1940.
After World War II, the policy of neutrality was abandoned, and Belgium joined NATO and Benelux.
It was also one of the founding members of the European Economic Community.
Belgium hosts the headquarters of NATO and a major part of the European Union's institutions and administrations, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and most of the European Parliament sessions.
After WW II, Belgium, and in particular Flanders, benefited massively from American support through the Marshall Plan.
Till the 1970s the Belgian economy was prosperous.
Afterwards, the steel industry experienced a strong and long-lasting crisis which is still responsible for the lower economical development of Wallonia.
The Belgian Congo gained its independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis.
Since the 20th century, and in particular after World War II, the history of Belgium became more and more dominated by the increasing autonomy of its two main communities, the Dutch and the French speakers.
Since around 1970 there are no longer significant national Belgian political parties, but only Dutch or French-speaking parties (and one German-speaking party).
As such, the political landscape shows a near-perfect dual political system, reflecting the two underlying dominant communities.
Belgium's political institutions are complex, but the majority of political power is organised with the two main communities: the Flemings and their political parties; and the Walloons and their parties.
Since the country's federalisation there have been many governmental entities.
Apart from the Federal Government there are subdivisions into Communities according to language: the French speaking Community, the Dutch speaking Community and the German speaking Community and another subdivision into the Regions: the Walloon Region, the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region.
The Flemish Community and the Flemish Region have been joined together to form one government.
Behind these complex institutions the two dominant components of the Belgian state are the Flemings and their political institutions under the Flemish government; and the French speakers, grouped under the French speaking Community and its more fragmented institutions.
Nearly all political parties in Belgium belong to one of these two communities.
The exceptions are a German-speaking party and some smaller parties in Brussels.
However, these only attract votes from one of the two communities in Brussels.
Thus, there are no national parties active over all the Belgian territory. In short, the Belgian political landscape carefully mirrors the dual nature of Belgian society.
The different governments share their competences according to the following scheme (the conflicts between the different bodies are solved by the Court of Arbitration):
Federal government: Jurisdiction over Foreign affairs, development aid, defence/military, police, economy, social welfare, security (including pensions, health care, social aid and employment controls), transport (including railways and air transport), energy, telecommunications, scientific research (partially), limited competencies in education and culture, as well as strict control over taxation by regional authorities; the federal government controls more than 90 per cent of all taxation.
Community governments: Language, culture and education. (e.g. schools, libraries, theatres, etc.) Regional governments: Land- and property-based issues within their area (regional economy, zoning, housing, transportation, etc.), international trade. For example, a school building in Brussels belonging to the public school system would be regulated by the regional government of Brussels. But the school as an institution would fall under the regulations of either the Flemish government, if the primary language of teaching is Dutch, or the French Community government, if the primary language is French. It is a complex, somewhat unstable and expensive, but peaceful compromise that allows distinctly different cultures to live together.
Communities, regions and provinces
Belgium is divided into three communities: the Flemish community, the French-speaking community and the German-speaking community; and in three regions: Brussels (mainly Dutch and French speaking, with a population of 980,000), Flemish region (mainly Dutch speaking, with a population of 6,000,000), and Wallonia (mainly French speaking, with a population of 3,360,000). The latter two regions are each divided into 5 provinces.
Belgium is composed of the five northern Dutch-speaking provinces of Flanders, the five southern French-speaking provinces of Wallonia and the Capital Region of Brussels.Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen, French: Flandre or Flandres); capital: Brussels Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen, French: Anvers); capital: Antwerp Limburg (Dutch: Limburg, French: Limbourg); capital: Hasselt East Flanders (Dutch: Oost-Vlaanderen, French: Flandre Orientale); capital: Ghent West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen, French: Flandre Occidentale); capital: Bruges Flemish Brabant (Dutch: Vlaams-Brabant, French: Brabant Flamand); capital: Leuven Wallonia (French: Wallonie, Dutch: Wallonië); capital: Namur Walloon Brabant (French: Brabant Wallon, Dutch: Waals Brabant); capital: Wavre Namur (French: Namur, Dutch: Namen); capital: Namur Liège (French: Liège, Dutch: Luik); capital: Liège Hainaut(French: Hainaut, Dutch: Henegouwen); capital: Mons Luxembourg (French: Luxembourg, Dutch: Luxemburg): capital: Arlon The Brussels-Capital Region (French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, German: Die Region Brüssel-Hauptstadt).
Both Flemish and French-speaking communities have their own institutions in Brussels with elected councils and executive levels (VGC, resp. COCOF).
Each provincial entity (including the Brussels-Capital Region) is further divided into smaller municipalities, called gemeenten in Dutch and communes in French (see List of Belgian municipalities and List of Belgian municipalities by population).
The main cities and their population are Brussels (959,318), Antwerp (445,570), Ghent (224,685), Charleroi (200,233), and Liège (184,550).
Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Liège, Bruges and Namur are the seven largest cities of Belgium, with populations above 100,000.
Belgium has an area of 30,510 km².
Belgium has three main physical regions: the coastal plain (located in the north-west), the central plateau, and the Ardennes uplands (located in the south-east).
The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level, that have been reclaimed from the sea from which they are protected by dikes or, further inland, fields that have been drained by canals.
The second physical region, the central plateau, lays further inland. This is a smooth, slowly rising area which has many fertile valleys and is irrigated by many waterways. Here one can also find rougher land, including caves and small gorges.
The third physical region (called the Ardennes) is somewhat more rugged than the first two. It is a thickly forested plateau, very rocky and not very good for farming, which extends into northern France. This is where much of Belgium's wildlife can be found.
The two main rivers in Belgium are the Scheldt (on which Antwerp lies) and the Meuse. Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the south-east (Ardennes) region, where one can find Belgium's highest point, the Signal de Botrange at only 694 metres.
The climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 25 °C / 77 °F, winters average 7.2 °C / 45 °F.
Annual extremes (rarely attained) are -12.2 °C / 10 °F and 32.2 °C / 90 °F.
Densely populated, Belgium is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialised regions.
Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo an industrial revolution in the early 1800s.
Liège and Charleroi developed a rapidly growing mining and steel-making industry which flourished till the mid-20th century.
After WW II, Ghent and Antwerp exhibited a fast expansion of the chemical and petroleum industry.
The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a period of prolonged recession.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the economic centre of the country continued to shift northwards to Flanders.
Belgium developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways, and highways to integrate its industry with that of its neighbours.
Antwerp is the second largest European port.
One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports deepening the powers of the EU to integrate European economies.
Belgium adopted the euro, the single European currency, in January 1999, and the Belgian franc was completely replaced by euro coins and banknotes in early 2002.
The economy in Belgium greatly depends on its imports and exports.
Its main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles.
Its main trading partners are Germany, The Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, and Spain.
Its main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals.
Trade is made together with Luxembourg, because these two countries created a customs and currency union in 1922.
Demographics, language and literacy
The population density (336/km²) is one of the highest in Europe, after the Netherlands and some smaller countries such as Monaco.
The areas with the highest population density are around the Brussels-Antwerp-Ghent-Leuven agglomerations, as well as other important urban centres as Liège, Charleroi, Kortrijk, Brugge, Hasselt and Namur. The Ardennes have the lowest density.
Belgium has three official languages, one for each community: Dutch, French and German. About 60 per cent of the country is Dutch speaking, French is the second most spoken language (by about 40 per cent) and German is spoken by less than 1 per cent of the population. But these figures must be taken with care because the most recent linguistic census was before 1960, and the mother tongue is not always the same as the language used in public or in official life.
This applies especially to the many minority groups who more or less kept their ethnic identity, the oldest being the Jews, established in Antwerp since the Middle Ages, and various, more recent migrant communities as Italians, Spaniards, Poles, Turks and Moroccans.
Both the Dutch spoken in Belgium and the Belgian French have small vocabulary and semantic nuances from the varieties spoken in the Netherlands and France. Many can still speak Flemish or Walloon dialects, which are often difficult to understand for people from other areas.
Other regional languages officially recognised (in Wallonia only) are Champenois, Gaumais, and Picard. Some consider that the province of Limburg also has its own Limburgish language.
In contrast to the Netherlands, where Limburgish is an official minority language, it is not recognised by the Flemish government.
Brussels, the capital, is officially French-Dutch bilingual, but mostly French speaking. It evolved from a Dutch-speaking place when the Belgian state became independent in 1830 to its current dominantly French character.
More than 98 per cent of the adult population is literate.
Education is required from the age of 6 until the age of 18, but many keep on studying until the age of 23. Nevertheless, in recent years concern is rising over certain forms of illiteracy such as functional illiteracy.
In Belgium, Roman Catholicism is the majority religion, accounting for between 60% and 75% of the population, although nowadays only about 9% to 12% of the population regularly attends mass.
Other religions with significant representation include Islam (over 5%), followed by Protestantism (1.2%) and Judaism (less than 1%).
Since 1830, Catholicism has had also an important role in Belgium's politics.
Examples include the two so-called "school wars" ("Schoolstrijd" in Dutch, "guerres scolaires" in French) between liberals and Catholics which took place between 1879 and 1884 and between 1954 and 1958, respectively.
A discussion of Belgian culture may lead to discussing both those aspects of cultural life shared by 'all' or most Belgians, regardless of their language, and also the differences between the cultural communities, which each have their own administrative and political representation: the Flemish community, the German-speaking community of Belgium and the French Community in Belgium.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, cultural life has tended to concentrate within each community. The shared element is clearly much less important as there are no universities that are both Dutch and French speaking (except the royal military academy), no common media, and no single, common large cultural or scientific organisation where both main communities are represented.
As for cultural generalities shared by all Belgians, the country is well-known for its fine art, its comics, its architecture, its beer, its food, and its chocolate.
Belgium has had a variety of famous painters. These include Constant Permeke, René Magritte, James Ensor, Paul Delvaux. Magritte, together with Paul Delvaux, were two major artists of the surrealistic style. Belgium has produced several well-known authors such as poets: Emile Verhaeren, Jacques Brel and writers: Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon.
Some representative directors: Chantal Akerman, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; actors: Jan Decleir, Marie Gillain; and films: Toto le héros, Man bites dog.
Major representatives of this popular art movement are Hergé, Edgar P. Jacobs, Jijé, and André Franquin. See also: Franco-Belgian comics.
Cesar Franck is a major romantic composer. Adolphe Sax is famous for inventing the saxophone in 1840. The music scene is very active in Belgium.
In architecture Victor Horta was one of the originators of the Art Nouveau architecture, a style of architecture which had a major impact upon 20th-century buildings.
Belgium is well-represented in the world of sport, football (soccer) and cycling being very popular. The national football team are called the Red Devils, and they are ranked 45th by FIFA. One of the greatest cyclists ever, Eddy Merckx, who won five Tours de France, was Belgian. However, Belgium also has two female tennis players, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne. Belgium has had world and Olympic champions in tennis, athletics, motocross, judo, table tennis, swimming and cyclo-cross.
Many "gourmets" claim that Belgium has the best food in Europe. Many highly ranked restaurants can be found within famous gastronomic guides (e.g. the Michelin Guide). Brands of Belgian chocolate, like Neuhaus, Côte d'Or, Leonidas, Godiva, are world renowned and widely distributed. In Belgium there are over 450 different kinds of beer (ales, pils), those of the Trappist monks being among the most prestigious. Belgians have a reputation for loving waffles and french fries (originally from Belgium).
Retrieved and condensed from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium" August 2005
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).
This information was correct in August 2005. E. & O.E.
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