Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kingdom of Belgium Proclaimed

Today in 1830 the Central Committee of the Provisional Government at Brussels City Hall proclaimed officially the independence of the provinces of Belgium becoming we know later the Kingdom of Belgium, totally apart from the former United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reporting the Fall of Liége to the King

Today in history the battle for Liége ended when the last of the fortresses was smashed by the German super-heavy howitzers and General Gérard Leman was knocked out and captured, being found half buried in the rubble by the Germans. General Leman is regarded by all as the first hero of the Great War for his determined defense of his country and the Meuse fortresses. He was an old veteran of great courage and a true sense of duty to his King and the country. Because of that, he wanted it known especially that he had been found unconscious in the rubble and had not surrendered of his own will. Because of his duty he also knew, as they were taking him away to Germany as a prisoner of war, that he had to report to the King about what had happened. This was allowed because the Germans were very impressed by his courage and military skill, considering General Leman a gallant and worthy enemy. This was the letter the general wrote:

General Leman to King Albert I
After honourable engagements on August 4th, 5th, and 6th, I considered that the forts of Liege could only play the role of forts d'arret. I nevertheless maintained military government in order to coordinate the defence  as much as possible, and to exercise moral influence upon the garrison.
Your Majesty is not ignorant that I was at Fort Loncin on August 6th at noon. You will learn with grief that the fort was blown up yesterday at 5.20 p.m., the greater part of the garrison being buried under the ruins.
That I did not lose my life in that catastrophe is due to the fact that my escort, Commandant Collard, a sub-officer of infantry who unfortunately perished, the gendarme Thevenim and my two orderlies, Vanden Bossche and Jos Lecocq, drew me from a position of danger, where I was being asphyxiated by gas from the exploded powder.
I was carried into a trench, where a German captain named Guson gave me a drink, after which I was made a prisoner and taken to Liege in an ambulance. I am convinced that the honour of our arms has been sustained. I have not surrendered either the fortress or the forts.
Deign, Sire, to pardon my defects in this letter. I am physically shattered by the explosion of Loncin. In Germany, whither I am proceeding, my thoughts will be, as they have ever been, of Belgium and the King. I would willingly have given my life the better to serve them, but death was denied me.

That, my friends is the words of a true and great Belgian patriot and he should be an example to all of us. I am sure the King was very proud of his general and his old teacher when he was delivered this letter. This is the spirit of those old veterans of 1914 that I admire so much and makes me regard them as the greatest heroes our country ever has produced.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The King Decides Strategy

When the war leadership of King Albert I is talked about, the thought remains for many that his position of commander-in-chief was really only symbolic or ceremonial and that he did not really have anything to do with making decisions on fighting the war. This of course is completely the opposite of reality. The King was not a military man by nature, he did not have the militaristic character in him but he was a trained military leader and had been prepared for the possibility of taking this position, as required by the law, and he always took his duties to heart. When the war first started, or was about to start with Germany demanding surrender or invasion, the King even then had to make a crucial decision on what strategy the Belgian army would pursue. He was presented by two very opposite plans of action by two accomplished military men and it was the King who had to decide which action to take and what the army would do in the face of the German attack. This was a very big decisions and many lives, even the fate of the country, depended on it.
The first plan was put forward by Lieutenant General Antonin Selliers de Moranville, the Chief of Staff of the army. He looked at the still outdated condition of the Belgian army, the innocence of the reserve troops quickly being called up and feared a horrific waste of life. He advocated that the army retreat beyond Brussels and leaving the river forts to hold out as best they could with the forces they had on hand. This was obviously the most cautious plan, perhaps the most realistic but would certainly have been far from popular.
The other plan came from the Deputy Chief of Staff General Baron Louis de Ryckel which was a somewhat more audacious approach to say the least of it. He actually wanted to take the Belgian army into an invasion of Germany, a surprise attack, to spoil the German offensive and, as the general said, to, "Send them back where they belong!" This was certainly the most daring plan, surely no one would have expected that to happen, for the Belgians to invade Germany, and had the most audacity.
Of course, it was also practically suicidal. King Albert I rejected the plan of his chief of staff, which seemed defeatist, giving up and retreating before the battle had started or the enemy was engaged. He also rejected the opposite extreme of the preemptive attack on Germany. Instead, he and his military staff worked out another option which was the strategy Belgium would adopt. To hold the force with supporting units between them while building up strength and if and when those forts fell to then fight a delaying action across the country to the "National Redoubt" of Antwerp where the big fight would be. It was he who decided to accept no Allied help until the Germans actually violated Belgian territory (to do otherwise would have played right into the hands of the Germans) and it was the King who ordered the destruction of the bridges over the Meuse and the destruction of the rail bridges at the Luxembourg border. It was the King who made all the big critical decisions of the conduct of the war, especially on those early days when Belgium was fighting totally alone. He never wanted to be battlefield commander or a soldier-king but when the crisis of the hour forced him into that position King Albert I proved to be the greatest.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Threat of War Comes

It was on August 2, 1914 that Germany sent their first demand to Belgium that they should be allowed to march through Belgium unopposed to attack the French. On August 3 the Belgian government sent a message in reply to Germany. The Germans had tried to justify their plan to invade Belgium by saying that France was about to do the same but the Belgian government replied that they had no information of this and that if France tried to violate Belgian neutrality we would defend ourselves and fight the French just as we would fight the Germans for violating Belgian territory. The government reminded the Germans of the promises they had made in international agreements to respect the neutrality and territorial integrity of Belgium and how faithful Belgium had always been to honoring international agreements. They said that to accept the German demands would be to dishonor the Belgian nation and betray their duty to the whole of Europe. It would make Belgium an accomplice in the crime of Germany's invasion of France. On the next day, August 4, King Albert I spoke to the Belgian parliament in one of the great stirring speeches of history. The King said that the whole country hoped for peace, "But if our hopes are betrayed, if we are forced to resist the invasion of our soil, and to defend our threatened homes, this duty, however hard it may be, will find us armed and resolved upon the greatest sacrifices."

This was the first great trial that Belgium had faced since independence. The country had put too much trust in international agreements and was not well prepared for war and Belgium was facing the most powerful and heavily armed military force in the world. In spite of the many difficulties, the people stood together as one to resist and to defend independence and the national integrity. When the Germans invaded Belgium they were going to be very surprised because they had expected that Belgium would not resist at all or could be easily swept aside with no difficulty. When the Belgian soldiers of 1914 held the forts, when they struck at the invaders, when they destroyed the bridges and fought constant rear-guard actions, the Germans became furious. Their timetable was thrown off, the first problem in their grand strategy for defeating France. The fierce Belgian resistance slowed the Germans down and then the British army at Mons slowed them down again and by the time they were approaching Paris the French were ready and the German plan was defeated. I have such great admiration for the awesome courage of the Belgian forces who stood directly in the path of the Imperial German war machine and stood their ground and fought them every step of the way. They were a small army but very huge heroes!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Belgian Olympians

On the way to London

Marching in the opening ceremony

Men's team arrives in London

Team Belgium marching in!

Charline Van Snick, winner of bronze medal in judo, first Belgian medalist of the games!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Independence of Rwanda-Burundi

Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant and Princess Mathilde are in Burundi for the celebrations of 50 years of independence since Belgium recognized that status in 1962. This also is the anniversary year of independence for Rwanda but the Belgian Crown Prince and Princess have not been welcome to visit everywhere in both countries due to bad feelings in much of Rwanda and Burundi toward Belgium. This is really unfortunate because Belgium has been insulted and accused of the most horrible role in the sad history of these countries, most painful of all being the genocide in Rwanda and it is entirely untrue that the Belgian people, then or now,  have been in any way responsible for this. First, Belgium is often blamed for creating the division of the Hutus and the Tutsis and this, it is said, ultimately led to the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis when many people claim they are the same people with no difference at all. But this is untrue. What distinctions existed before the arrival of the Europeans, I cannot say, but Rwanda-Burundi were first part of German East Africa and it was the German colonial officials who designated the different groups and tried to standardize things to make their colonial government more efficient. All of this was already in place when Belgium gained the countries in World War I during the Belgian offensive against German East Africa, ending in the capture of the German outer capital of Tabora.

There is now not a single crime that the Belgian authorities are not accused of committing. Every national figure of Rwanda or Burundi who faced misfortune or who was killed, it is accused that Belgian agents were always responsible. Is there at all any evidence for any these accusations? No, absolutely no and never. Still, the accusations and assumptions go on being made. In Rwanda, the Belgian administration was blamed for the vote which deposed King Kigeli V but at the same time Belgium is accused of being responsible for the death of King Mutara III which allowed his brother Kigeli V to take the throne (and Mutara III had been a good ally of Belgium). In Burundi, King Mwabutsa IV could not keep control after independence because the Hutu-Tutsi division kept causing the murder of his prime ministers. But Belgium was not responsible for this, the Germans had created the divisions and during Belgian administration the peace had always been maintained. And King Mwabutsa IV was not overthrown by Belgian agents but by his own son which, of course, we were not involved in at all.

It would be nice if there could at last be peace and genuine friendship and cooperation between Belgium, Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo also after now 50 decades since the end of the Belgian colonial empire. Unfortunately, this cannot happen while those power-hungry individuals continue to blame every problem and misfortune on the Belgians of history so that they will not be held responsible for their own misrule. This encourages hatred and keeps always bitter feelings alive. Only when this stops can their at last be real friendship and cooperation again.

Friday, July 6, 2012

King Baudouin in Africa

King Baudouin by The Mad Monarchist was just posted, a look at the life of the prior King who I know the 'Mad One' admires very much. The problems with the independence of the Belgian Congo are highlighted as probably the most difficult time of the reign of King Baudouin but the King was really very popular in Africa and visited the continent many times. Here are some photographic memories of King Baudouin in Africa:
King Baudouin and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

King Baudouin and first Congo President Joseph Kasavubu

King Baudouin in Leopoldville with Congolese leaders

King Baudouin with King Mutara III of Rwanda

King Baudouin with colonial officials in the Congo

King Baudouin arrives in Burundi

King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola visit the Congo

King Baudouin with President Mobutu

King Baudouin with President Mobutu

King Baudouin with the (very tall) King Kigeli V of Rwanda

King Baudouin visits the Force Publique school

King Baudouin reading his speech giving independence to the Congo

Monday, July 2, 2012

Marriage Anniversary of the King and Queen

Today in 1959 King Albert II and Queen Paola were married. Did the younger brother of the King and the Italian princess imagine at that time that they would ever have to take the position of being the King and Queen for the nation? King Baudouin was still not married, only a few years on the throne and everyone probably still assumed he would get married and be able to have children of his own and Prince Albert would only be in the position of perhaps Prince Laurent today. Would Queen Paola have given the same answer to the proposal if she knew she would one day have to be the Queen, with all of the pressures, scrutiny and responsibilities that position means? I hope so, but can we ever know for certain? Over 53 years of marriage, most certainly today, is a great accomplishment and, we all know, it has not always been easy for the first couple of Belgium. It is not worth talking about but all the people know things have not always gone perfectly for the King and Queen, there have been mistakes, hard times but, we give thanks, forgiveness and reconciliation in the end. I would not want to think of how things would be if the King had married someone else. Queen Paola has been the best queen in the world for Belgium and she really, I think, has always put the Belgian people first every time. The King also has had very large problems in the terms of politics, to deal with but he keeps always the 'ship of state' sailing forward. They also have been good parents, raising very good children. Congratulations to their Majesties then on a very successful 53 years of marriage today, taking alot of hard work but doing a great job together for the country!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Belgian-Greek Royal Connection

Right now, everyone in the European Union is talking about and worried about the situation in Greece and the economic situation in general but particularly about the problems in Greece. Will they enact the austerity measures? Will Greece leave the Eurozone? Will the problems in Greece cause wider problems across the European Union? Not many Belgians may be talking about Greece right now but certainly it is not far from the minds of those at the European Union government in Brussels. How to deal with the crisis? What can be done? I do not have the answers but it causes me to consider the royal connection between the Kingdom of Belgium and the early days of the Kingdom of Greece. Both countries emerged to independence in the same period and both countries looked to have a monarch who would help them gain security from the "Great Powers" of Europe at that time. If different choices had been made in Greece we Belgians might have a totally different Royal Family today. What similarities are there today with the current situation in Greece?

King Leopold I was the first King of the Belgians, and a very greatly admired and respected national leader all over the world, but the throne of Belgium was not the first kingdom he was offered to preside over. The Greeks had claimed independence to break away from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey in 1830 and were in need of a monarch. A prince from a powerful royal family or with, at least, family ties to powerful countries, was preferred to help secure Greek independence as a policy of insurance against efforts by the Turks to retake Greece. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was considered and was asked to come reign over the new Kingdom of Greece. The cause of the Greeks had been a popular one in Europe, seen by many as a great romantic adventure and there was much sympathy for the Greeks against the Turks. Prince Leopold was not unaffected by this and he considered seriously accepting the offer to become the first King of Greece or King of the Greeks.

But we know how Prince Leopold was a very thoughtful and far-thinking man. He wanted to accomplish great things but he did not want to take great risks needlessly. After reviewing the Greek situation, he did not have much confidence in their chances of success. The population seemed too divided, the situation was too unstable and there were not the resources to ensure to a reasonable degree the long-term success. Finally he decided to decline the offer of the Greek throne and he stayed in England where he was living at the time. Later, he accepted another offer to become the first King of the Belgians but Belgium was in a better position to be supported by the other powers and he required first a sufficient amount of financial support to put the new Kingdom of Belgium on a solid foundation for future growth and success. After looking back at the fate of the first Bavarian Prince Otto who became King of Greece, compared to the loyal support of the Belgians even in the year of crisis, certainly King Leopold I never had regrets for his decision.