Friday, October 29, 2010

Belgian War Effort in Africa

During World War I the colonial forces in the Belgian Congo provided a crucial contribution to the Allied war effort against Germany. The Force Publique was reorganized and enlarged to meet the new dangers of the war and early on units were sent to assist the French in the conquest of the the German colony of Kamerun (Cameroon). In command was General Baron Charles Tombeur, who was a very effective commander but who did not get along well with his British opposites. When the time came for the major campaign against German East Africa and the inland city of Tabora where the Germans had moved their capital, the British and Belgians had to deal with their differences and work together. That, at least was the idea, it did not quite work out that way. The British had already decided German East Africa would belong to their empire after the war and they were already annoyed that a country as small as Belgium ruled so much of central Africa.
However, this rivalry ended up not harming the Allies much and may have contributed to success by making the capture of Tabora a competition. The Belgians wanted to take it to show what they could do, prove themselves and win some victories on German territory since the Germans had conquered most of their homeland. The British wanted to take Tabora and advance as far west as quickly as possible to keep the Belgians from claiming any of "their" German territory once the war was over. It was a race! But of course there were also the Germans to deal with. Captain Max Wintgens oversaw the blocking of the Belgian offensive while General Kurt Wahle held overall command of the western region of the German colony at Tabora with the colonial governor. The British raced ahead and were caught by natural conditions and the Germans overreaching and were forced to slow down. General Tombeur, on the other hand, made slower but steadier progress with the Belgian army.
It was a massive undertaking, the Force Publique having more artillery and machine guns than most colonial forces and it took 260,000 carriers to keep the troops supplied. But they came on, in two columns, south and north, led by Colonel Molitor and Lt. Colonel F.V. Olsen who was actually a Danish officer in the employ of the Force Publique. They started on 18 April 1916 and captured Kigali on 6 May. Pushing into the rich provinces of Rwanda-Burundi, the Germans put up a stubborn fight by the Belgian forces pushed them back, moving slowly, methodically with lots of fire support. These provinces were taken and General Tombeur moved against the city of Tabora which General Wahle had taken care to defend. On 19 September, after ten days of heavy fighting, the Germans gave up and abandoned Tabora and the Belgian Congo army marched proudly into the capital. They had beaten the British to the prize! The Germans later claimed that the Belgians mistreated their civilians in retaliation for how their homeland was treated. This was not true naturally, the Belgian forces behaved very correctly, but the angered Germans used this as an excuse to arrest a corresponding number of Belgians and send them to concentration camps in Germany.
The British commander, General Smuts (actually a Dutch Afrikaner) ordered the Belgians to halt and return home so they would not get too comfortable in territory the British claimed. However, King George V sent congratulations to King Albert I and sent a knighthood to General Tombeur, congratulating him on his cooperation with the British army, even though both sides did not really cooperate with each other. King Albert I said that the colonial army had upheld the honor of Belgian arms on African soil by this considerable victory. It seemed to many that the war was over for the Belgian Congo after that, but it was not completely even though the only German forces left moved pretty far away. When a rogue German unit broke away to go off on their own and fight their own war they made things pretty hot for the British, who had their focus on the main German army elsewhere, and the Belgian army had to be called in again to deal with this threat which they successfully did.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indirect Irish Help to Belgium

From an outside tip I have been thinking again about the massive conflict known as the 'Eighty Years War'. Basically this decided the fate of the modern Low Countries, Dutch independence from Spain and the boundaries between Protestant and Catholic religions in the area. This was very much an international conflict or perhaps to say, in more modern terms, a proxy war on the part of the major Catholic and Protestant powers. The Dutch easily had the most allies and help. The German states that were mostly Protestant (Lutheran) sent their formidable troops to help and most importantly the English, recently Protestants again, sent major help with their powerful navy and tens of thousands of soldiers. The Spanish had almost no outside help. The French were fighting each other and even the Catholic Bourbons of France had usually seen as rivals the Catholic Hapsburgs who ruled Spain and Austria. The Austrians were naturally with Spain but they had the Turks to worry about and their own problems with Germany. The Dutch were also very good fighters, inventing many new tactics especially in siege warfare. They also had alot of money from their merchant capitalism and control of vital trade ports.
The Spanish had some advantages, the infantry Spanish tercios pikemen were world renowned and they had a very talented commander in the person of Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma (raised in Spain but born, married and later headquartered in Brussels) but he died in 1592. Although he had brought the Dutch almost to defeat, intervention by the English navy saved the Dutch Protestant cause from disaster. The English at this time were a dominant power. At the height of Queen Elizabeth I the English had a presence in Europe, aiding French Protestants and the Dutch, their navy asserted control of northern waters, they ruled Ireland and since bringing about the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots also dominated Scotland. The English were safe at home after beating the "Invincible" Armada and could resume their strategy of wearing down Spain by supporting rebelling Protestant forces in Europe. However, in 1594 traditional leaders of the native Catholic population in Ireland started a rebellion against English rule. This was to have an important indirect impact on the war in the United Provinces/Spanish Netherlands (Netherlands and Belgium and Luxembourg).
Ireland was often a problem for England but never too serious and this was at first not taken too seriously. However, when the Irish rebels won a major victory over the English at the battle of Yellow Ford the government in England realized they were facing a possible disaster. With just a little outside help (from Catholic powers like Spain) it seemed possible that the Irish might even be able to drive out the English and restore their independence. This fear caused the Queen of England to recall the majority of English forces from the Netherlands and send a great big army to Ireland under the Earl of Essex. However, he was not a good commander and after the Irish humiliated he was later put to death by the Queen. On the other hand, when Spain sent a small army to help the Irish (using the English strategy against them) they ended in failure also. This took the wind from the sails of the fighting powers in the Netherlands and soon a truce was arranged and though fighting resumed after that both sides had consolidated their positions and the Protestant-Catholic boundaries settled into their mostly continuous status.
This was ultimately very significant for Belgium, even the modern country of today. The Irish were finally defeated, their traditional leaders driven into exile and England started the policy of moving settlers to Northern Ireland to maintain their control. So, the rebellion did not work out very well for the Irish. However, their rebellion may have saved the life of Belgium. Keep in mind that one of the few things that have always been something in common of the Belgian people has been the Catholic Church. It might have been destroyed all those centuries ago. If the Irish had not went to rebellion the English could have kept their army in the Netherlands to fight the Spanish there and help the Dutch (who were doing pretty good already). Because of the Irish the English had to shift their attention and finally had many more troops in Ireland than in the Low Countries. If they had not had to do this it is probably very likely that the Dutch and allied Protestant forces could have totally defeated the Catholics, taken over the Spanish Netherlands and suppressed the Catholic Church from the whole region. Because of this, it can be seen that, indirectly, the Irish rebellion, even though it failed for them, their sacrifice allowed the Spanish Netherlands, later Catholic Belgium, to survive.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great Queen Elisabeth

The Belgian Queens

Louise de Orléans was the first Belgian queen consort, the second wife of King Leopold I. The two married in 1832 in a double ceremony because Leopold was a Protestant. Louise was from the French Royal Family and had been born in Sicily, her mother being of the Sicilian Royal Family (also Bourbon). She gave Leopold four children though the first did not survive long. Queen Louise was very popular and for her time was the image of the ideal royal wife. She was beautiful, very religious and did not interfere in politics. She preferred privacy and home life to being the center of attention. Queen Louise was also very generous and supported charities and the works of the Church. Even when she could have made complaints she did not and her family connections were important in the early days of the Kingdom of Belgium. Unfortunately, she died in October of 1850 from tuberculosis in Ostend. At her death King Leopold addressed the nation, “She was attached heart and soul to her new country; in you she found to love those qualities which she herself possessed in the highest degree—steadiness and constancy in your affections.”

Marie Henriette of Austria was the consort of King Leopold II and likely had the most unhappy time of any Belgian queen. She was from the Austrian Imperial House of Hapsburg and married Leopold in 1853. The marriage was arranged and never a good match from the start. For duty and obligation they endured and had four children but only one son and after his death the two lived apart from each other, husband and wife in name only. Being born and raised in Hungary her one joy in life was horses. As usual she carried on charity work, supported the arts and music but because of her unhappy marriage was never really seen in the same way as a queen ordinarily would be. She was mostly separated from the monarchy with her daughter Princess Clementine being the most visible female figure at royal events with the king. She was a strict parent, a determined woman but always unhappy. Today there would probably have been a divorce but that was unthinkable then and she and the King remained officially married until her death in 1902.

Élisabeth of Bavaria was the third Queen of the Belgians and consort to King Albert I. Her father was an eye doctor and her mother a Portuguese princess. For most of her life Queen Elisabeth had a love for art and music and because of her background a very sympathetic nature. She and Albert married in 1900 shortly before he became king. A new city in the Belgian Congo was named in her honor. When World War I came it was very painful to her as a German and daughter of the Bavarian Royal Family. However, no one doubted where her heart was and she supported her husband in his harshest trial and also won great respect for her brave and tireless efforts as a nurse, visiting the front and helping wounded soldiers. She later cultivated a great scientific curiosity and in World War II showed her humanitarian side again by using her old connections in Germany to save the lives of many Jews who would have been massacred by the Nazis. She later caused some controversy by visiting communist bloc countries like Poland, China, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union but this was simply an effort to promote peace and not a political statement. She died in 1965 survived by her three children.

Astrid of Sweden, consort of King Leopold III, might have been the best queen Belgium ever had, but we will never know because of how sadly her life was cut short. Queen Astrid was from the Bernadotte Royal Family of Sweden and she married Leopold III in 1926. It was a true romance from the start. Since Astrid was a Lutheran she later became a Catholic but her new family did not insist on it but she decided of her own conviction to come to the Church. She gave the King three children and the two were very devoted to each other and the family was very close. Everyone loved Queen Astrid who was beautiful, kind and naturally charming. She became queen suddenly after the untimely death of King Albert I and she and Leopold named their next child in his honor. Queen Astrid gave much back to her people and could be counted on to take the initiative to do whatever she could to help in any situation. She traveled with her husband around the country and to Africa to meet with everyone and she cared about all of them and sympathized with their situations. The country and all Belgians everywhere were shocked at her death in a car accident in 1935.

Fabiola de Moran y Aragón was the consort of King Baudouin. She was from a noble family but not royalty and had no thought of ever becoming a queen before she married King Baudouin in 1960. Before that time she had written books for children and worked as a nurse. The marriage was the occasion of much celebrating in Spain and Belgium and she was very well received into her new country. Queen Fabiola and King Baudouin were very devoted to each other, both very religious and family oriented. So it was a great sadness for both that they could never have children. Five miscarriages were endured by the couple but in the end Queen Fabiola never lost her optimistic nature. The death of King Baudouin was a terrible blow to her but she continued her service of good works supporting the Church and numerous charities with particular attention to those suffering from mental illnesses. She has also contributed much to helping women in the countryside of poor countries for which she has been widely recognized. In recent years Queen Fabiola has been the target of a number of absurd death threats which she has endured with bravery and even humor. She remains a greatly beloved national figure.

Paola Ruffo di Calabria, our current Queen and consort of King Albert II was an Italian princess prior to her marriage. Her family is one of the oldest noble houses in Italy, originally from the south though Queen Paola was born in Tuscany. She married King Albert II in 1959 and, as we know, presented him with three children over the years. Although she can speak Italian, French, English and German some have been critical of the difficulty she has had in learning Dutch but Queen Paola has never stopped trying to master the language and throughout her time as queen has shown a readiness to always learn, expand her interests and remain current. It is unfortunate that she and King Albert have had their marital difficulties in the past but they have shown their commitment by working through these problems, never giving up and seem more devoted to each other now than ever before. She assists the King in all of his duties and does a lot of good work on her own, setting up her own charitable foundation and providing a helping hand to those people who seem like they have no one else to turn to. Supporting education, children and helping the poor have been top priorities for her, always done with a smile. Supporting local heritage, crafts, art and music are important to her and she loves reading, especially travel books about Europe and Africa.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interview de la princesse Mathilde au Liberia

Lors de son voyage au Liberia avec l'Onusida et l'Unicef début octobre, la princesse Mathilde a accordé une interview au journaliste Pierre Nizet pour les quotidiens du groupe Sud Presse :

"Madame, que retiendrez-vous de ces trois jours passés au Liberia, qu'est-ce qui vous a le plus touchée?- Je viens ce matin de passer deux heures avec des femmes et des enfants atteints du sida. Je vous promets, c'était vraiment poignant. J'ai parlé avec une femme victime de ce fléau, cela se voyait dans ses yeux qu'elle avait le sida. Beaucoup d'entre elles ont été abandonnées par leur famille, jetées dehors. J'ai eu beaucoup de rencontres émotionnelles. Je pense à ces soeurs travaillant à l'hospice. J'ai été frappée par leur dévouement. Elles ont redonné une dignité à ses femmes, en tant que mères, en tant que personnes humaines. Sinon, le Liberia est un pays qui a connu plusieurs années de conflit. Il est lancé dans un processus de reconstruction mais il y a encore énormément de défis.

- Pourquoi avoir choisi de venir ici, un pays dont on parle si peu?

- Je suis venue ici pour soutenir les projets aidant les femmes et les enfants victimes de la violence. J'ai aussi beaucoup parlé de l'éducation aux gens que j'ai rencontrés. Pour moi, l'éducation est la clé pour l'avenir du pays. J'ai aussi rencontré des leaders religieux, des imams notamment. J'ai pu discuter avec eux du respect des femmes. Il faut en parler, c'est important. Mon objectif aussi est de donner ma voix à ceux qui n'en ont pas. Voilà les raisons de mon voyage.

- Franchement, vous qui êtes princesse dans un pays riche, qu'est-ce qui peut vous motiver à aller au Liberia?

- J'étais déjà une passionnée avant mon mariage. J'ai toujours eu un intérêt pour les gens qui ont beaucoup de problèmes. Je suis, je le rappelle, logopède et psychologue de formation. J'ai toujours voulu écouter les personnes, leur apporter mon soutien. Je veux faire du terrain, voir la réalité, je veux en parler et que vous en parliez.

- Que peut apporter Unicef Belgique à ce pays?

- Vous l'avez entendu : l'organisation va lui donner 500.000 euros pour l'enregistrement des naissances. Il faut investir dans les enfants, c'est le futur du pays. L'important, c'est qu'ils gardent l'espoir et, dans ce pays, j'ai entendu beaucoup de messages d'espoir. Les gens mettent beaucoup d'énergie à vouloir s'en sortir.

- On a beaucoup parlé, lors de cette visite, de l'usage du préservatif pour réduire le nombre de personnes atteintes du sida. Quelle est votre position à ce sujet?

- Je suis ici en tant que représentante de l'Unicef. Je parle des enfants et des femmes...

- Comment allez-vous parler de cette expérience et avec qui?

- Je vais d'abord en parler avec mon mari, puis avec mes enfants. Ensuite, je vais aller plus loin sur cette problématique.

- Quand vous serez reine, vous vous occuperez encore des moins nantis, des plus vulnérables?

- Quand je serai reine? Chaque chose en son temps. Là, je vais d'abord penser à l'après-mission. Vous savez, je m'investis à fond en tant qu'épouse de mon mari et que mère.

- Vous parlez beaucoup de l'éducation des jeunes filles?

- Parce qu'elles sont les plus vulnérables mais je n'oublie pas non plus les jeunes garçons qui doivent apprendre à être tolérants, à respecter les jeunes filles, à être non-violents.

- Vous appliquez ce principe à la maison avec vos propres enfants?

- Bien sûr que oui... Qui serais-je si je ne faisais pas ce que je dis?".

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Battle of the Yser

In many ways World War I was the “finest hour” of the Kingdom of Belgium. That is not to detract from the heroes of World War II, but the “Great War” was different because the enemy never totally conquered Belgium, the heroic resistance of the soldiers completely botched the German plan that called for speed and precision. The Belgian defense robbed them of this. The Germans were of course angry and wanted to destroy what was left of the Belgian army and to conquer every last foot of Belgian soil (they intended to annex the country to the German Empire) and the battle that deprived them of this prize was the epic battle of the Yser. The Germans intention with this battle was to conquer the very last patch of free Belgian soil not under their control and to completely destroy the last remnants of the Belgian army under the great King Albert I. It was a desperate situation. The King had only 4 divisions of regular soldiers and 2 divisions of reservists with only 1 French division to assist them. The Germans were attacking with twice that number. This was part of what history has called the “Race to the Sea”. If the Germans won that race and destroy the Belgian army they could possibly outflank the Allied line and roll up the entire western front which would certainly win the war for Germany.
The battered, beaten and bloodied army of Belgium, what was left of the small force to begin with, was all that stood in the path of this German offensive. For the last two months they had been pounded by the Germans and forced back again and again across the whole country. But, every man from the King to the lowest soldier knew that at the battle of the Yser there was nowhere else to fall back to. Belgium would be totally abandoned if they retreated. They had to stand and fight and resolved that the Germans had pushed them this far but would push them no further! In command of the German 4th Army was Duke Albrecht of Wurttemberg, one of the best generals in the German Imperial forces. On the Belgian side, of course, King Albert I was in command, never having been in a war or commanded troops in battle before in his life. However, he had the morale advantage of fighting on his own ground, for his country and his people, doing his duty to God.
The attacks began on October 16 when French marines and Belgian troops successfully defended Diksmuide. However, the next day the Germans sent in massive reinforcements. British ships shelled from the coast as the Germans built up and on October 18 they renewed their offensive, pushing back the French and Belgians from the front lines. The resistance was strong and it took the Germans four days, fighting every step of the way, to reach the Yser and it was not until the 21st that the Germans got across the river. By October 23 the last bridge was blown and yet the Belgian defenders of Diksmuide still held out in spite of repeated German attacks and heavy bombardment from the massive enemy guns. Still, the situation was extremely desperate for the Belgian army and even as they were fighting the French army command was preparing to abandon them, forcing them to choose between drowning and forsaking the last of free Belgian soil. King Albert would not allow that to happen. Instead, he would flood the countryside in his own area to stop the German advance while still keeping his army independent and together.
On October 25 the order was given and Karel Cogge and Hendrik Geeraerts took charge of the operation, opening the sluices at Nieuport at high tide on the nights of October 26 and 29. On the 29th the Germans finally captured Diksmuide but the water was already rising and soon everything north of that point would be flooded to the sea. The next day the Germans attacked again in great numbers, rushing to succeed before the ground was lost. But the Belgians fought with immense heroism and when the Germans broke through the first line of defense and then the second the Belgian troops made a daring counter-attack that hurled back the German forces. October 31 the German army command conceded defeat and called off their operation.
That is how the Belgian army stopped the Germans in the “Race to the Sea” and stabilized the northern end of the western front in Flanders. It was a sad day certainly, to see the countryside flooded, for the waters to come back over land that had taken so long to drain and cultivate and make productive. The losses also were terrible, some 40,000 Belgians died during those days of hard fighting. However, they had prevailed, the army had survived and the Germans were robbed of the last piece of Belgian soil. At least one corner of the country was unoccupied and it would remain that way, the Germans would never conquer all of Belgium. For the rest of the war most of the Belgian army remained deployed in this area, separated from the Germans by a big ‘No Man’s Land’ of water that quickly became polluted and stinking. But that water was the protection of the last part of free Belgium until finally came time for King Albert I to take command of the northern Allied armies for the grand counter-offensive that would see the country liberated and Belgian troops marching back into Brussels.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Belgian Kings

Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, came to the throne on July 21, 1831. His reign was a crucial period and by his wisdom and close relations with the royal houses of Europe ensured that Belgium started out on a firm foundation of stability and with the support of the European community. A veteran of the Russian Imperial Army and the Napoleonic Wars he had been married to the heiress to the British throne (who died) and then married Louise-Marie de Bourbon, daughter of SM Louis-Philippe, King of the French. His astute leadership won the respect of the people and brought the diverse Belgian population together. When revolutions swept Europe in 1848 Belgium remained a safe haven of peace and stability and progress because of the appreciation the people had for his leadership. He established ties of marriage by his children with the Houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern and he was one of the most widely respected statesmen of his time, known as the "Nestor of Europe".

Leopold II, son of Leopold I, became King on December 17, 1865 and was determined to make Belgium a magnificent and respected country. He had a great interest in geography and philanthropy. He employed the explorer Henry Stanley to explore the Congo basin and this in time developed into the creation of the Congo Free State of which Leopold II was Sovereign King. He organized an expedition to eradicate the Arab slave trade in central Africa and another to aid in suppressing extremists in Egypt. He also allowed volunteers to go defend the Papal States from Italian nationalists. Belgium became a colonial empire thanks to Leopold II but he is best remembered for the great buildings and monuments he left behind, many of which he paid for himself. He was a man of big ideas and big aspirations. He had even bigger visions of ways to build up the country that he never got to see completed. Unfortunately all of his success aroused alot of jealousy and he was not very popular with the rest of Europe.

Albert I, nephew of Leopold II, became King of the Belgians on December 23, 1909. He was a very humble and religious man and a man with strong convictions. He was very down-to-earth but devoted to duty. In 1914 he refused to sacrifice the neutrality or sovereignty of his country and led the tiny Belgian army to war against the invading Germans. He showed great courage and leadership in the most difficult circumstances, staying with the army and leading them throughout the war, becoming a respected Allied commander and leader of an army group. He was honored all over the world because of his heroic defiance and bold leadership. He wanted to end the war peacefully but this was not possible. After the war he was merciful to his enemies, pushed for universal suffrage and for the further development of Flanders (much of which had been ruined by the war). He took a great interest in every part of his country and was also a man who loved the outdoors. This sadly led to his death in a mountain climbing accident.

Leopold III, son of Albert I, became King unexpectedly on February 23, 1934. Like his father, Leopold III was very religious and very heroic. Even as a boy he had volunteered to fight in the trenches with the army as a regular soldier. He was a devoted father and a great patriot who wanted to keep his country united and neutral. When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, like his father, he led the army in a heroic fight, holding off the Germans longer than any other of the Low Countries. Finally he was forced to surrender or see his men massacred but he did not abandon them and stayed in Belgium to endure the occupation with his people and to ease their suffering as much as possible. He hoped after such a disaster a new begining could be made with a stronger, more united Belgium with a more efficient and dutiful government. However, he was betrayed by the self-serving politicians he most opposed and he had to go to Switzerland. The people wanted him back but he would not risk conflict and abdicated the throne.

Baudouin, son of Leopold III, was thrust onto the Belgian throne on July 17, 1951 at a time of great turmoil and instability. In such a position it is no wonder King Baudouin would have rather been a priest. However, he was a dutiful king and soon won the respect of everyone by his calm and kind manner and his simple but deep religious faith. However, Belgium had changed and more changes came. King Baudouin went to Africa to give the Congo its independence, though he had misgivings about how prepared they were for total separation. The country also divided officially into Flanders and Wallonia with their own governments for each in addition to the national one. Society was also going through many changes that King Baudouin opposed and he had problems of conscience at times when doing his duty clashes with his traditional moral code. However, King Baudouin was very popular and widely respected around the world though he and his wife Queen Fabiola were sad that they could never have children.

Albert II, brother of King Baudouin, became King on August 9, 1993 and is probably the most active monarch in Europe today. As divisions in the country grew deeper the King has had to work harder and harder to hold the ship of state together. So frustrating has this become that many have said everyone is Flemish or Walloon and only the King is Belgian. Probably no other Belgian king has had to deal with what Albert II has had to deal with; social changes, growing demographic changes, the "War on Terrorism", constantly bickering parties that refuse to cooperate, the economic crisis and the growing position of the European Union. Probably no other King and Royal Family have been so heavily scrutinized in Belgian history as Albert II and his family or been so often asked to justify their position. However, through it all he has kept his good humor and continues to labor on to keep his dysfunctional family of subjects together as one country as he first swore to do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lots of Weblinks

First, at the Blog sur famille royale belge, read about the "non-conformist" (yes, that's why we like him too) Portrait du prince Laurent de Belgique.

Second, I found a very "pretty" website (the right word I think, looks nice but in a very female style) about our favorite Italian queen Marie Jose of Belgium. It's very ... pretty!

Royaliste de Belgique posts about the polls taken on the division of Belgium and what a wide difference you can draw from these, taking almost every position. Que veulent les belges?

At The Cross of Laeken we see an important article about the monarchie and the (terrible) possibility of A Belgian Republic?

I also happened to find this little post about a Norwegian Officer in the Congo. Most do not seem to know, but in the early days of the Congo Free State the military was made up of mostly soldiers from other African countries and the officers were largely Scandinavian rather than Belgian though as years passed the military would become Congolese and Belgian.

There was something else I had planned for today but I happen to find all these links and wanted to share them before I forgot them all. Which happens, this very post I had done 20 minutes ago but forgot to push the publish post button!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Birthday of Prince Laurent

I had forgotten the birthday yesterday of Prince Laurent, which I should not do because I like him and I think he is picked on way too much.

Princesse Mathilde in Liberia

Princesse Mathilde has been doing the good work in the African country of Liberia, meeting with the President of the country and others as part of her work for UNICEF and UNAIDS with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS and children and women. There is a video of her meeting with the President of Liberia. The Princesse is doing alot of good and her genuine concern comes across. It also seems there is good news for her family that her sister, Countess Hélène d'Udekem d'Acoz, is engaged to be married.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Europe Multi-Cultural Failure

On Saturday Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel told young members of the Christian Democratic Union that multi-culturalism in Germany has "utterly failed", citing the growth of the Muslim community which started with Turkish immigrant workers and has grown to about five million Muslims living now in Germany. She pointed out that society is now polarized and many of the Muslim youth are not even learning to speak German. This, naturally, set off new accusations of Islamophobia on the part of Merkel but the chancellor also could not quite bring herself to be as brave in addressing the obvious problem as she tried to be. She had to add the argument that this was a problem of integration and not one of cultures and civilizations. She also had to add that the mosques and burqas are in Germany to stay. Well, no use worrying about it now then, it can't be helped so why bother talking about it?

Is she being honest about this, who can say? One thing is sure is that there are not many public officials with the courage to even address the issue. The Queen of Denmark did once, in a very polite and non-confrontational way, safe in the knowledge she could do nothing about it. But let anyone actually address the problem as a problem and you will see how the likes of Geert Wilders, Jean-Marie Le Pen or Jörg Haider are treated. In other words, tell the truth of what Islam teaches, oppose unlimited immigration and you will be branded as a criminal, a bigot and a nazi or a fascist. Well, I am safely out of reach of the politically correct gestapo and I can say that not only is the massive Muslim immigration a problem but integration is not the answer and it will never happen. Even if it could happen, how would turning Muslims into a new breed of Germans, French, Dutch or Belgians be good for them? That would be betraying their own religion and culture as well. However, if you try to restrict immigration and say that if you are a Muslim you will not be 'at home' in a country like Belgium, Netherlands or Germany, you will be called a bigot and a racist. But this is not simply a racial issue. Belgians know very well you can be of the same race and still sharply divided (regardless how absurd it is). It is not the race of these millions of immigrants that is causing the biggest problem but the religion of them.

The problem is that Islam is a religion absolutely opposed, fundamentally, to the history, culture and values of Europe. It is also true that Islam is not purely spiritual but enforces a legalistic government of its own. They cannot integrate and never will because to be a Muslim means you cannot be a German or a Belgian or an Austrian. These are Christian countries with Christian cultures. These are democratic countries that are not and never have been theocracies. It is totally repugnant to the values of, let us say Belgium but choose as you please, to force women to cover up, to mutilate people who do a crime, to allow you to lie to someone who is not of your religion or treat some people as having more rights than others. All of these things Islam demands of its followers. They have their own laws, leaders and loyalty and in Belgium there should be room for only one flag; the black-yellow-red. But, because the major parties try to avoid dealing with this issue it is pushed to the fringes and I will admit quite often the parties that take it up are suspect and not ones most people are comfortable with. In Belgium they are a small minority in support but across the border in Netherlands they are becoming more mainstream as the situation worsens. If this is a problem it is only because the mainstream parties have refused to address the issue and surrendered it to the fringes who seem insane.
Europe is going down the tubes because people are too busy arguing with each other to address common problems, because too much power is given to unelected EU bosses who do not care about their countries or peoples and because everyone is so afraid of what others will call them that they will not state honestly the problems we are in. This allows the situation where Europe is now falling apart. Huge waves of immigrants are coming in like we have never had happen before, younger people are not getting married, no one has alot of children anymore (bad for the environment if you do anyway) and everyone feels sorry for themselves and act like they hate their own history and traditions and want them to be replaced by something else. By the time they are starting to realize that something else is not so nice as they were told it is getting to be too late to do anything about it. Like Merkel said, it is a fact of life, we have to get along because there is no going back. That is always the way is it not? There's no going back, you can never go back, no matter how wonderful anyone remembers things had been before, you can never go back. My God we are on the road to our own death and they still say we cannot go back!
Perhaps I have been corrupted by my foreign education but I want to turn the car around.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our Favorite Luxembourger

Last Monday was the birthday of the late Belgian princesse and Grand Duchesse de Luxembourg Josephine-Charlotte. She was born in Brussels in 1927 to SM King Leopold III and Queen Astrid. She had really extensive royal relations. King Harald V of Norway was her first cousin, King Baudouin and King Albert II were her brothers. During World War II she was kept under house arrest in Germany with her father King Leopold III until they were freed by the Allied armies and went to Switzerland. She went to school in Geneva before going home to Belgium to help people with social problems. Princesse Josephine Charlotte was said to be a reluctant bride when she married the Hereditary Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg in 1953 but they were married for over 50 years and had many children. She did a lot of charity work as Grand Duchesse of Luxembourg, was leader of the Red Cross and set styles for the tiny country. She also liked to work in the garden and participate in outdoor and water sports when she was young. When her son, now reigning Grand Duke Henri, married Grand Duchess Maria Teresa (originally from Cuba) there was some controversy over the reports that the new consort and her mother-in-law did not get along well with each other. This is not surprising since they were two women from totally different backgrounds, generations and ways of thinking. The Grand Duchess, the best thing to ever happen to Luxembourg, died in 2005 of lung cancer.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The British and Leopold III

The Cross of Laeken relates an article defending the heroic actions of King Leopold III in the Second World War. I am glad to see the truth being told about King Leopold III who is very often attacked in the most despicable ways when he was probably the greatest monarch of the World War II period. This is a reason why I am sometimes troubled being nice with the British in particular but the French in some ways also. They seemed to often use Belgium and then blame Belgium. They used us to get into World War I (because I do not think it was purely to uphold the treaty of Belgian neutrality that drove the British government) and in World War II they used the Belgians as canon fodder while they were retreating from the continent and then blame the Belgians and the King of the Belgians for being forced to surrender after fighting with tough resistance for 18 days against the Germans. I know this was the government, not the people and I know there are those who are the opposite and who have been telling the truth and I am very glad for that and I also have alot of admiration for the British for the British Empire and all of their great success around the world in the past but it also does not help my opinion when it is so often British voices I hear today saying that Belgium is "not a proper country" and act gleeful at the idea of Belgium being destroyed. They also led the smear campaign against King Leopold II over the Congo which was, I will say carefully, slightly hypocritical for the largest colonial power in the world.

Is usually to cover up your own sin yes? Why else would a scape-goat be made of King Leopold III who was the most valiant leader of the war, the greatest monarch, taking responsibility for his country in the great crisis of invasion, leading his brother soldiers in the hopelss fight, doing all in his power and then accepting to join in the suffering of his people in occupation when forced to surrender so not to see his troops massacred? King Leopold III did everything the right way but he is blamed for everything. He is blamed for dropping the alliance with France and going back to neutrality. But France already had abandoned Belgium! The built their walls and left Belgium to face the Germans alone and every time Germany had made an aggressive move the French and British had looked the other way. How could anyone concerned of their people put trust in such governments? Then when their own policies lead to war and the occupation of western Europe, total defeat by the Germans, they blame King Leopold III for making peace just as they blamed his father as a "traitor" for trying to make peace in the first war. All covering up their own unspeakable actions.

King Leopold III, unlike the other national leaders, knew what war was like. He had been a real soldier in the first war, he had fought in the trenches with no special treatment or favors. He knew the misery, the suffering and the constant hovering death over you. He also knew from this how precious the national territorial integrity was and he would fight for it but he would not send men to certain death when the French and British were both giving up and running home. He did not abandon his people, he did not abandon his soldiers. He endured the war with them and he would endure the occupation with them. He was a great king, one of the greatest of modern times and all the slanders against him are being either ignorant or deceptive. He was a brave, thoughtful, noble and considerate king who would make the difficult decisions, not run away or make someone else responsible or blame others. His character was of a real King!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Didier Reynders Addresses the Monarchie

Didier Reyners discusses the possibilities of division and the place of the monarchy at La Libre, directed from the Blog of the Royal Belgian. There is some talk now that if there is division the name of Belgium will be kept and the monarchie also will still be maintained. That is good, I think, but then I wonder why go ahead with such a division anyway? If that is so it does not sound like things will be very much different from today where almost everything is already divided. I hope this means that some of the hardliners are being moved by the display of patriotism unity of the people and no longer think that the division of the country will be so easy and so are trying to make it such a way for it to be an idea more palatable for the Belgian people who do not want to throw away the whole history of our country. All also displays I think the central role of the King and how important is the monarchie to Belgium. Am I very wrong to say the division may have already happened some past time ago if the King was not here?

Prince Philippe Activities

Crown Prince Philippe and Princesse Mathilde visited on Thursday Clarysse in Pittem company, Max Havelaar label, in West Flanders, which produces bath and kitchen textiles with materials from Africa. Their label works with cotton producers in the struggling African nation of Mali and they pay above average prices for the cotton to help that country when the same could be obtained for less. The agricultural cooperative also pays special attention to ecological issues and the higher prices go to provide social improvements in that country. Prince Philippe and Princesse Mathilde wanted to highlight the work and mutual benefit that this arrangement provides for the workers in Belgium and Mali together. They met with the workers and they were very honored and happy to meet the future King and Queen of the Belgians and were pleased to answer all of the questions they had about how things functioned there.

News media also reports that Monday Prince Philippe will be going far away to visit Astana, Kazakhstan (one of the former Soviet republics in central Asia). Tuesday he will meet with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbavev. This is to improve trading relations between Belgium and Kazakhstan and is part of a larger campaign of foreign trips, going all around the world that Prince Philippe is doing to help Belgian business and promote commercial activity with the country that is especially essential now when Belgium is in such debt and the economy going through a down period and new business is greatly needed. Prince Philippe is working hard for Belgium!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Belgic King Ambiorix

Ambiorix was one of the great Belgic chiefs of our early history. Most of what we know about him comes from the writings of his greatest enemy, Julius Caesar. The Belgae greatly impressed the Roman conqueror because of their courage and ferocity but Gallia Belgica in the end became one of the major provinces of the Roman Empire. However, the name of King Ambiorix was almost forgotten about until the popular movement toward Belgian independence began to grow and prosper. The Belgian people looked for a great figure from the history of their own people to inspire them to resist the rule of the Netherlands and encourage unity among all Belgians. One of the heroes they rediscovered was King Ambiorix who so fiercely resisted Roman domination as a champion for Belgian national pride and the struggle for freedom.

King Ambiorix was the chief of the Belgic tribe known as the Eburones together with Catuvolcus. The Belgica territory at that time encompassed what is now the northeast part of France, all of Belgium, part of the south of the Netherlands to the Rhine and the northwest part of North Rhine-Westfalia in Germany. The various Belgic tribes were having a fine primitive existence, farming, hunting, breeding and fighting each other when the Romans arrived and turned their world upside down. That was in 57 BC when the Romans under Caesar conquered Gallia Celtica and Gallia Belgica. The changes grew over time and in 54 BC the Roman troops began to run out of food and started to force the Belgae to give up their own crops and go hungry to feed the conquerors. Because of a bad crop food was already scarce for the Belgae and the Eburones were starving. When they resisted Julius Caesar built Roman outposts in each village with a centurion in charge of confiscating the food for the Roman soldiers.

King Ambiorix was outraged by this theft and moved by the suffering of his people. Julius Caesar, who had freed Ambiorix from being a tributary of the Atuatuci, was becoming an oppressive ruler and Ambiorix decided to fight back and so he joined with Catuvolcus in the winter and began what might later be called a guerilla war against the Roman occupiers under Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Auruncleius Cotta. Ambiorix and his warriors killed a Roman unit sent out to gather wood and chased the remaining Romans back to their camp. This post was too strong to attack so Ambiorix addressed the Romans as their friend, telling them he appreciated that they had stopped the inter-tribal warfare and warned them, as their concerned friend, that other tribes were preparing to move against them with help from the Germans and that they should retreat to another camp where they would have more soldiers and more time to prepare for the attack.

Sabinus and Cotta did not know what to do. Should they believe the fierce Belgic warrior or not? Sabinus thought that they should trust Ambiorix; they had too much to lose if he was telling the truth. Cotta wanted to stand his ground and fight anyone who attacked them. However, he also wanted no responsibility if they were all killed by the fearsome Belgians. Hearing that, would you like to stay there? Naturally the Romans decided they would retreat, which is just what Ambiorix wanted them to do. While crossing a valley on the march to their next outpost Ambiorix and his Belgic warriors came swarming down the sides of the hills and wiped out the entire Roman command –one legion and five cohorts. This spread a wave of shock across the frontier and all the way to Rome itself where the Senate was horrified and outraged. Julius Caesar stood up and promised to return to Gallia Belgica and crush all of the Belgians as an example of what would happen to those who resisted the rule of the Roman Republic.

Caesar arrived on the scene just in time to stop a Belgic attack on a legion in Nervii territory that included Cicero’s brother. It took a number of years of fierce fighting to subdue Ambiorix and the Belgae but in the end the better organized Romans were successful, also because they came with about 50,000 highly trained veteran soldiers. The Belgae were devastated, as Romans tended to do with their beaten enemies, slaughtering the people, exiling them and burning their villages. Ambiorix fought on to the bitter end, finally vanishing across the Rhine into German territory after which nothing more is known of him. Still, he and his warriors left a lasting impression on the Romans and their great conqueror Caesar who said that, of all his enemies, the Belgians were the bravest. When Belgium was revived as a nation the story of Ambiorix and his victories were rediscovered and celebrated with many stories, tributes and memorials erected in his honor. He had become a celebrated popular figure and was ranked as one of the greatest Belgians in history.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Movie to Show on Leopold II

Details from the Blog sur la famille royale belge. I wish I could be there to see it. At the initiative of l'Association Dynastie et Patrimoine Culturel on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 14:30 at the Prince Albert Club in Brussels reporter, editor, writer Patrick Weber will show the film, "Leopold II, the Man Behind the Beard". There will be many pictures of the industrious king and many scenes from the video archives and information from many original documents used. Weber is said to be 'passionate about the monarchial system' and will focus on trying to find the true personality of King Leopold II, what drove him onward, what were his motivations and to get beyond the controversy that seems always surrounding the memory of Leopold II to get to the real facts about him. After seeing so much negative of this king, I have to be a little skeptical hearing that, but I hope that it is true and the film will show the fair and dispassionate facts about this always criticized sovereign.

This screening is free to the public but there is limited seating so anyone who can go needs to reserve their place early. L'Association Royale Dynastie et Patrimoine Culturel that replaced the Friends of the Dynasty Museum of which King Albert II is honorary president, will relate the history of the country from independence and will have a number of related collections on display. They have done similar exhibits in the past on King Albert I and Queen Astrid. They also put out a newsletter (bilingual) for royal historians.

Now I need to go do something to forget myself being homesick.

King's Advice on Mexico Adventure

When Mexican conservatives and the court of French Emperor Napoleon first concocted the scheme to revive the Empire of Mexico under Maximilian and Charlotte the Austrian Imperial Family was very much unimpressed with the idea. Emperor Francis Joseph thought it a terrible idea and feared the Hapsburg name would be tarnished by any cooperation with the parvenu Bonaparte clan. Ultimately he even disinherited his own brother in the hope of discouraging him. However, in Belgium things were very different. King Leopold I thought it would be wonderful if his beloved daughter could become an empress. He gave the young Archduke Maximilian advice based on his own experience. He said Maximilian should accept the offer of the Mexican throne but warned him not to be romantic about it but to address the matter in a practical way, like a business deal. Establishing a new throne would be expensive and the King advised Maximilian to hold aloof until he had solid financial backing. He pointed out that France, England and Russia had offered him a guarantee of 20 million francs to take the Belgian throne which went a long way to helping him put the monarchy and the new country on a solid footing.

The King was also wise enough to know that Napoleon would not go against his own interests to keep his promises of support to the archduke. “In regard to military support, even if you were to provide your own Austrian suite, the Emperor Napoleon is quite capable of recalling his troops from Mexico if anything goes wrong, in order to exonerate himself” the King said. Because of that he advised his son-in-law to get something in writing that would be as binding as a treaty. He warned Maximilian that once undertaken the success or failure of the enterprise would fall on him and so he must be stern in holding out until the French met all of his requirements. Leopold I told him, “To sum up it is folly to let yourself be confounded by polite phrases. One must guard against illusions.” It was very good advice from one of the most experienced and pragmatic royals in Europe. However, Napoleon did go back even on his written promises and treaties and Maximilian did not guard very well against illusions. Fortunately, he had our Charlotte there to help him in that regard and she was convinced that they could help Mexico and finally lift those people out of poverty, ignorance and constant civil wars between feuding factions of potential dictators.

Not everyone among Charlotte’s relations was proud to see her go become Empress of the Mexicans. Her grandmother, Queen Marie Amélie of the French, was shocked and frightful. She resented Princess Charlotte being part of any plan hatched by the Bonaparte who had displaced King Louis Philippe from the French throne and she feared what would happen to them, knowing Mexico only as a violent country full of bandits where governments changed by coup détat. When they visited the Queen Princess Clementine was praying her rosary and when they left the Queen lurched from her chair and shouted, “They will be murdered!” before collapsing. However, in Belgium the send-off was much happier. There were decorations everywhere, crowds of Belgians lined the streets cheering and King Leopold I, the Duke of Brabant (soon to be King Leopold II) and the Count of Flanders presided over the official ceremonies. The Duke of Brabant read out a rousing message, “The Hapsburgs, when joined with the Coburgs, find ever new opportunities to indulge their legitimate passion for doing good to the most different peoples.” As Empress of Mexico Charlotte would endeavor to do just that but who could have imagined the inveterate enemies and fair-weather friends they would have to deal with?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Vrouwen bij Defensie - Les femmes à la Défense

In the modern world everyone can do their part for the country. Some just look alot better doing it! A big cheer for all the men and women of our brave military forces!

Flags of Belgium

The Austrian Netherlands

The Spanish Netherlands

The Brabant Revolution

The United States of Belgium

The Kingdom of the United Netherlands

The Belgian Revolution

The Kingdom of Belgium

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Most Busy King in Europe

SM King Albert II is still working hard to bring the political leaders together to form a government for Belgium. Four months gone from the election with no government, the King started new efforts on Wednesday after the Flemish nationalists said negotiations were at an end. The King has in public expressed his concerns over the continued political stalemate and he asked Prime Minister Yves Leterme to work with the parliament to put forward their best efforts to reach a solution for the economic and social welfare of the Belgian citizens in this long period of inactivity without a government. State reform still remains the most divisive issue for the political parties to agree on. These days it is fashionable to ridicule or tease the King of the Belgians but I really think we should all be proud of him. What a difficult position for him to be in the middle of and yet he is working constantly to try to get these politicians who act like spoiled children to stop their feuding and come together for the good of his country. They are looking out for themselves and their own jobs but it is only the King in this situation who is looking out for the people and for Belgium!

The east has been meeting the west in Belgium. First, on 4 October SM King Albert II attended the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels while the Queen entertained the wives of the visiting political leaders at the Royal Palace. The day after the King met with President and First Lady of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-bak and Kim Yoon-ok, at the palace, hosting a special dinner in their honor. And finally yesterday, in anticipation of an official visit, the King met with the Premier of the People's Republic of China, Wen Jia-bao. All of these meetings and visits are of even greater importance than the usual diplomatic purposes. Recent reports have shown that the bulk of the world's wealth, for the first time in many, many, many centuries, is moving from west to east as the Asian economies expand and the economies of Europe and North America fall deeper in debt. So, everyone seems to have the impression that we need to be extra nicer to these countries!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ancient Belgium

Nothing makes me angry more than the comments of people who say that Belgium is not a real/legitimate/proper country. That is simply untrue. Belgium has been around for a very long time. Just the modern Kingdom of Belgium has been around since 1830 which makes it older, in terms of the government and constitutional monarchy, than the united Germany, Italy, the modern Fifth French Republic, the Russian Federation and many others. However, like I have posted about before, even before there was the modern Kingdom of Belgium there was the United States of Belgium (though it did not last long) from which much of the inspiration for the 1830 Revolution originated. Before that there was still a distinct difference from what was called the Austrian Netherlands sometimes, also called Royal Belgium in contrast to Federal Belgium which was the Dutch United Provinces. But even long before any of that, in ancient times, there was the Belgae.

The Belgae were written about by the Roman conqueror Julius Caesar during his campaign in Gaul (France) when he recorded that the area was inhabited by the Aquitani, Galli and Belgae. During his wars in the region he was impressed particularly by the ferocity of the Belgae and described them as the bravest of his enemies. Julius Caesar thought the Belgae had originated in Germany but no one really knows what their origins were. The Belgae included, according to Caesar, the Eburones, Condrusi, Caerosi and Paemani tribes of the Belgae alliance were Germanic. Other tribes identified themselves in such a way but some Belgae were recorded as having Gaulish names and other evidence shows considerable Celtic influence so, in the end, no one can really say what exactly the ethnic group was. So you see, some things never change. Knowledge of these ancient roots were revived when modern Belgium became independent with the Belgic chieftain Ambiorix becoming a celebrated national figure for his resistance of Roman conquest.
The Romans later made Belgica one of their provinces and later a diocese, as Gallia Belgica. Emperor Diocletian divided the area into Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda. The Roman province of Belgica was extremely large and at one point covered big portions of what is now France and Germany as well as all of the current low countries. When Roman power began to decline the provinces of Belgica were invaded by the Vandals and the Burgundians and later became the central area of the Carolingian empire established by the Franks. This is when the country was under the rule of King Clovis I and when the Belgians were first converted to Christianity, probably by Irish monks. This is interesting to note since it was the Irish rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I that helped Belgium remain Catholic in later centuries when the English and Dutch were at war with the Spanish and Belgians.