Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Belgians Killed Osama - NO!

A friend of mine (who I always disagree with) said, just in mention, that he was afraid Belgium might come under attack by Muslim terrorists because “our weapons” killed Osama bin Laden. This I had not heard! Seems strange to me, America being the country where almost everyone has a gun, why would United States use Belgian weapons for their best troops and secret missions? This I had to investigate. I also should mention my friend was very upset that Osama bin Laden had been killed. He thought it was very stupid for the Americans to do since Osama had not done anything for 10 years and now his death would cause Muslim terrorists to launch a whole new wave of attacks in revenge for the killing of their leader. Allow me to say here that is NOT my point of view. Osama bin Laden was responsible for the killing of thousands of people at 911 and he deserved to pay the consequences, no matter how long it took. For example, there are very old men still being arrested for war crimes done in World War II, it does not matter that they are 80 or 90 years old and have done nothing wrong in all the decades since. Still the authorities pursue them.

Anyway, I do a little search and find out really there is no evidence the American commandoes used Belgian weapons anyway. It is true (I was surprised to learn) that the United States bought Belgian made rifles from FN Herstal in Liege because they thought they were superior weapons. Nice to know we make good guns but there is no evidence the Americans used these in the killing of Osama, other articles I found said they used a US-made rifle called M4 Carbine. The only thing I could find that was Belgian being used in the attack was “Cairo” the Belgian Malinois who was trained to find bombs and alert the commandos to escaping terrorists or the arrival of Pakistani soldiers to the compound. So, calm down everyone, probably the only thing Belgian involved in the attack was the dog and he probably was born and bred in America also with the only thing Belgian of him being his breed.

But regardless of that though, I do not think we should have to be in fear of taking any action against a known criminal because it might upset others in his gang. Law and order has to be upheld and the guilty have to be punished no matter the consequences or otherwise we have to be just cowering in the corner anytime someone attacks us, doing nothing in response but begging for mercy. And also, these sort of terrorists that admired Osama bin Laden seem to need no provocation to attack western countries. As long as we have a different religion or no religion at all we will be the enemies of those kind of people no matter what other actions we take. That is a fact we have to face.

Friday, May 27, 2011

English Support for Belgium

Some in England certainly don't like Belgium. Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, recently spoke in Ghent, further pressing his denial of the right of Belgium to exist and giving his support for a Flemish republic -and so the destruction of the Kingdom of Belgium. I never had strong opinions of EU before but recently have become more opposed to it. But it makes a problem that the anti-EU people like Farage are also anti-Belgium and while many think that being outside the EU is keeping Flemish nationalists from reaching total support for their goal of division of the country. So, in a way, EU is a sort of uncomfortable ally for me. The views of Farage are not universal of course and I found today these two articles from a blog called The English Mail-Coach which denounce the tactics of Farage and give support to the history and identity of Belgium. That is good to see. UKIP vs Belgium Part 1 and also UKIP vs Belgium Part 2.

I will repeat again that, though tirades against my country make me tempted, I have nothing but the desire to be a friend of Great Britain, I admire the British and their great historic accomplishments. I also appreciate the British forces who came to defend Belgian independence in 1914. But it is all of that which also makes me more upset at those who speak anti-Belgian anger. It also seems to me dangerous. I don't want Belgium to divide and I don't want Britain to divide either and there are more historic differences on Britain between Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland than between the regions in Belgium. Supporting those who thrive on ethnic rivalry does not seem very wise to me for the British to do. I want to see both countries continue and both countries be close friends as in the past has a long time been the case.

Belgium: Natural NOT Artificial

About a week or two ago someone sent me an article from the Brussels Journal about how Belgium is an “artificial state”, an “invented” state just put together for political reasons, doomed to failure and which never should have existed in the first place. Why this was sent to me? Maybe to see my reaction since going to school in Texas everyone at home thinks I’m becoming a far-right extremist. I don’t think so but my friend and native Texas the Mad Monarchist did worry me when he said that Texans were like the Klingons of the United States. Yikes. Anyway, everyone should probably know already my opinion on this and I feel like I have said it a hundred million times but the “artificial state” and “invented state” accusations just keep coming. I do not think that is true but additionally I do not understand how anyone else could think it is true. It goes against all of history, and that I have tried to talk about on this blog. Regardless, it is still repeated and it makes me depressed. Also I have been depressed by how many Belgians are so quick and calm to criticize their own country. A good friend of mine said when the burqa ban was passed that Belgium must be the most racist country. We really put down ourselves too much. Seriously, if Belgium was really so racist then I don’t think so many other races would want to come live in Belgium.

Back to the point, Belgium is not “artificial” or “invented”. How do people think this? I know, part is because of the quarreling between the French and Dutch speakers communities but do they really think these two were just put together in 1830? Do they think before that the space on the map was empty? The two regions had been together when we were part of the United Netherlands Kingdom, when we were the Austrian Netherlands before that, when we were in the larger Spanish Netherlands before that and when we were Burgundy before that. There had always been this area, not always an independent country, but always definitely not French, not German and not Dutch. Even in those days people still called the whole area “Belgium” and it was Belgium even all the way back in Roman times. So, why don’t people understand? No one “invented” Belgium! Belgium has always been here, right where it is today! There has always been Belgium, there have always been Belgians. This is not disputable, this is a fact of history.

Look at the brief period between the first effort for independence (United States of Belgium we talked about) and the country being taken over by France and Napoleon. That was when we were, again, the Austrian Netherlands but war was already about to happen with France so military forces had to be ready and they formed a unit, part of the Austrian Imperial Army, with green and yellow uniforms with cool crested helmets that had the big letters “LB” on them. What did that stood for? “Legion Belge” or the BELGIAN Legion. This was going back before 1814, so how could there be a Belgian Legion when these people keep saying Belgium was just invented in 1830 by a bunch of countries? Why do I have maps from back to the Renaissance period and the Roman Empire with a big area labeled “Belgium” on them if the country was only “invented” in 1830? So why do they keep saying that? It is ridiculous and I do not understand them!

The people always had different languages and different customs, not just in the regions, but town to town. However, in the past most everyone also had a common language if it was Latin or later French and everyone always had the same religion. Today it is more rigid and one area is for speaking Dutch, the other French and a little bit German and no changing! That has hardened feelings I think, not like the way it was in the past. In the past there were language issues also, no denying that, but there were also more things that all Belgians had in common in those days and today there is less of that. But artificial or invented we are not. The area of the country has been a distinct unit since hundreds of years and the people living there knew they were not French or Dutch or Germans, but Belgians!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Publication on the Monarchie

There is a new publication (in English) available here on the Belgian monarchie. I thought it a very helpful and informative booklet, suitable for printing. It is pdf format and covers the history of the monarchie, the accomplishments of the past kings as well as the duties of the King in the government, the role of the monarchie today and the modern Royal Family. Also it includes some nice pictures from history and current times.

Also I heard today that Princess Melanie de Ligne is going to be married to Paul Weingarten (no date known yet). Princess Melanie is the daughter of Prince and Princess Wautier de Ligne, the granddaughter of Prince Antoine de Ligne and Princess Alix of Luxembourg who is sister to Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. Her uncle, Prince Michel, is head of the Ligne house, successor of the famous Belgian Prince Eugene de Ligne who might have been our king.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is Willem I Statue a Sign?

A committee in the city of Ghent has asked to put up a statue of King Willem I of the Netherlands, saying that he was very good for their city. This caused some disquieted feelings when I saw the news but not only because of this alone. It is not so bad for Ghent to want a statue of King Willem I (though I am unsure of other countries with statues of foreign kings put up in today's times). He was, after all, a figure of Belgian history and he was our monarch as part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands from the defeat of Waterloo to the 1830 Revolution. That conflict and the independence probably would not have been able to happen if Willem I had been not so heavy-handed but regardless, it is true he was a significant figure. Taken together though with the risen popularity of the Flemish radical nationalists, the inability to form a government and the recent suggestion by the NV-A that the Benelux countries combine their militaries to save costs all makes me worry that Belgium (and possibly even Luxembourg) could be lost in such a union so much dominated by the greater numbers of the Dutch. I like the Netherlands, I like their Family Royal and admire their history, all they accomplished around the world and I want to be good neighbors but I do not want anything that endangers the continued life and independence of the Belgian kingdom.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Princess Stephanie Birthday

Today is the birthday in history of  Her Royal Highness Princess Stéphanie Clotilde Louise Herminie Marie Charlotte, daughter of SM King Leopold II (and also Queen Marie Henriette of Austria). She was the good, innocent, very young, traditional girl given in a finally unhappy marriage to the Hapsburg Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Hungary, ending in his suicide at Mayerling castle with his mistress. The sad Belgian princess deserved a better fate than that. She married later a Hungarian to the disappointment of King Leopold and had to escape the persecution of the Soviet Army at the end of World War II. She had only one child, a daughter, by her second husband who married in the Windisch-Graetz princely family. So much hope was placed in her that things would work out for a union of the Coburg and Hapsburg houses but her husband was not suitable for her. I have much sympathy for Princess Stephanie, she deserved a much happier life.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Constitution of Belgium

The Belgian Constitution. It is a complicated subject. The Constitution in effect today actually is not much the same as the original version of 1831 other than the basic framework that Belgium is a popular monarchy and parliamentary democracy. From 1831 to 1970 the Kingdom of Belgium was a “unitary state” with one government for all people, elected by all the people. However, in 1970 the Belgian Constitution began going through many changes to make the kingdom essentially a federal state. This is not uncommon in the world but it is rather uncommon for a country as small as Belgium. Germany, Canada, the United States, for example, are all federal states. However, in Belgium, rather than states, there are “regions” and “communities” which are based on local differences, not importance. In other words, being a region or a community does not give any privilege over the other, both exist on the same level in terms of government organization.

Article 1 lays out the basic form of government. Article 2 distinguishes the three communities (Flemish, French and German) and Article 3 distinguishes the three regions (Flanders, Wallonie and the Brussels capital region). Article 4 determines what languages are exclusive to these parts of the country (Dutch for Flanders, French for Wallonie, both languages for Brussels and German for the German community). Each of these have their own political establishment and the linguistic borders can only be changed by majorities in the Chamber of Deputies for each region. The regions are then divided into provinces for the management of local issues. This is all part of Title I. Title II deals with the civil rights of all Belgian citizens. In some ways though this has been superseded by the European Convention on Human Rights. Then follows the qualifications for citizenship and the rights and obligations of citizenship. Also there is special provision to account for European Union and non-EU citizens, European voting laws.

There are many more provisions dealing with rights and freedoms, also the limitations of these. There is no death penalty, there is freedom of religion, there is freedom of speech, though some Americans have asked me about Holocaust denial laws in Belgium. I did not know until looking it up but yes, we have them and it is illegal to deny, diminish or sympathize with any of the actions of Nazi Germany. There is freedom of association, freedom of assembly and the usual rights most people today take for granted in the civilized world. The next part is the one probably most people will find confusing because it deals with the delegation of power through all the different levels. There is the European Union level, the federal level, the regional level and it all can be quite complicated to understand.

This is Title III and it is the largest part of the Constitution, very much larger than all the other parts even put together. On the highest level, dealing with European Union, treaties and government agreements handle that. On the federal level it is the King, the Senate and Chamber of Deputies (of course though the King is expected to sign whatever law the government presents to him). The King has, in name, the executive power but it is the federal government together that actually wields that power instead of the King. Finally, Articles 38 and 39 of Title III detail the powers that are held by the regions and the communities and these have naturally been the subject of the most argument and controversy over the years. One area not changing much is that dealing with the King, it is just not tolerated that he have as much influence as in the past. The biggest recent change was the abolition of Salic law so that older girls can take the throne instead of only boys.

I will try to explain this, but even for me it is complicated. The communities and regions each have their own governments with power over certain areas as put in the Constitution. There is the Flemish Parliament, the Parliament of the French Community and the Parliament of the German-Speaking Community. In Flanders, the Flemish Parliament represents both the region and the community. This is not always the case though as in Wallonie there are two different bodies, the Parliament of the French Community and also the Wallonie Parliament. Not everyone in the community parliament is a member of the regional parliament but every member of the regional parliament is a member of the community parliament (keeping up?). Members often serve in more than one so that French-speaking politicians from Brussels can serve in the Brussels capital parliament and also the French community parliament. But, except for senators, one cannot serve in a community or regional parliament at the same time as serving in the federal parliament in Brussels. These are all responsible for cultural and linguistic matters within their areas (outside federal institutions) but there have been long arguments recently over these bodies being given more control over taxes, income distribution and financial things.

Finally the Constitution establishes the judicial system (Constitutional, military, labor and law courts and that stuff) and finally the local governments, which are the provinces and cities to manage their administration. Also I should mention that the German-speaking community does not have quite the same privliges of the other major communities. Their powers can be changed at the federal level without a full majority and that would be pretty impossible since the German-speaking community is so small, consisting of areas formerly of Germany that Belgium was given as compensation after the World War One.

So, is that a sufficient summary of the Belgian Constitution? Many people are probably like me, when government issues of jurisdiction and these things come up I lose interest fast for it being so boring and complicated. When I have been told it is important to understand, I don’t think so because it always seems that all the time something is being changed or at least trying to be changed with one side or the other saying this or that change is just about to happen. So, I justify my laziness saying why learn all the details now when it will just be changing again anyway? I hope I have given some helpful information but I know I cannot explain everything because much of it I do not know or don’t remember from when I was taught. When I came to United States for some education, one of the things I noticed was people carrying the U.S. Constitution in their pocket! It was a little booklet in their pocket and this was a shock to me. As I explained, this we could not do in Belgium since the Constitution would probably be the size of an encyclopedia! That is a little exaggeration but it did make an impression on me, considering especially how big America is, how small Belgium is and how the U.S. government has been around for a century longer than the Belgian government of today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Light in the Tunnel?

The news I have just heard is that SM Albert II has appointed socialist leader Elio di Rupo to the position of "formateur", which would be significant as those given that position usually go on to be the leaders of the government, the prime minister for Belgium. What I have heard is that Elio di Rupo reached out to the Flemish parties and agreed that the centralized government most Francophone parties have preferred was obviously a thing of the past and that he agreed there should be greater autonomy for the regions. Which maybe, I think, could work but it would have to be done not like it was in the past with no one really giving up any power just spreading it over a wider area, with new departments, making the government system extremely complicated with so many layers most people could never understand and non-Belgians certainly could not. Will the talked-about constitutional changes be possible even if Di Rupo can take the next step and form a government? I do not know.

Elio di Rupo is not my favorite politician, I really don't like him (and not because he is homosexual) he does not seem like the serious type to handle big problems. I also don't think the socialist policies have been good for the country. To me it looks like they make the Walon dependent and the Flamand resentful. However, I would guess the King is just getting very frustrated with this situation and thinks Di Rupo has the best chance to form a government with enough support besides the unspeakable Bart De Wever. If there is to be a new government at last, getting the N-VA to go along with it will surely be the hardest part of it. Those involved have said they know this will be difficult, their views are very divergent but that for the good of the people they must make the effort to try to come to some understanding that will give us a government. Belgium (everyone knows by now) has been without a national government for longer than any other country. Do I think it the best to have Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo? No, I do not, but I support the King and I hope that whoever has the task can succeed and finally form a government to get done some business.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Loyal Flemish Defend King

Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever has accused the King of being responsible for holding his party back in the formation of a government and giving them no "opportunities" -the royal policy to ignore again. However, loyal Flemish parties like the Christian democrats and liberals have defended the King and even the socialist party said the nationalists should just ignore the King if he ignores them and take the initiative themselves rather than trying to blame the King for their troubles. Story at Flanders News.

Prince Laurent in Trouble ... Still

I thought maybe I was reading an exaggeration but I have checked now many news sources and all have said the same thing. SM the King must really be upset with his younger son Prince Laurent because he has "banned" him from the palace! I still think it is hard to accept that Prince Laurent is "not welcome" at the palace, no matter what happens you usually do not shun your own children. What certainly has happened though, you can tell from the monarchie website, is that Prince Laurent is no longer on the schedule for any official royal duties. Princess Claire and the children, however, are still listed. But of course! Who could not like Princess Claire? She's a great one and the children should not be treated any different because their father makes some poor decisions. Some are saying this is very serious and that the King is very upset but that only Queen Paola convinced him not to include Princess Claire in the punishment. Others are saying it may just be that nothing is scheduled for Prince Laurent to do and no more (which again causes me to think some overreaction from his absence on the schedule may explain the "banned" story -I hope, I really don't want to believe that). Some have speculated this is a falling out in a big way for the family, others that the King is punishing the Prince for his recent behavior and this will be temporary and eventually things go back to normal. I hope that is the case, it also has been suggested that Prince Laurent may be the least upset about this as any person as now, for what we can see, his time will be his own.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Support for the King

This weekend Mad Monarchist mentioned the book put out by anti-Belgian journalists in an effort to discredit the King by revealing confidential discussions between him and leading political figures, along with some accusations the palace has said is completely false. Of course, this infuriates me as people who want to destroy Belgium focus on bringing down the monarchie which is the one thing (and the King the one person) who is above regions and unites all people. However, I have found out that things are not so bad as they look so we can be given hope by that. There are people in politics today who have voiced their support for the King and his role in national life, defending him against those mouthing these secrets to ruin his ability to do his job and keep Belgium together.

MR Chairman Charles Michel said, "For the MR (Mouvement Réformateur) the colloque singulier is holy" and he also said it was "unresponsible" for people to infringe on the operation of the democratic institutions by robbing the King of his ability to discuss in confidence all the issues of the day.

Parti Socialiste Chairman Elio di Rupo also said that the colloque singulier is essential for confidence between the King and the leaders of the political parties and that people have to have respect for all the national institutions, including the monarchie and the King.

Chairwoman Joëlle Milquet of the CDH (Centre Démocrate Humaniste) also appealed for respect to the position of the King, saying, "This must stop. It can not go on this way. In politics there are basic rules, despite the generations or the political colours". She also said that it is her rule never to discuss with journalists what she has talked about with the King and the Palace Royal.

François Delpérée, constitutional specialist, also talked about the fields of culture, economy, politics and science that the King deals with. He says, "It is usual that these contacts find place in discretion. It happens that the King receives persons in audience and than he must feel free to say what he wants to say without the danger to read his words in the newspapers, the next day".

Finally, a statement from the Green Party said, "It is essential to allow the head of state to fulfill his role in all serenity. Infringement of the colloque singulier in this context forms a very problematic erosion of the royal function and can also be difficulting the opportunities to find a way out from institutional impasses".

So, of course, I am very upset by this disorder and shameful effort to denigrate the Crown but I am also encouraged to see the political leadership of such various parties (some notable by their absence) speaking up for the King and his essential place in Belgian government.

Vive l'roi!
Leve de koning!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The King and Queen in Rome

 The King and Queen gather with all the others for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. You can see below, the non-government was also represented. From the photos there seemed to be many royals present for the great event. I noticed Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Spain as well as the Belgian King and Queen. So, a good showing of the Catholic dynasties of Europe.

Here is the King and Queen having a chat before the ceremony with the colorful Berlusconi.