Thursday, November 3, 2011

Belgium, Britain and Monarchy

It is not good, I know, to compare one country with another, but sometimes I cannot resist it. Especially this is so for the countries of the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Belgium. The two are very different and also have very much in common. It is also my confession that I think of this more probably because I hear now so much criticism from British politicians directed toward the existence of Belgium as a “proper country”, which they say it is not. And yet, look at the similarities of these two countries. Both are constitutional monarchies, both even have the same family of royalty. Both are also diverse countries, not like all countries in Europe are diverse now, but the mixture of Flemish and Walloon in Belgium and the mixture of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon and Norman in Great Britain. Both have also been close allies since the British intervened in the First World War in reaction to the invasion of Belgium and for that the Belgians have never missed being grateful and honoring that sacrifice on our behalf. And yet, some British politicians still denigrate my country and publicly cheer for Belgium to be broken up and destroyed.
What inspired me to think of a new comparison was that some of these political figures, in their own country and policies relating to that, are quite correct. Time to name a name: Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party. I cannot be anything but opposed to this man because he constantly insults my country, my people and wishes for us to be broken up and destroyed. He is also very much against the European Union, which does not bother me so much as his being very much against the Kingdom of Belgium. Yet, I have at least one friend (who is pro-Belgian of course) who greatly likes Nigel Farage and has pointed out to me that Farage is a proud British monarchist who wants the UK and the Commonwealth countries to preserve their monarchy. That is good for them and I have no problem with that, I support that also, and if he would only keep his words about his own country and not mine I would maybe be able to like Farage also. But, he does not and so I cannot like him and must be opposed to him. But this made me think to compare the attitudes toward the British and the Belgian monarchies in each country.

My perspective may not be correct but anyone can leave a comment to tell me so. I never used to watch much news coverage from Britain. I did not watch much news at all when I was very small (I was watching cartoons!) but now I am in education exile I see occasionally the BBC while still trying to stay up to date with news from home. One thing I have noticed is that the British news does not seem to mention their Queen very much at all. Unless there is some major social event she is connected with, they do not, as I have seen, pay much attention at all to the Queen or the others royals of the family. This surprised me because, since the British monarchy is so grand and famous around the world, because of their past empire (and everyone must agree it is the most grand) I thought the BBC would have always some news about the Queen. But I have seen very little and that what I did see was always in reference to some occasion social. Not like Belgium at all. From my perspective, the news in Belgium mentions the King quite regularly and in terms political and governmental not social only. Even though in Belgium we are being a popular monarchy and have no grand ceremonies with the King wearing ermine robes and wearing a crown and surrounded by servants in antique costumes, it seems the monarchie in Belgium is more central while the monarchy in Britain the serious media (not the gossip mags) just more often ignore their Queen and royals.

Is my perception incorrect? I know British friends read this (they are my number three source of readers after the USA and Belgium) so they can tell me if my view is incomplete. Thinking about this, I thought it was logical because the monarchy is for Britain now very separated from politics and all political problems and solutions. In Belgium this might also be the case except that the divisions in the political parties* means that the King must have a more central role as keeping peace between the two sides and forcing him to be the “adult in the room” (and the politicians do often behave like children it looks like). This does not happen in the United Kingdom. I heard nothing about the Queen being involved when, after last elections, a power-sharing government had to be negotiated between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. I know in Britain there is also now regional governments in North Ireland, Scotland and maybe Wales (I am uncertain of that one, I thought they had an assembly their own but also I thought they were always a part of England so, I am not certain of that situation). Maybe this worked better for United Kingdom than Belgium, I do not know, since I never hear of the Queen must settle disputes between English, Irish and Scottish people. However, in Belgium, the monarchy may not be so grand but is very important because the King is the one person with no regional agenda.
The King of the Belgians must work very hard, especially when there is disagreement and discord (as we have seen very clearly in this extended time with no government) and although British and Belgians both have people that like to mock and make comedy ridicule of their monarchs, in Belgium, even those who are not supportive of the monarchy must accept that it is important and they cannot ignore it because it is the central, unifying institution of the country. The former Prime Minister was ridiculed by some for saying all that kept Belgium together was football, beer and the King. If that is so, the King is even more important than anyone thought because beer and football cannot take any action to bring about political compromise and encourage national unity. The King may not be every day in the news, but he cannot also be ignored and it cannot be denied his crucial part in the political process of the country.

*Another problem I have is Farage saying there are no national parties in Belgium. This is not true! Votez B.U.B.!


  1. Well, I think Mr. Farage generally only makes anti-Belgian comments in relation to the fact that you have no government and haven't for a long time. I can understand how it's insulting though.

  2. Non, if it was only that I could agree with him. The parties should be mocked for that but he has said many times that there are no "Belgians" and he is allied with the Flemish nationalists who want the country broken up. I think he is so obsessively anti-EU and he sees Belgium, a bi-or multi-national country as a little EU so he must hate Belgium also.