Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Spirit of 14

In the difficult times of today, with everyone grumbling about austerity measures and having to cut back, some being tempted, as usual, to blame one side or the other based on prejudice, think about the generations before that have had to face much, much worse challenges and did that with great stoic courage and patriotism. Belgium should have a new national campaign to revive the "Spirit of 1914" to be inspired by the heroism and sacrifice of those people who faced the first great invasion of the country with determination, unity, patriotism and loyalty for the King and the country and each other. Everyone remember the "Spirit of 14"!

Monday, January 23, 2012

King Albert I at the Front Lines

The King greets and the Queen treats wounded soldiers back from the attack

The King gets information at the front on the withdrawal to the Yser

King Albert defending Antwerp (I think)

They shall not pass!

The King directing the troops against the enemy.

It is true, the role of the King was slightly glorified in order to inspire the army to resist and encourage the people not to lose hope in the most darkest hour of the national history. But also is true that no other monarch of the Great War was, from 1914 to 1918, so close so constantly to his army and none more shared their stress and discomfort. Albert I was the King who saved Belgium!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Murder of Congolese Leader

It was on January 17, 1961 that Congolese independence advocate and former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was murdered. Since that time Belgium and the United States have been widely blamed for the death of the Congolese leader. The Belgian government even did a full investigation to please the Congo authorities and in 2002 apologized for 'moral responsibility' in not doing more to prevent the murder of Lumumba even though they found definitively that Belgium never ordered such an assassination. I don't know that the United States ever admitted to any role by the CIA in the events. But Lumumba, being killed so early on, has become like a god in the Congo even though his record was not one of success and he purposely put his country on a first step of needless antagonism between Congo and Belgium. He had pushed for independence for a long time, blaming all problems in the Congo on the presence of the Belgians, in his present time and in history. He was a former beer salesman and postal worker who was once put in jail for stealing money from the postal service. But, because of his agitation for independence he became a popular figure in the Congo over time.

When independence came this should have been the happy moment of victory for Patrice Lumumba but he could not let go of his past hatreds and turned the independence ceremony into an ugly scene. There had already been some unpleasantness but at the ceremony King Baudouin gave a speech trying to put the best light on everything. He advised the Congolese leaders not to do anything too radical, assured them that Belgium was ready to help them in any way possible if they needed it and wishing them the best. Lumumba, the new Prime Minister, then took the stage and began railing against the Belgians, even digging up the memory of King Leopold II, insulting Belgium with the most wicked accusations. Everyone today (not just in Africa) thinks this was some sort of brave and heroic speech but at the time few people thought so and instead said that it simply displayed the undiplomatic and unprofessional nature of the new native government, was needless antagonistic and only ensured that the olive branch offered by King Baudouin was slapped away in favor of a continued hostile attitude. The King was so upset at this public humiliation that he almost left the country immediately but his sense of duty prevented him.

Because he was assassinated later Lumumba is portrayed as a great leader now. But at the time, his government of the Congo was a series of bad decisions. He gave everyone a raise in pay except for the army which caused an outbreak of mutiny with soldiers running wild all over the country, killing looting and causing every kind of disorder. Belgians and all other Europeans were targeted for attacks, because of the breakdown in law and because of the hostile racial attitude Lumumba encouraged at the time of independence and so all Europeans fled the country which caused a big crisis for the economy. The mineral-rich province of Katanga wanted no part of all this and declared independence and the United Nations intervened to prevent the death of innocent peoples in the area. Lumumba wanted to crush the rebels and made friends with the Soviet Union to obtain the weapons he needed to do this. Because of his hostile attitude to the western powers none of them were going to help him wage war on his people but the Soviets were always eager to help insurgent, anti-colonial movements because they usually could use this to take control for the communists after it was over.

The President in the end dismissed Lumumba because of this crisis, but Lumumba would not give up power and declared the President removed from office. Their two factions began fighting for power and this gave the opportunity for Colonel Joseph Mobutu to step in, suppress both of them and eventually take power for himself. Lumumba tried to set up his own government and arm his own private army but Mobutu captured him and arrested him. The United Nations was split over the issue with the Communist powers supporting Lumumba and the anti-communist powers opposing any return to power for him. In the end he was taken by the Katanga authorities and executed by firing squad. Things did not get better afterwards but as the man in charge of the government, Lumumba was responsible for how bad things were. He took them to that point and it is unjust to blame others for the terrible state of affairs he presided over. Peace and friendship and an orderly consolidation of the new independent government could have led to a much better future for the Congo but it was Lumumba who first rejected that attitude and chose hostility and force instead. I cannot regard him as a great leader for anyone.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Belgian Princess Marries Italian Prince

Still I am on holiday from my classes (I get a break from my exile) and am enjoying being again at home to see friends and family. Not much time to be on the computer, when I am back in the States probably I will have more time with nothing to do but blogging. Today, though I noticed (a little off in my timing maybe) the anniversary of the wedding of Princess Marie-Jose and Crown Prince Umberto of Italy on January 8, 1930. I love the old photos from that occasion, and there were many of them (and postcards and souvenir items) because they were such a beautiful couple. It was an arranged marriage though, from early on because Italy and Belgium were on the Allied side in the Great War and after that conflict not many Catholic monarchies were left to have marriages with. So, in the end, they did not have a very happy marriage but did the job of having heirs for the Italian throne and the couple were never divorced but they lived apart after the end of World War II and the loss of the monarchy in Italy so clearly they were putting their duty first and only went their own ways after there was no kingdom to serve anymore, staying married in case the Italians ever came to their senses and put back the original system. Princess Marie-Jose, later the Queen Marie-Jose, was an awesome woman and this shows how dutiful she was to her obligations for her adopted country of Italy. And she was always a good mother too. I wish their lives together could have been happier but there was at least no animosity between them and no bitterness. Both I think were good people.