Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
The Hapsburg Imperial Family reigned over Belgium for a long time, Belgium did very well most of the time when the Hapsburgs were in charge, Belgium went through her "Golden Age" during the Hapsburg rule. But some people have a bias against the Hapsburgs because of what happened in 1789 and everything related to that period. But without the Hapsburg leadership there would possibly be no Belgium at all. When the United Provinces (that became The Netherlands) revolted from the Spanish Hapsburgs and the Low Countries became the battlefield for the contest between the Catholic and Protestant powers it was the Hapsburgs who made sure that Belgium was retained as a Catholic country, unique and different and did not become a part of the Dutch Republic. I think that if that happened, over the following era Belgium would have been absorbed to become indistinguishable from The Netherlands, in culture, politics and religion.
The spread of the revolution that resulted in the United States of Belgium was because of two causes. There were the republicans who supported the revolutionary ideas of France and wanted to break away from Austria to follow their example but there were also those traditional Catholics who were upset by the policies of the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II who wanted to bring the Church under closer state control. But, if not for the years of Hapsburg rule both of these very different factions who came together in opposition to the Hapsburgs might have been disappointed, each in a different way. If not for the Hapsburgs Belgium might have not been Catholic at all in the 18th Century but might have become Protestant along with the Dutch as part of the United Provinces. The revolutionaries would not, probably, have been happy with this also since the House of Orange played such a dominant part in the Dutch Republic and even there, already there existed two factions; the republicans and the Orange party that supported becoming a stronger or more strongly united Dutch monarchy. At the same time in The Netherlands there was, therefore, already much division and fighting among themselves between those who wanted to strengthen the House of Orange and those who wanted to get rid of them to become a revolutionary republic. Because of the Hapsburgs, Belgium was a unique place that was spared the same thing and something revolutionaries and Catholics would not have liked.
We can also see what happened in the years when the Hapsburg had been pushed out and Belgium was absorbed by the French Empire of Napoleon. This also caused painful divisions between those who wanted independence and those who wanted to be part of France. I do not think there were many that were still loyal to Austria by that time but probably there were at least a few also. But partly because of 1789 I do not think Belgium was going to be subject to another country for long. Obviously the country did not stay for long united with The Netherlands but even if Belgium had remained a Hapsburg dominion as the Austrian Netherlands, I do not think that would have lasted either because Belgium was too far from Austria and there was the growing power of Germany coming between the two. Perhaps Belgium would have still become an independent kingdom but with a Hapsburg monarch as some of the leaders of the Revolution of 1830 even favored who wanted to give the throne to Archduke Karl. Of course, I am happy with how history unfolded for Belgium, becoming independent with the monarchy of the Coburgs. But we are fortunate I think because the House of Orange and the House of Hapsburg both have been good dynasties that have always tried to do the best for their people.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Monday, March 19, 2012
The King has been very careful to avoid any hint of favoritism and a willingness to work with anyone except for those who have destructive intentions towards the kingdom. He has worked constantly promote the Belgian economy and friendly relations with countries all over the world. All of this he has done with the smile and laugh everyone recognizes. In times of tragedy he is the first to offer comfort to those involved, he has a tradition of always giving generously to those who write to him asking for his help and when hard financial times hit the government he set the example by willingly giving up any increase in his own allowance. Everyone who knows him has attested to his friendly nature, charming personality, good humor and humble familiarity. He is known as a very human humanitarian. There are other monarchs, I know, who are possibly more celebrated in the media but myself I cannot imagine most of these doing what our King has had to do on several occasions, really being the key mediator in political disputes over the forming of a government. In most countries the monarch has no part in this at all, even if there are negotiations, they are done and the king or queen is just informed after the fact. In Belgium, without the King, maybe nothing would be done at all. For being so diligent in his duty, devoted to his country and still keeping a laugh, I think Albert II is a great King.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
King Baudouin was actually very popular in the Congo and was welcomed with great love and affection when he visited before independence. At the handover of this, however, he was criticized for his speech, a speech which was entirely truthful and most importantly which tried to put the situation of the two countries in the best terms to go forward in peaceful cooperation as friends. He is not to blame that Premier Lumumba took the opportunity to respond by arousing racial hatred and national antagonism toward Belgium which resulted in waves of attacks, rapes and murders against Belgians in the Congo which forces some minor intervention. None of this was the fault of King Baudouin who always and in every instance tried to arrange peaceful, friendly relations between the countries. King Baudouin was very well known for his outspoken opposition to racism, nationalist bigotry and xenophobia. In Belgium was no different and while he would be friends with all political parties he would never meet with the racists or parties that promoted nationalist bigotry. He also campaigned against sexual exploitation around the world and against poverty that degraded the human condition. Even though values were changing, the people still respected King Baudouin for his firm principles, his simplicity and sincerity. He did good in bringing people back together from the time he first came to the throne. However, it was also during his reign that federalism became the new rule and this would, ultimately, as we see now, push people apart again and turn Belgium into a country of divided camps. During his reign this was not always apparent though because King Baudouin was so respected by everyone, so admired by the people, he truly united everyone. He was a great king.
Monday, March 12, 2012
It is also criticized today that Leopold III remained with his troops and became a prisoner, staying in Belgium, rather than fleeing to London to join the Belgian government-in-exile which directed the Free Belgian résistance. This is a charge ridiculous to make because, as a soldier, he would not abandon his brave men to save himself. King Christian X of Denmark did not leave his country and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands did not want to either but had to be, basically, tricked into leaving by her own attendants. Leopold III knew it was his duty to stay in Belgium to endure the occupation with his people and not abandon them so he could try to shield them from the worst excesses of the Nazi conquerors. The politicians invented the lie that this somehow made Leopold III a collaborator because they had fought with him from the very beginning because the King was always a problem for them because he put the interests of Belgium as a whole first whereas the politicians always put themselves or their narrow interest group before the national good. During the occupation the fact is that Leopold III refused to collaborate with the Germans, refused to carry out their wishes and remained under house arrest as a prisoner of war. His only meeting with Hitler was an effort by King Leopold III to preserve the unity and independence of Belgium which the actual Nazi collaborators wanted to divide and subordinate to the Netherlands or Germany.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Albert I was also a wise and far-sighted man who recognized the threat of Germany and, like Leopold II before him, tried to strengthen and modernize the Belgian military to be ready for any disaster. Often, unfortunately, the politicians were often not willing to recognize this threat and they had always been reluctant to spend money on defense and for what level of unpreparedness existed, responsibility rested with the government that controlled government funds rather than with the King. When war did come he stood up for the rights and independence of Belgium and spared himself no danger or discomfort in leading the army in defending the country. His courage was undoubted by all as he refused to leave Belgian soil and the crucial victory by the Belgian army on the Yser was crucial in saving the entire Allied line from being turned and rolled up by the Germans in the first months of the war. Maybe the most despicable criticism of Albert I is that he tried to “sell out” the Allies by trying to make peace with Germany and Austria during the war. This is the most ridiculous and outrageous criticism a person could make.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Like his father, King Leopold II was ambition for Belgium but also never over-stepped his authority as a constitutional monarch. What he did do was to take matters into his own hands in a private capacity when the government refused to act. This is why so many of the magnificent buildings that mark his reign were mostly paid for by the King out of his own pocket. In Belgium itself he showed great concern for the safety and wellbeing of his people and worked with determination to make Belgium a more prosperous, more beautiful and more secure country. All of these things he successfully accomplished too. In Africa his humanitarian aims were less successful but the expeditions he sent did wipe out the network of slave-trading and human trafficking going on in central Africa. He also brought a previously unexplored region to the attention of the world with all of the new cultures, wildlife and plants that came with that which no one had ever seen before. Also, his acquisition of the Congo was done peacefully by negotiation with local leaders. No Belgian army was ever sent to Africa to conquer and dominate native peoples.