Friday, June 29, 2012

The Belgian-Greek Royal Connection

Right now, everyone in the European Union is talking about and worried about the situation in Greece and the economic situation in general but particularly about the problems in Greece. Will they enact the austerity measures? Will Greece leave the Eurozone? Will the problems in Greece cause wider problems across the European Union? Not many Belgians may be talking about Greece right now but certainly it is not far from the minds of those at the European Union government in Brussels. How to deal with the crisis? What can be done? I do not have the answers but it causes me to consider the royal connection between the Kingdom of Belgium and the early days of the Kingdom of Greece. Both countries emerged to independence in the same period and both countries looked to have a monarch who would help them gain security from the "Great Powers" of Europe at that time. If different choices had been made in Greece we Belgians might have a totally different Royal Family today. What similarities are there today with the current situation in Greece?

King Leopold I was the first King of the Belgians, and a very greatly admired and respected national leader all over the world, but the throne of Belgium was not the first kingdom he was offered to preside over. The Greeks had claimed independence to break away from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey in 1830 and were in need of a monarch. A prince from a powerful royal family or with, at least, family ties to powerful countries, was preferred to help secure Greek independence as a policy of insurance against efforts by the Turks to retake Greece. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was considered and was asked to come reign over the new Kingdom of Greece. The cause of the Greeks had been a popular one in Europe, seen by many as a great romantic adventure and there was much sympathy for the Greeks against the Turks. Prince Leopold was not unaffected by this and he considered seriously accepting the offer to become the first King of Greece or King of the Greeks.

But we know how Prince Leopold was a very thoughtful and far-thinking man. He wanted to accomplish great things but he did not want to take great risks needlessly. After reviewing the Greek situation, he did not have much confidence in their chances of success. The population seemed too divided, the situation was too unstable and there were not the resources to ensure to a reasonable degree the long-term success. Finally he decided to decline the offer of the Greek throne and he stayed in England where he was living at the time. Later, he accepted another offer to become the first King of the Belgians but Belgium was in a better position to be supported by the other powers and he required first a sufficient amount of financial support to put the new Kingdom of Belgium on a solid foundation for future growth and success. After looking back at the fate of the first Bavarian Prince Otto who became King of Greece, compared to the loyal support of the Belgians even in the year of crisis, certainly King Leopold I never had regrets for his decision.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Letter from King Leopold II

This is a letter from King Leopold II to Minister Beernaert of the Congo Free State, July 3, 1890

Dear Minister,
I have never ceased to call the attention of my countrymen to the need to turn our view toward overseas lands.

History teaches that countries with small territories have a moral and material interest in extending their influence beyond their narrow borders. Greece founded opulent cities, bastions of arts and civilization, on the shores of the Mediterranean. Later, Venice built its grandeur on its maritime and commercial relations no less than on its political success. The Netherlands have 30 million subjects in the Indies who exchange tropical products for the products of the mother country.

It is in serving the cause of humanity and progress that peoples of the second rank appear as useful members of the great family of nations. A manufacturing and commercial nation like ours, more than any other, must do its best to secure opportunities for all its workers, whether intellectual, capitalist, or manual.

These patriotic preoccupations dominated my life. It is they that caused the creation of the African effort.

My pains were not sterile: a young and vast State, led from Brussels, has peacefully taken its place in the sun, thanks to the kind support of the powers which have applauded its beginnings. Belgians administer it, while other compatriots, more numerous every day, are already making a profit on their capital.

The immense river system of the Upper Congo opens the way for our efforts for rapid and economical ways of communication that will allow us to penetrate directly into the center of the African continent. The building of the railroad in the cataract area, assured from now on thanks to the recent vote of the legislature, will notably increase the ease of access. Under these conditions, a great future is reserved for the Congo, whose immense value will soon shine out to all eyes.

Soon after that memorable act, I thought it my duty, when death will come to strike me, to make it easy for Belgium to profit from my work, as well as that of those who helped me to found and direct it and to whom I give thanks here once again. I thus made, as Sovereign of the Congo Free State, the will that I am sending you; I will request that you communicate it to the legislative Chambers at what seems to you the most opportune moment.

The beginning of enterprises such as those that have so preoccupied me is difficult and onerous. I insisted on bearing the charges. A King, to give service to his country, must not fear to conceive and pursue the realization of a project so adventurous in appearance. The riches of a Sovereign consist of public prosperity. That alone can appear to his eyes as an enviable treasure, which he should try constantly to build up.

Until the day of my death, I will continue with the same thoughts of national interest that have guided me until now, to direct and sustain our African efforts, but if, without waiting for that date, it makes sense for the country to contract closer ties with my Congo possessions, I would not hesitate to make them available to it, I would be happy, while I am alive, to see it in full benefit towards the Chambers as towards the Government for the aid that they gave to me on several occasions in this creation.

I do not think I am mistaken in affirming that Belgium will gain genuine advantages and will see opening before her, on a new continent, happy and wide perspectives.

Believe me, dear Minister,
Your very devoted,

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bon Anniversaire!

Today is 74th birthday for SM King Albert II. All best wishes to him!
Vive le roi! Leve de koning!

Congratulations to Queen Elizabeth II

For achieving sixty years on the British throne (and her others) Belgium sends congratulations to her friend and relative Queen Elizabeth II!
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with King Leopold III and Princess Lilian in 1966
Queen Paola and Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Paola, King Baudouin, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Queen Fabiola and King Albert II

Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Queen Fabiola, King Baudouin and Princess Margaret

Queen Elizabeth II and King Baudouin

The Emperor of Japan, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at the state funeral of King Baudouin, I think the only foreign funeral the Queen has ever attended, a show of her great friendship with the King.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Queen's Pizza

Does Queen Paola like pizza? We assume most Italians, like the Queen, do but maybe she does not like this particular pizza perhaps. In 1889 World Pizza Days in Naples, Italy named a pizza after their own queen, Margherita, which had red, white and green toppings because the Queen was known for being so zealous an Italian nationalist and patriot. In 1999, we are told, this was done again with a pizza named for the only Italian-born Queen of a country today, our own Queen Paola. They named it for her and took it to the Laeken palace, never seeing the Family Royal but later being given a nice note of appreciation from the Queen for her own "Paola Pizza". Now it again has happened with the Paola II Pizza and the Queen is not the only one. Also Queen Beatrix of The Nederlands has been given her own special pizza also. But this time it seems there is some discomfort from the Royal Court in Brussels and lots of accusations and counter-accusations are going around. The new Queen Paola pizza has toppings from the Naples region with Melannurca, an apple with a deep red color but the Belgian court does not seem happy. The statement of a spokesman said, "The monarchy was neither previously nor subsequently informed of that name," which refers to the concept that usually one asks for permission before naming something after the King or Queen (did they do so before I wonder?) and, "Fortunately, even now only the first name is used, which after all, can refer to any other woman. But it was elegant and would have been polite to first ask permission". What will the palace do in the great pizza battle? Nothing. The Queen maybe even liked it, we do not know -do not know even if she tried it yet. However, the pizza-makers in Naples may have bigger problems because the people who made the first pizza are now upset that they are being surpassed with more media attention because of this latest problem and now they are demanding compensation from these new chefs for taking their idea of a Queen Paola pizza. Really, it seems Naples takes their pizza very seriously and poor Queen Paola gets stuck in the middle of the disturbance.