Flanders Explained

Flandre and Flandern redirect here. For the ships, see SS Flandre and SS Flandern.

Flanders
Native Name:Vlaanderen
Settlement Type:Region of Belgium
Flag Size:150px
Flag Alt:Flag of Flanders
Map Alt:Flanders shown within Belgium and the EU
Area Land Km2:13522
Population Total:6161600
Population As Of:1 January 2008
Population Density Km2:456
Timezone1:CET
Utc Offset1:+1
Timezone1 Dst:CEST
Utc Offset1 Dst:+2

Flanders (Dutch:) is the (political) community of the Flemings, one of the communities of Belgium, and also a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

"Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. Over the course of history, the geographical territory that was called "Flanders" has varied. In the second half of the twentieth century, there has been a gradual shift of political and economic power from French-speaking Wallonia (which was industrialized earlier) to the Flemish.[1]

To the English-speaking peoples, Flanders meant historically (from circa 1000 AD) the land situated along the North Sea from the Strait of Dover to the Scheldt estuary. The southern borders were generally ill-defined.[2] Over the last millennium, it was mostly the southern and western borders that receded to give the present day borders within northern Belgium.

Flanders has figured prominently in European history. Between the early 17th century and 1945, the political outcomes of modern Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria were often decided by battles on the plains of Flanders. Even earlier in British and Irish history, the Flemings (or Flemish) were important allies of the Normans in their conquest of England (1066) and invasion of Ireland (1169–71).[3]

In contemporary Belgium, there is pressure to consider Flanders as the 'country of the Flemings' rather than just a region of Belgium. As it stands by statute today, Flanders consists of the north of Belgium (the Flemish Region) and the Brussels Capital Region, which is part of the Flemish Community. Brussels is also part of the French Community of Belgium. The use of the name Belgium in the legal name of only one Community has led to enormous political discourse throughout Belgium.

For the last few decades, with the legal establishment of the Flemish Community (Dutch; Flemish: de Vlaamse Gemeenschap), the Flemings have their own political institutions. The parliament and government are the governing institutions of Flanders. There is also a geographical, political and administrative entity called the Flemish Region (Dutch; Flemish: het Vlaams Gewest) but it has ceded all its competencies to the Flemish Community. Thus, the institutions of the Community govern both the Community and the Region. The capital city of Flanders is Brussels.

In feudal times, Flanders formed a county, the County of Flanders, which extended over the present day:

Related to these geographical or political uses of the noun 'Flanders', and the adjective 'Flemish', they may also be used to describe several other distinct (but inter-connected) cultural, geographical, historical, linguistic or political items or entities.

Uses of the term

Northern part of Belgium

The term "Flanders" has several main meanings:

Historical parts of the County of Flanders

See main article: Zeelandic Flanders, French Flanders and Nord (department).

During this period of French encroachment on the region, the United Provinces also took some areas of northern Flanders. These areas now form Zeelandic Flanders (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), a part of the Netherlands province of Zeeland.

Dutch-speaking part of Belgium

The significance of the County and its counts eroded through time, but the designation remained in a very broad sense. In the Early Modern, the term Flanders was associated with the southern part of the Low Countries, the Southern Netherlands. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it became increasingly commonplace to refer to the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium as "Flanders". The linguistic limit between French and Dutch was recorded in the early '60's, from Kortrijk to Maastricht. Now, Flanders extends over the northern part of Belgium, including the Belgian parts of the Duchy of Brabant and Limburg.

The ambiguity between this eastwardly much wider area and that of the Countship (or the Belgian parts thereof), still remains. In most present-day contexts however, in general the term Flanders is taken to refer to either the political, social, cultural, and linguistic community (and the corresponding official institution, the Flemish Community), or the geographical area, one of the three institutional regions in Belgium, namely the Flemish Region.

In history of art and other fields, the adjectives Flemish and Netherlandish are commonly used to designate all the artistic production in this area before about 1580, after which it refers specifically to the southern Netherlands. For example the term "Flemish Primitives", now outdated in English but used in French, Flemish and other languages, is a synonym for "Early Netherlandish painting", and it is not uncommon to see Mosan art categorized as Flemish art. In music the Franco-Flemish School is also known as the Dutch School.

Describing Flanders as the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium is commonplace, although Jewish groups have been speaking Yiddish in Antwerp for centuries, and Flanders' minority residents include 170 nationalities[5] — their larger groups speaking French, Berber, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Polish. Typically, in each group, some people switch to using Dutch in their daily life, while others maintain their language of origin.

History

See main article: History of Flanders.

Early history

See main article: Belgae.

The area, roughly encompassing the later geographical meanings of Flanders, had been inhabited by Celts until Germanic people began immigrating by crossing the Rhine, either gradually driving them south- or westwards, or rather merging with them. By the first century BC Germanic languages had become prevalent, and the inhabitants were called Belgæ while the area was the coastal district of Gallia Belgica, the most northeastern province of the Roman Empire at its height. The boundaries were the Marne and Seine in the West, with Armorica (Brittany), and the Rhine in the East, with Frisia. This changed upon the Count of Rouen's settlement with the King of France, which made a cession of western Flanders and eastern Armorica to the Normans.

Historical Flanders: County of Flanders

See main article: County of Flanders.

Created in the year 862 as a feudal fief in West Francia, the County of Flanders was divided when its western districts fell under French rule in the late 12th century. The remaining parts of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191. The entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy, in 1477 to the Habsburg dynasty, and in 1556 to the kings of Spain. The western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668, and 1678.

During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of Northern Italy. Ghent, Bruges, Ypres and the Franc of Bruges formed the Four Members, a form of parliament that exercised considerable power in Flanders.[6]

Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory's autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation (1300–1302), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk. Two years later, the uprising was defeated and Flanders remained part of the French Crown. Flemish prosperity waned in the following century, however, owing to widespread European population decline following the Black Death of 1348, the disruption of trade during the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War (1337–1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woolen industry.

Flanders in the Low Countries

See main article: Low Countries.

BeeldenstormIn 1500, Charles V was born in Ghent. He inherited the Seventeen Provinces (1506), Spain (1516) with its colonies and in 1519 was elected Holy Roman Emperor.[7] The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Low Countries as the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Holy Roman Empire and from France. In 1556 Charles V abdicated due to ill health (he suffered from crippling gout).[8] Spain and the Seventeen Provinces went to his son, king Philip II of Spain.

Over the first half of the 16th century Antwerp grew to become the second-largest European city north of the Alps by 1560. Antwerp was the richest city in Europe at this time.[9] According to Luc-Normand Tellier "It is estimated that the port of Antwerp was earning the Spanish crown seven times more revenues than the Americas."[10] Meanwhile, Protestantism had reached the Low Countries. Among the wealthy traders of Antwerp, the Lutheran beliefs of the German Hanseatic traders found appeal, perhaps partly for economic reasons. The spread of Protestantism in this city was aided by the presence of an Augustinian cloister (founded 1514) in the St. Andries quarter. Luther, an Augustinian himself, had taught some of the monks, and his works were in print by 1518. The first Lutheran martyrs came from Antwerp. The Reformation resulted in consecutive but overlapping waves of reform: a Lutheran, followed by a militant Anabaptist, then a Mennonite, and finally a Calvinistic movement. These movements existed independently of each other.

Philip II, a devout Catholic and self-proclaimed protector of the Counter-Reformation, suppressed Calvinism in Flanders, Brabant and Holland (what is now approximately Belgian Limburg was part of the Bishopric of Liège and was Catholic de facto). In 1566, the wave of iconoclasm known as the Beeldenstorm was a prelude to religious war between Catholics and Protestants, especially the Anabaptists. The Beeldenstorm started in what is now French Flanders, with open-air sermons (Dutch; Flemish: hagepreken) that spread through the Low Countries, first to Antwerp and Ghent, and from there further east and north. In total it lasted not even a month.

The Eighty Years' War and its consequencesSubsequently, Philip II sent the Duke of Alba to the Provinces to repress the revolt. Alba recaptured the southern part of the Provinces, who signed the Union of Atrecht, which meant that they would accept the Spanish government on condition of more freedom. But the northern part of the provinces signed the Union of Utrecht and settled in 1581 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Spanish troops quickly started fighting the rebels, but before the revolt could be completely defeated, a war between England and Spain had broken out, forcing Philip's Spanish troops to halt their advance. Meanwhile, the Spanish armies had already conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent. Antwerp, which was then the most important port in the world, also had to be conquered. On August 17, 1585, Antwerp fell. This ended the Eighty Years' War for the (from now on) Southern Netherlands. The United Provinces (the Northern Netherlands) fought on until 1648  - the Peace of Westphalia.While Spain was at war with England, the rebels from the north, strengthened by refugees from the south, started a campaign to reclaim areas lost to Philip II's Spanish troops. They managed to conquer a considerable part of Brabant (the later Noord-Brabant of the Netherlands), and the south bank of the Scheldt estuary (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), before being stopped by Spanish troops. The front line at the end of this war stabilized and became the current border between present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch (as they later became known) had managed to reclaim enough of Spanish-controlled Flanders to close off the river Scheldt, effectively cutting Antwerp off from its trade routes.

First the fall of Antwerp to the Spanish and later also the closing of the Scheldt were causes of a considerable emigration of Antverpians.[11] Many of the Calvinist merchants of Antwerp and also of other Flemish cities left Flanders and emigrated to the north. A large number of them settled in Amsterdam, which was at the time a smaller port, of significance only in the Baltic trade. In the following years Amsterdam was rapidly transformed into one of the world's most important ports. Because of the contribution of the Flemish exiles to this transformation, the exodus is sometimes described as "creating a new Antwerp".

Flanders and Brabant, due to these events, went into a period of relative decline from the time of the Thirty Years War.[12] In the Northern Netherlands however, the mass emigration from Flanders and Brabant became an important driving force behind the Dutch Golden Age.

Southern Netherlands (1581–1795)

Although arts remained at a relatively impressive level for another century with Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and Anthony van Dyck, Flanders experienced a loss of its former economic and intellectual power under Spanish, Austrian, and French rule, with heavy taxation and rigid imperial political control compounding the effects of industrial stagnation and Spanish-Dutch and Franco-Austrian conflict. The Southern Netherlands suffered severely under the Spanish Succession war, but under the reign of empress Maria-Theresia these lands economically flourished again. Influenced by the Enlightenment, the Austrian emperor Joseph II was the first sovereign who has been in the Southern Netherlands since king Philip II of Spain left them in 1559.

French Revolution and Napoleonic France (1795–1815)In 1794 the French Republican Army started using Antwerp as the northernmost naval port of France,[12] which country officially annexed Flanders the following year as the départements of Lys, Escaut, Deux-Nèthes, Meuse-Inférieure and Dyle. Obligatory (French) army service for all men aged 16–25 was one of the main reasons for the people's uprising against the French in 1798, known as the Boerenkrijg (Peasants' War), with the heaviest fighting in the Campine area.
United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830)After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo in Waterloo, Brabant, sovereignty over the Austrian Netherlands – Belgium minus the East Cantons and Luxembourg – was given by the Congress of Vienna (1815) to the United Netherlands (Dutch: Verenigde Nederlanden), the state that briefly existed under Sovereign Prince William I of Orange Nassau, the latter King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, after the French Empire was driven out of the Dutch territories. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was born. The Protestant King of the Netherlands, William I rapidly started the industrialisation of the southern parts of the Kingdom. The political system that was set up however, slowly but surely failed to forge a true union between the northern and the southern parts of the Kingdom. The southern bourgeoisie mainly was Roman Catholic, in contrast to the mainly Protestant north; large parts of the southern bourgeoisie also primarily spoke French rather than Dutch.

In 1815 the Dutch Senate was reinstated (Dutch: Eerste Kamer der Staaten Generaal). The nobility, mainly coming from the south, became more and more estranged from their northern colleagues. Resentment grew both among the Roman Catholics from the south and the Protestants from the north and among the powerful liberal bourgeoisie from the south and their more moderate colleagues from the north. On August 25, 1830 (after the showing of the opera 'La Muette de Portici' of Daniel Auber in Brussels) the Belgian Revolution sparked off and became a fact. On October 4, 1830, the Provisional Government (Dutch: Voorlopig Bewind) proclaimed the independence, which was later confirmed by the National Congress that issued a new Liberal Constitution and declared the new state a Constitutional Monarchy, under the House of Saxe-Coburg. Flanders now became part of the Kingdom of Belgium, which was recognized by the major European Powers on January 20, 1831. The de facto dissidence was finally recognized by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands on April 19, 1839.

Kingdom of Belgium

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution led to the splitting up of the two countries. Belgium was confirmed as an independent state by the Treaty of London of 1839, but deprived of the eastern half of Limburg (now Dutch Limburg), and the Eastern half of Luxembourg (now the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg). Sovereignty over Zeeuws Vlaanderen, south of the Westerscheldt river delta, was left with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was allowed to levy a toll on all traffic to Antwerp harbour until 1863.[12]

Rise of the Flemish Movement

See main article: Flemish movement.

The Belgian Revolution was not well supported in Flanders and even on the 4th of October 1830, when the Belgian independence was eventually declared, Flemish authorities refused to take orders from the new Belgian government in Brussels. Only after Flanders was subdued with the aid of a large French military force one month later, under the leadership of the Count de Pontécoulant, did Flanders become a true part of Belgium.

The French-speaking bourgeoisie showed very little respect for the Flemish part of the population. French became the only official language in Belgium and all secondary and higher education in the Flemish language was abolished. Belgium's co-founder, Charles Rogier, wrote in 1832 to the minister of justice Jean-Joseph Raikem, that "the first principles of a good administration are based upon the exclusive use of one language, and it is evident that the only language of the Belgians should be French. In order to achieve this result, it is necessary that all civil and military functions are entrusted to Walloons and Luxemburgers; this way, the Flemish, temporarily deprived of the advantages of these offices, will be constrained to learn French, and we will hence destroy bit by bit the Germanic element in Belgium."

In 1838, another co-founder, senator Alexandre Gendebien, even declared that the Flemish were "one of the more inferior races on the Earth, just like the negroes".

In 1834, all people even remotely suspected of being "Flemish minded" or calling for the reunification of the Netherlands were prosecuted and their houses looted and burnt. Flanders, until then a very prosperous European region, was not considered worthwhile for investment and scholarship. A study in 1918 demonstrated that in the first 88 years of its existence, 80% of the Belgian GNP was invested in Wallonia. This led to a widespread poverty in Flanders, forcing roughly 300.000 Flemish to emigrate to Wallonia to start working there in the heavy industry.

All of these events led to a silent uprising in Flanders against the French-speaking domination. But it was not until 1878 that Dutch was allowed to be used for official purposes in Flanders, although French remained the only official language in Belgium.

In 1873, Dutch was again allowed in secondary schools; the first of which reopened in 1889. The Flemings had to wait until 1919—after many Flemish soldiers died in the trenches of World War I—to have their language officially recognised and until 1930 before the first Flemish university was reopened.

The first translation of the Belgian constitution in Dutch was not published until 1967.

World War I and its consequencesFlanders (and Belgium as a whole) saw some of the greatest loss of life on the Western Front of the First World War, in particular from the three battles of Ypres. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties at Ypres, the poppies that sprang up from the battlefield afterwards, later immortalised in the Canadian poem "In Flanders Fields", written by John McCrae, have become a symbol for lives lost in war.

Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The occupying German authorities took several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly, the experiences of many Dutch-speaking soldiers on the front led by French-speaking officers catalysed Flemish emancipation. The French-speaking officers often gave orders in French only, followed by "et pour les Flamands, la même chose!", meaning "and for the Flemish, the same thing!" (which did not help the Flemish conscripts, who were mostly uneducated farmers and workers unable to have understood what had been said in French).[13] The resulting suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage in Diksmuide at the monument of the Yser Tower.

Right-Wing Nationalism in the interbellum and World War II

See main article: Flemish National Union, Verdinaso, Dietsland and Cyriel Verschaeve.

During the interbellum and World War II, several right-wing fascist and/or national-socialistic parties emerged in Belgium, the Flemish ones being energized by the anti-Flemish discrimination of the Wallonians. Since these parties were promised more rights for the Flemings by the German government during World War II, many of them collaborated with the Nazi regime. After the war, collaborators (or people who were "Zwart", "Black" during the war) were prosecuted and punished, among them many Flemish Nationalists whose main goal had been for more rights for Flanders. As a result, up until this day Flemish Nationalism is often associated with right-wing and fascist ideologies.

Flemish autonomy

See main article: State reform in Belgium, 2007–2011 Belgian political crisis and Partition of Belgium.

After World War II, the differences between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians became clear in a number of conflicts, such as the question whether King Leopold III should return (which most Flemings supported but not the Walloons) and the use of Dutch in the Catholic University of Leuven. As a result, several state reforms took place in the second half of the 20th century, which transformed the unitary Belgium into a federal state with communities, regions and language areas. This resulted also in the establishment of a Flemish Parliament and Government.

Several Flemish parties still advocate for more Flemish autonomy, some even for Flemish independence (see Partition of Belgium), whereas the French-speakers would like to keep the current state as it is. Recent governments (such as Verhofstadt I Government) have transferred certain federal competences to the regional governments.

On 13 December 2006, a spoof news broadcast by the Belgian Francophone public broadcasting station RTBF declared that Flanders had decided to declare independence from Belgium.

The 2007 federal elections showed more support for Flemish autonomy. All the political parties that advocated a significant increase of Flemish autonomy gained votes as well as seats in the Belgian parliament. This was especially the case for Christian Democratic and Flemish and New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) (who had participated on a shared electoral list). The 2009 regional elections have strengthened the parties in favor a significant increase of Flemish autonomy: CD&V and N-VA were the clear winners. N-VA became even the largest party in Flanders and Belgium during the 2010 federal elections.

These victories for the advocates of much more Flemish autonomy are very much in parallel with opinion polls that show a structural increase in popular support for their agenda. Since 2006, certain polls have started showing a majority in favor of Flemish independence. Those polls are not yet representative, but they point to a significant long-term trend.

Several negotiators having come and gone since the federal elections of 10 June 2007 without diminishing the disagreements between Flemish and Walloon politicians regarding a further State reform, causing difficulties for the formation of the federal government and ultimately leading to the fall of the government and new elections on June 13, 2010. These were won by the pro-independence party of the N-VA in Flanders. The long-lasting government formation of 2010 broke the previous record of 2007.

Government and politics

See main article: Communities, regions and language areas of Belgium.

Both the Flemish Community and the Flemish Region are constitutional institutions of the Kingdom of Belgium with precise geographical boundaries. In practice, the Flemish Community and Region together form a single body, with its own parliament and government, as the Community legally absorbed the competences of the Region.

The area of the Flemish Community is represented on the maps above, including the area of the Brussels-Capital Region (hatched on the relevant map). Roughly, the Flemish Community exercises competences originally oriented towards the individuals of the Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education, and the use of the language. Extensions to personal matters less directly associated with language comprise sports, health policy (curative and preventive medicine), and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.)[14]

The area of the Flemish Region is represented on the maps above. It has a population of around 6 million (excluding the Dutch-speaking community in the Brussels Region, grey on the map for it is not a part of the Flemish Region). Roughly, the Flemish Region is responsible for territorial issues in a broad sense, including economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, and foreign trade. It supervises the provinces, municipalities, and intercommunal utility companies.[15]

The number of Dutch-speaking Flemish people in the Capital Region is estimated to be between 11% and 15% (official figures do not exist as there is no language census and no official subnationality). According to a survey conducted by the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006, 51% of respondents from Brussels claimed to be bilingual, even if they do not have Dutch as their first language.[16] [17] They are governed by the Brussels Region for economics affairs and by the Flemish Community for educational and cultural issues.

As of 2005, Flemish institutions such as Flanders' government, parliament, etc. represent the Flemish Community and the Flemish region. The region and the community thus de facto share the same parliament and the same government. All these institutions are based in Brussels. Nevertheless, both bodies (the Community and the Region) still exist and the distinction between both is important for the people living in Brussels. Members of the Flemish parliament who were elected in the Brussels Region cannot vote on affairs belonging to the competences of the Flemish Region.

The official language for all Flemish institutions is Dutch. French enjoys a limited official recognition in a dozen municipalities along the borders with French-speaking Wallonia, and a large recognition in the bilingual Brussels Region. French is widely known in Flanders, with 59% claiming to know French according to a survey conducted by the Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006.[18] [19]

Politics

See main article: Politics of Flanders.

Many new political parties during the last half century were founded in Flanders: the nationalist Volksunie of which the right nationalist Vlaams Blok (Vlaams Belang) split off, and which later dissolved into the former Spirit (now SLP), moderate nationalism rather left of the spectrum, and the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), more conservative moderate nationalism; the leftist alternative/ecological Groen!; the short-lived anarchistic libertarian spark ROSSEM and more recently the conservative-right liberal Lijst Dedecker, founded by Jean-Marie Dedecker.

Flemish nation

See main article: Flemish Movement.

For many Flemings, Flanders is more than just a geographical area or the federal institutions (Flemish Community and Region). Some even call it a nation: a people of over 6 million living in the Flemish Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region. Flemings share many political, cultural, scientific, social and educational views. Although most Flemings identify themselves more with Flanders than with Belgium, the largest group defines itself as both Flemish and Belgian.The idea of an independent Flanders finds its root in the romantic nationalism of the 19th century.

Administrative divisions

The Flemish Region covers 135220NaN0 and contains over 300 municipalities.It is divided into five provinces:

  1. Antwerp (Antwerpen)
  2. Limburg (Limburg)
  3. East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen)
  4. Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant)
  5. West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen)

Independently from the provinces, Flanders has its own local institutions in the Brussels-Capital Region, being the Vlaamse GemeenschapsCommissie (VGC), and its municipal antennae (Gemeenschapscentra, community centers for the Flemish community in Brussels). These institutions are independent from the educational, cultural and social institutions that depend directly on the Flemish Government. They exert, among others, all those cultural competences that outside Brussels fall under the provinces.

Geography and climate

Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and Leuven are the largest cities of the Flemish Region. Antwerp has a population of more than 480,000 citizens and is the largest city, Ghent has a population of 240,000 citizens, followed by Bruges with 120,000 citizens and Leuven counts almost 100,000 citizens. Brussels is a part of Flanders as far as community matters are concerned, but does not belong to the Flemish Region.

Flanders has two main geographical regions: the coastal Yser basin plain in the north-west and a central plain. The first consists mainly of sand dunes and clayey alluvial soils in the polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level that have been reclaimed from the sea, from which they are protected by dikes or, a little further inland, by fields that have been drained with canals. With similar soils along the lowermost Scheldt basin starts the central plain, a smooth, slowly rising fertile area irrigated by many waterways that reaches an average height of about five metres (16.4 ft) above sea level with wide valleys of its rivers upstream as well as the Campine region to the east having sandy soils at altitudes around thirty metres[20] Near its southern edges close to Wallonia one can find slightly rougher land richer of calcium with low hills reaching up to 150 m (492 ft) and small valleys, and at the eastern border with the Netherlands, in the Meuse basin, there are marl caves (mergelgrotten). Its exclave around Voeren between the Dutch border and the Walloon province of Liège attains a maximum altitude of 288 m (945 ft) above sea level.[21] [22]

The climate is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb; the average temperature is 3 °C (37 °F) in January, and 21 °C (69.8 °F) in July; the average precipitation is 65 millimetres (2.6 in) in January, and 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in July).

Economy

Total GDP of the Flemish Region in 2004 was € 165,847 million (Eurostat figures). Per capita GDP at purchasing power parity was 23% above the EU average.

Flanders was one of the first continental European areas to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the 19th century. Initially, the modernization relied heavily on food processing and textile. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis and there was famine in Flanders (1846 - 50). After World War II, Antwerp and Ghent experienced a fast expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. Flanders also attracted a large majority of foreign investments in Belgium, among others thanks to its well-educated and industrious labour force. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession. The steel industry remained in relatively good shape. In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of Belgium continued to shift further to Flanders. Nowadays, the Flemish economy is mainly service-oriented, although its diverse industry remains a crucial force. Flemish productivity per capita is between 20 and 25% higher than that in Wallonia.

Flanders has developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways and highways. The Port of Antwerp is the second-largest in Europe, after Rotterdam.[23]

In 1999, the euro, the single European currency, was introduced in Flanders. It replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. The Flemish economy is strongly export oriented, in particular of high value-added goods. The main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. The main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union—the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union. Its main trading partners are Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, and Spain.

Demographics

The highest population density is found in the area circumscribed by the Brussels-Antwerp-Ghent-Leuven agglomerations that surround Mechelen and is known as the Flemish Diamond, in other important urban centres as Bruges and Kortrijk to the west, and notable centres Turnhout and Hasselt to the east. In April 2005 the Flemish Region had a population of 6,058,368, and about 15% of the 1,018,029 people in the Brussels Region are also considered Flemish.[5] [24]

The (Belgian) laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the various government in general respects this right in practice. Since independence, Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics, since the 20th century in Flanders mainly via the Christian trade union (ACV) and the Christian Democratic and Flemish party (CD&V)). According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion,[25] about 47 percent of the Belgian population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church, while Islam is the second-largest religion at 3.5 percent. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered more religious than Wallonia, showed that 55% considered themselves religious, and 36% believed that God created the world.[26]

Notes and References

  1. "Belgium." U.S. Department of State. Web. 26 July 2011. .
  2. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, the Unabridged Edition, NY, 1966
  3. Curtis, Edmund (2002). A History of Ireland from Earliest Times to 1922. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-27949-6.
  4. http://gtb.inl.nl/ Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, entry VLAMING
  5. Note: The relation between nationality, genetic ethnicity, native and mainly spoken language(s) (within a group of same ethnicity and age, in presence of elders, in ethnically mixed groups), and minority group identification, can be complex: Dutch nationals constituting one of the largest groups of foreigners, share the standard language with Flemish locals but their accent is enough to immediately distinguish them. The majority of immigrants from certain other countries, had belonged to a minority or disadvantaged group there. Children born in Belgium from residents of foreign nationality, very often acquired Belgian citizenship. Regardless nationality, according to Belgian Law, if for obligatory education inscribed to a school located in the Flemish Region, the lessons will be in Dutch language; among schools in Brussels, one may as well opt for one teaching in French. The determining of statistical samples and interpretation of publicized figures can easily lead to false assumptions or conclusions.
  6. Philip the Good: the apogee of Burgundy by Richard Vaughan, p201
  7. William Robertson, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V (NY, 1874), p 116
  8. William Robertson, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V (NY, 1874), p 456
  9. Book: Dunton, Larkin. The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. 1896. 163.
  10. Luc-Normand Tellier (2009). "Urban world history: an economic and geographical perspective". PUQ. p.308. ISBN 2-7605-1588-5
  11. Footnote: An Antverpian, derived from Antverpia, the Latin name of Antwerp, is an inhabitant of this city; the term is also the adjective expressing that its substantive is from or in that city or belongs to it.
  12. Web site: Antwerp — History. Find it in Flanders. Tourism Flanders & Brussels, Flanders House, London, UK. 2007-01-02.

  13. Note: This quote in French language "Et pour ...!" has become a coined expression in Belgium, and as such published abroad. E.g.:
  14. Web site: The Communities. .be Portal. Belgian Federal Government. 2007-05-23.
  15. Web site: The Regions. .be Portal. Belgian Federal Government. 2007-05-23.
  16. Report of study by the Université Catholique de Louvain
  17. Article at Taaluniversum.org summarising report
  18. Report of study by Université Catholique de Louvain
  19. Taaluniversum.org, summarising report
  20. The altitude of Mechelen, approximately in the middle of the central plain forming the large part of Flanders, is 7 m (23 ft) above sea level. Already closer to the higher southern Wallonia, the more eastern Leuven and Hasselt reach altitudes up to about 40 m (131 ft)Web site: Kingdom of Belgium map (politically outdated). 15 May 2007.
  21. Web site: Flood management in Flanders with special focus on navigable waterways. Ir. Jan Strubbe in collaboration with Dr. Frank Mostaert and Ir. Koen Maeghe. Ministry of the Flemish Community, department Environment and Infrastructure (Waterbouwkundig Laboratorium, Flanders Hydraulics Research, Administratie Waterwegen en Zeewezen). PDF. Flanders is covered by the three major catchment basins (Yser, Scheldt and Meuse). This rather lowlyingnearly flat region (2 to 150 m/6 - 492 ft altitude above sea-level) .... 15 May 2007.
  22. Book: Biodiversity Indicators 2006 - State of Nature in Flanders (Belgium). Myriam Dumortier, Luc De Bruyn, Maarten Hens, Johan Peymen, Anik Schneiders, Toon Van Daele, Wouter Van Reeth, Gisèle Weyembergh and Eckhart Kuijken. Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Brussels. 2006. 90-403-0251-0. PDF. The altitude ranges from a few meters above sea-level in the Polders to 2880NaN0 above sea-level in the south eastern exclave.. 15 May 2007.
  23. Web site: Focus on the port. Port of Antwerp. September 27, 2009.
  24. Web site: Official statistics of Belgium. Statbel.fgov.be. 2010-11-15.
  25. Web site: Belgium. International Religious Freedom Report 2004. 2004. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2007-05-28.
  26. Web site: Education in Flanders. A broad view of the Flemish educational landscape. 2005. Ministry of the Flemish Community. PDF. 2009-11-02.
  27. Inquiry by 'Vepec', 'Vereniging voor Promotie en Communicatie' (Organisation for Promotion and Communication), published in Knack magazine 22 November 2006 p. 14 [The Dutch language term 'gelovig' is in the text translated as 'religious', more precisely it is a very common word for believing in particular in any kind of God in a [[monotheism|monotheistic]] sense, and/or in some afterlife. (See also Religion in Belgium).

    Education is compulsory from the ages of six to 18, but most Flemings continue to study until around 23. Among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in 1999, Flanders had the third-highest proportion of 18 - 21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education. Flanders also scores very high in international comparative studies on education. Its secondary school students consistently rank among the top three for mathematics and science. However, the success is not evenly spread: ethnic minority youth score consistently lower, and the difference is larger than in most comparable countries.

    Mirroring the historical political conflicts between the freethought and Catholic segments of the population, the Flemish educational system is split into a laïque branch controlled by the communities, the provinces, or the municipalities, and a subsidised religious - mostly Catholic—branch controlled by both the communities and the religious authorities - usually the dioceses. It should however be noted that - at least for the Catholic schools - the religious authorities have very limited power over these schools. Smaller school systems follow 'methodical pedagogies' (Steiner, Montessori, Freinet, ...) or serve the Jewish and Protestant minorities. During the school year 2003-2004, 68.30% of the total population of children between the ages of six and 18 went to subsidized private schools (both religious schools or 'methodical pedagogies' schools).[26]

    Language and culture

    See main article: Dutch language, Flemish, Flemish people and Flemish Movement.

    At first sight, Flemish culture is defined by its language and its gourmandic mentality, as compared to the more Calvinistic Dutch culture. Dutch and Flemish paintings enjoyed more equal international admiration.

    The standard language in Flanders is Dutch; spelling and grammar are regulated by a single authority, the Nederlandse Taalunie ('Union of Dutch Language'), comprising a committee of ministers of the Flemish and Dutch governments, their advisory council of appointed experts, a controlling commission of 22 parliamentarians, and a secretariate.The term Flemish can be applied to the Dutch spoken in Flanders; it shows many regional and local variations.

    Literature in non-standardized dialects of the current area of Flanders originated with Hendrik van Veldeke's Eneas Romance, the first courtly romance in a Germanic language (12th Century). With a writer of Hendrik Conscience's statue, Flemish Literature rose ahead of French literature in Belgium's early history.Guido Gezelle not only explicitly referred to his writings as Flemish but actually used it in many of his poems, and strongly defended it:Original from kleengedichtjes (1860?)
    Gij zegt dat ‘t vlaamsch te niet zal gaan:
    ‘t en zal!
    dat ‘t waalsch gezwets zal boven slaan:
    ‘t en zal!
    Dat hopen, dat begeren wij:
    dat zeggen en dat zweren wij:
    zoo lange als wij ons weren, wij:
    ‘t en zal, ‘t en zal,
    ‘t en zal!
    Translation

    --> 2011-02-17 — 2011-02-19. For explanations, continue along --> each 'next' edit comment
    You say Flemish will fade away:
    It shan't!
    that Walloon twaddle will have its way:
    It shan't!
    This we hope, for this we hanker:
    this we say and this we vow:
    as long as we fight back, we:
    It shan't, It shan't,
    It shan't!

    The distinction between Dutch and Flemish literature, often perceived politically, is also made on intrinsic grounds by some experts such as Kris Humbeeck, professor of Literature at the University of Antwerp.[27] Nevertheless, nearly all Dutch-language literature read (and appreciated to varying degrees) in Flanders is the same as that in the Netherlands.

    Influential Flemish writers include Ernest Claes, Stijn Streuvels and Felix Timmermans. Their novels mostly describe rural life in Flanders in the 19th century and at beginning of the 20th. Widely read by the older generations, they are considered somewhat old-fashioned by present-day critics. Some famous Flemish writers of the early 20th century wrote in French, including Nobel Prize winners (1911) Maurice Maeterlinck and Emile Verhaeren. They were followed by a younger generation, including Paul van Ostaijen and Gaston Burssens, who activated the Flemish Movement. Still widely read and translated into other languages (including English) are the novels of authors such as Willem Elsschot, Louis Paul Boon and Hugo Claus. The recent crop of writers includes the novelists Tom Lanoye and Herman Brusselmans, and poets such as the married couple Herman de Coninck and Kristien Hemmerechts.

    French language in Flanders

    See main article: Belgian French.

    At the creation of the Belgian state, French was the only official language. French was during a long period used as a second language in Flanders and (like elsewhere in Europe) commonly spoken among the region's aristocracy. There is still a quite important French-speaking minority in Flanders, especially in the municipalities with language facilities, along the language border and the Brussels periphery (Vlaamse Rand). French is also known as a foreign language by a large number of Flemings. It is the dominant language in the officially bilingual Brussels Capital Region, (see Frenchification of Brussels).

    In French Flanders, French is the native language of the majority of the population and the only official language.

    See also

    External links