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Short Documentary on History and Geography and Culture of Belgium

Belgium is located in [[#|Western Europe]], bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea. Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region. Climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 77°F, winters average 45°F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are 10°F and 100°F.

Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at a crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint.

Belgium is divided ethnically into the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons, the 75,000 residents of the eastern German cantons, and the bilingual capital of Brussels. The population density is the second highest in Europe, after the Netherlands.

Belgium derives its name from the Belgae, a Celtic tribe. The Belgae were forced to yield to Roman legions during the first century B.C. For some 300 years thereafter, what is now Belgium flourished as a province of Rome. But Rome's power gradually lessened. In about A.D. 300, Attila the Hun invaded what is now Germany and pushed Germanic tribes into northern Belgium. About 100 years later, the Germanic tribe of the Franks invaded and took possession of Belgium. The northern part of present-day Belgium became an overwhelmingly Germanized and Germanic-Frankish-speaking area, whereas in the southern part people continued to be Roman and spoke derivatives of Latin. After coming under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy and, through marriage, passing into the possession of the Hapsburgs, Belgium was occupied by the Spanish (1519-1713) and the Austrians (1713-1794).

Under these various rulers, and especially during the 500 years from the 12th to the 17th century, the great cities of Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Antwerp took turns at being major European centers for commerce, industry (especially textiles), and art. Flemish painting--from Van Eyck and Breugel to Rubens and Van Dyck--became the most prized in Europe. Flemish tapestries hung on castle walls throughout Europe.

Following the French Revolution, Belgium was invaded and annexed by Napoleonic France in 1795. Following the defeat of Napoleon's army at the Battle of Waterloo, fought just a few miles south of Brussels, Belgium was separated from France and made part of the Netherlands by the [[#|Congress]] of Vienna in 1815.

In 1830, Belgium won its independence from the Dutch as a result of an uprising of the Belgian people. A constitutional monarchy was established in 1831, with a monarch invited in from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha in Germany.

Belgium was invaded by Germany in 1914 and again in 1940. Those invasions, plus disillusionment over postwar Soviet [[#|behavior]], made Belgium one of the foremost advocates of collective security within the framework of European integration and the Atlantic partnership.

Since 1944, when British, Canadian, and American armies liberated Belgium, the country has lived in security and at a level of increased well-being.

Language, economic, and political differences between Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia have led to increased divisions in Belgian society. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and the 19th century accentuated the linguistic North-South division. Francophone Wallonia became an early industrial boom area, affluent and politically dominant. Dutch-speaking Flanders remained agricultural and was economically and politically outdistanced by Brussels and Wallonia. The last 50 years have marked the rapid economic development of Flanders while the coal and steel industries of Wallonia went into sharp decline, resulting in a corresponding shift of political and economic power to the Flemish, who now constitute an absolute majority (58%) of the population.

Demonstrations in the early 1960s led to the establishment of a formal linguistic border in 1962, and elaborate rules made to protect minorities in linguistically mixed border areas. In 1970, Flemish and Francophone cultural councils were established with authority in matters of language and culture for the two-language groups. Each of the three economic regions--Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels--was granted a significant measure of political autonomy.

Since 1984, the German language community of Belgium (in the eastern part of Liege Province) has had its own legislative assembly and executive, which have authority in cultural, language, and subsequently educational affairs.

In 1988-89, the Constitution was again amended to give additional responsibilities to the regions and communities. The most sweeping change was the devolution of educational responsibilities to the community level. As a result, the regions and communities were provided additional revenue, and Brussels was given its own legislative assembly and executive.

Another important constitutional reform occurred in the summer of 1993, changing Belgium from a unitary to a federal state. It also reformed the bicameral parliamentary system and provided for the direct election of the members of community and regional legislative councils. The bilingual Brabant province, which contained the Brussels region, was split into separate Flemish and Walloon Brabant provinces. The revised Constitution came into force in 1994.

As a parliamentary democracy, Belgium has been governed by successive coalitions of two or more political parties. The centrist Christian Democratic Party often provided the Prime Minister. In the 1999 general election, Belgian voters rejected Jean Luc Dehaene's longstanding coalition government of Christian Democrats and Socialists and voted into power a coalition led by Flemish Liberal Leader Guy Verhofstadt. The first Verhofstadt government (1999-2003) was a six-party coalition between the Flemish and Francophone Liberals, Socialists, and Greens. It was the first Liberal-led coalition in generations and the first six-party coalition in 20 years. It also was the first time the Greens had participated in Belgium's federal government. In the general election of 2003, the Greens suffered significant losses, while the Socialists posted strong gains and the Liberals also had modest growth in electoral support. Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt reconstituted the coalition as a four-party government in July 2003, with only the Liberals and Socialists in power.

In the 2007 general elections, the Flemish Christian Democratic CD&V recouped the lost ground, becoming the country's largest party. The two Socialist parties and Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Open VLD lost support. The Francophone Liberal MR became the largest party of Wallonia and Brussels. Following the election, the King tasked CD&V leader Yves Leterme with forming a new government. The ruling coalition was composed of Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), Francophone Christian Democrats (CDH), Flemish Liberals (Open VLD), Francophone Liberals (MR), and the Francophone Socialists (PS). However, it took over 9 months to form a government, which remained subject to intense strains. Leterme stepped down in December 2008 and was replaced as Prime Minister and head of the same coalition by the CD&V's Herman Van Rompuy.

Van Rompuy’s appointment as President of the European Council under the Treaty of Lisbon paved the way for Leterme to regain his position as Prime Minister in November 2009. However, an electoral dispute between the Francophone and Flemish parties continually plagued his government coalition, which finally collapsed in April 2010.

The Francophone Socialist (PS) and Flemish nationalist (New Flemish Alliance--N-VA) parties won the largest proportion of seats during parliamentary elections in June 2010. The N-VA became the largest party in the House of Representatives, winning 27 seats compared to 4 in 2007, indicating growing support for regional autonomy in Flanders. Throughout 2011, no governing coalition was formed due to continued inability of the Francophone and Flemish parties to reach a compromise over state reforms. Prime Minister Leterme and his cabinet remained in office in a caretaker capacity. In September 2011, the six negotiating parties achieved a breakthrough agreement on local government of an electoral district with a Francophone majority comprising both Brussels and parts of the surrounding Flemish region. The agreement was finalized in October 2011, with only the remaining hurdle of budget allocation among Belgium’s local regions. After further austerity measures were agreed to in November 2011, a new government with francophone Socialist Elio Di Rupo as Prime Minister was formed on December 5, 2011.


The Concert of Nations sanctioned the creation of Belgium in 1830 on the condition that the country would remain strictly neutral. During the two World Wars, Belgium tried but was unable to follow a policy of neutrality due to the German invasions. In 1948, Belgium signed the Treaty of Brussels with Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and a year later became one of the founding members of NATO.

(from the US Department of State. Click to read more.)


1830 - Declaration of independence from Netherlands.

1914-18 World War I - Germany invades. Belgian army holds position behind Yser river until 1918.

1920 - Belgium abandons neutrality and signs military alliance with France.

1930- Flanders and Wallonia legally become unilingual regions.

1940 - Germany invades Belgium and Holland. Belgian government evacuates to London. King Leopold surrenders to German forces.

1944 - Allied Forces liberate Belgium.

Historic Maps

Map of European People 1920