Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 23 July 2012

21st of July celebrations

As I mentioned before, on July 21st Belgium celebrates its Fête Nationale. It’s the annual commemoration of King Leopold I taking the royal oath as first King of Belgium 181 years ago. Last year’s celebrations were overshadowed by the political crisis that left our country without a government for over 500 consecutive days. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but it wasn’t after the rating agency Standard and Poor’s had degraded our country and the Belgian credit rates climbed towards an alarming 6%, that the traditional political parties decided that it was time to act and form a government. 

Since then, a 50-year old and extremely tricky political issue has been solved and our credit rate had gone down to a level that puts us in the same range as strong countries like Germany, Denmark, etc … I’m not sure whether the other financial and budgetary measures the new government has taken will have a long term effect and how much they will cost us, the little ‘shrimps’ who work their ‘b..’ off every day. But at least we are out of the danger zone and national bankruptcy is no longer lurking around the corner.

Princess Mathilde, their eldest daughter Elisabeth - our first ever Queen and first in line after her father Prince Philip. This is Elisabeth first official mission: opening an new children's wing named after her in a hospital in Gent. (

Compared to last year, when our King delivered a very angry speech on TV, even banging his fist on the table on several occasions, we saw a very happy and smiling King. The man is 76 (I think) and has had several health problems in the last years, so last year’s excitement was something he could do without. The speech was shown on TV on Friday night and repeated on Saturday at 1 p.m. On Saturday morning the King, Queen, Prince Philip and his lovely wife, the Princess Mathilde and the dowager Queen Fabiola, widow to our former King Boudouin, attended a religious celebration at Brussels’ main cathedral. This celebration is called the ‘Te Deum’. Afterwards the royals come out to shake hands and exchange some small-talk with the waiting crowd.

The King’s daughter, Astrid – named after her grandmother, the beautiful Astrid of Sweden, who was killed in a car accident in Switzerland when our present King was only a toddler – and her husband attended a similar ceremony in the northern, Flemish speaking part of the country; while Laurent, the King’s youngest son and a bit of a rebel, attended a ceremony in the French speaking south. Last year Laurent was banned from the official ceremonies – and completely ignored by his parents for more than a year because of a controversial and politically incorrect trip to our former colony, Congo. However, this year he has been re-instated and in the afternoon arrived at the military parade with his wife Claire and their twin sons of five. They also have a daughter, who is slightly older, but who wasn’t present. The two boys looked very handsome in their grey flannel Bermuda trousers and blue blazers.  

While the parade was going on, there was a large popular feast and free entertainment going on in the park across the street from the Royal Palace. Police gather that over 300,000 people attended the festivities; 25,000 of which stayed on till 11 p.m. to watch the fireworks. 

While the party in the park was going on, a huge outdoor restaurant was set up at the Vossenplein (Fox square) in the popular ‘Marollen’ district. This really is the heart of Brussels where you’ll still find the true and ‘orginal’ ‘Brusseleir’, who speaks the authentic Brussels’ dialect which is an amazing mixture of French and Flemish, with a lot of funny and colourful expressions! It’s a rather poor district, but the people have an extraordinary ‘joie de vivre’ that you won't find in the ‘posher’ parts of Brussels. 

On the menu: our national dish by excellence – mussels and chips (like fish and chips but with juicy, mussels, cooked fisherman’s style). 150 poor and homeless received a free meal and judging from the images I saw on TV people were having a super time. Most of them had also attended the popular ball on Friday night and that had lasted well into the early hours of Saturday.

Seeing all these happy people – Flemish and French speaking – having a good time together and enjoying eachother’s company, I wonder what our politicians are playing at. They create resentment and even hate between the two populations. Life in Belgium is really, really good (when you compare it to so many countries around us). Okay, we pay the heaviest taxes in the whole of Europe, but we get a lot in return … except maybe warm and sunny weather. Although …

P.S. I hope you enjoyed this short lesson in Belgian royal history and traditions!


VirginiaC said...

Martine, I enjoyed this post a whole lot and I have learned a lot.
We here in Barbados have just been downgraded to Junk Bond status by Standard & Poor's, so we have a long way to get back in good standing.
It is also interesting to note that we are the heaviest taxed island in the Caribbean.

Bob said...

great lesson. the world economy isn't very good at this time. i think all countries are taxing too much and spending too much. i guess if i managed my personal finances like the government, i would would either be destitute or have to depend on the government to take care of me.

Autolycus said...

I was wondering what had happened to all those "Belgium about to collapse" stories in the papers. Just to be a real nerd, what was the 50-year-old issue (I'm guessing the one about language enclaves around Brussels or something of that sort)? No need for details, just a clue one can Google would be interesting.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Hope you are having the warm and sunny weather now!

Louise said...

Martine, I do know quite a lot of this history because my ex partner Damien's first aunt on his mother's side was Princess Lilian of Rethy, the second wife of Leopold III. Our discussions about Belgium and the monarchy during and after the war were enlightening for me. Another colourful part of your country's history. Lilian's father was a governor of Bruges, which is why we visited in 2010 to see the home in which his mother and her sisters lived before the war.

ladybird said...

VirginiaC, I sometimes wonder what the use of the rating agencies is. One word from them, and stock exchanges all over the world collapse ... Why do people always panic and over-react, making things even worse? The power of and greed for money, I guess.

Bob, If we citizens, were to manage our money the way governments do, we would all be in jail by now for not paying our debts! ;)

Autolycus, It was all about the split of an election district called Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (aka BHV) and the possibility of French and Flemish candidates having a chance of being elected in the other-language-speaking-part of the district. Peanuts, as usual, but enough to mobilize the hardcore militants on both sides :(!

Ken, Yes, we're finally 'enjoying' summer temperatures as high as 30°C and even more tomorrow. Personally, I find it too hot and I see many a sleepless night ahead (I already had two) of me. I'm glad for the people who are on vacation though. And we have airco at the office, so I'm not complaining (yet).

Louise, Wow! After reading your comment, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Now that you mention it, when I see Damien's photo on his blog, and when I look at a photo of Liliane as a young woman, I see a resemblance. Amazing!!!

Louise said...

Martine, yes the family resemblance is uncanny. Princess Esmerelda, who is 2 years older than Damien, could be his sister!