Does the name Belgium rings a bell to you? Yes, it does, to me I think of the EU each time I hear the name Belgium. Before we delve into some of the amazing facts that makes Belgium thick let’s dissect the flag. The flag of Belgium looks like the flag of Germany but keep in mind that the color sequence of the flag of Belgium is Black, Yellow and Red not Black, Red and Yellow. The Belgian flag has an unusual proportion of 13 to 15 ratio making it almost a square. The Flag’s colors are directly correlated to the country’s coat of arms the black representing the shield and determination, the yellow representing the lion and generosity and the red representing the lion’s claws, tongue and the crown as well as bravery and strength.
Belgium is located in Europe right under the Netherlands and northeast of France right at the foot of the North Sea next to the English Channel. Belgium is divided into three regions the Dutch or the Flemish speaking north region called Flanders, the south or French Walloon region called Wallonia and the capital Brussels acts in itself as a third region and functions in a completely bilingual way. Most of the people in Brussels speak both Dutch and French however French is a little bit more prevalent. Each of the Flanders and Wallonia regions are then divided into five provinces each making a total of ten provinces. Brussels doesn’t count and is considered its own region not belonging to either Flanders or Wallonia even though technically it’s completely engulfed in Flanders but then again, the region around Brussels has a French administrative area around the city called the BHV County in which large numbers of French minorities live and can be judged in French even though it’s in Flanders.
The French also have administrative centers in the southeast and the southwest regions of Flanders and Wallonia municipal exclave in the West Flanders province called Comines Warneton even though most of the people there speak Dutch. Furthermore, the Flemish have one municipal exclave in the Liege province in Wallonia called Voeren. Then you have the German-speaking minority in the east of Wallonia in the liege province whom are making propositions to create an 11th province called Eupen Sankt-vith.
Belgium has a lot of weird territorial claims and boundaries. There are technically five German exclaves hidden right along the border of the Liege province in East Belgium however these exclaves are only separated from mainland Germany from a Belgian train track the Vennbahn which is no longer in use. This means that you can be in Germany and only have 10 meters between you and Belgium before you go back into Germany. The smallest of these German exclaves is just a small house near the German town of Ruckschlag with a front yard less than two hectares in area. Then you reach the ever so confusing town of Baarle Nassau/Hertog in which there are 22 Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands and eight Dutch enclaves in Belgium seven which are counter enclaves in a part of the Netherlands in Belgium. These borders at first make no sense apparently, they cross awkwardly through streets, buildings, restaurants, stores and even houses. A person can literally wake up in one country and shower in the other. The rule is whatever side your front door is on is the country that you pay your taxes to. The reason why it’s so confusing is because there was a man ruling the area called Henry I Duke of Brabant who gave parcels of land to Godfried II of Schoten who ruled the area to the east in an attempt to build an alliance so that his enemy Dirk VII won’t expands his influence. Long story short Henry’s land became Belgium and Godfrey’s land became the Netherlands. To this day the two countries have stayed true to Godfried and Henry’s agreements and has split the land exactly how they did.
Finally, we have the confusing Lys Riviere river in the border between the Walloon province of Hainaut and France. Starting in the town of Halluin this river zigzags for about 26 kilometers with multiple River islets and land pieces that act as penny enclaves until it all stops in the town of Armentieres. Each side has an equal seven enclaves each along the river.
Belgium landscapes are mostly flat and outside the cities there’s farms and forests that’s pretty lush and green however the World-Wide Fund for Nature ranked Belgium pretty low in terms of their environmental performance and the water quality was the lowest in the EU mostly due to the high population density. Belgium isn’t really agriculturally driven meaning economically, most of their revenue comes from machinery, pharmaceuticals, diamonds many of which were imported from the Congo as well as service and industry jobs.
Belgium is kind of like an artificial country with technically no distinct former identity in which two regions kind of became roommates and the respective communities have a government with the same power as a central government. Belgium has a little less than 11 million people at about 57%. The vast majority of people are Flemish from Flanders, about 42% are Walloon from Wallonia and 1% German from the German community. Keep in mind although it’s debatable, the terms Flemish and Walloon are more in reference to linguistic communities and not ethnicities. By definition you could have a Congolese guy in liege identifying as a Walloon and a Moroccan guy in Antwerp identifying as a Fleming as long as they speak the languages and become citizens. In terms of race though about 77% of the people identify as ethnically Belgian and the remaining 23% identify as non-Belgian in origin some of the largest groups being Moroccans, Italians, Turks and even Congolese from the Democratic Republic of Congo as it was a former Belgian colony along with Rwanda and Burundi which is where a lot of the Diamonds, we talked about earlier come from.
The Belgians even took over a small part of China for a couple of decades in the 20th century in Tianjin and thereafter gave it back and to this day, pictures from the Belgian Chinese-colony are some of the rarest photos you can find in historical archives. As mentioned earlier, Belgium has three distinct regions Flanders, Walloon and Brussels however regions weren’t enough and so Belgium decided to split things up even more into communities. Due to the German-speaking minority predominantly in south-east Belgium created a semi mediary third community even though only 1% of the country actually speaks German less than the amount of people in Belgium who actually speak Arabic and has instituted three separate governments and Parliament’s one for each language group the Dutch, French and German.
Each of these governments actually has just as much power as the central government. On top of that the French and Dutch communities are allowed to provide cultural and social services to the citizens in Brussels but not in the other region. This means that a family living in Brussels could possibly depend upon the central government for taxes, the French government for community centers, the Dutch government for schools and the Brussels government for the police force four governments acting at once.
Belgium became a constitutional monarchy that started in 1830 with King Philippe I as the current head of state. They are the only monarchy in Europe with no actual crown or lavish robes and scepters. They gained independence from the Netherlands, the French-speaking Wallonia joined along and then they chose a German Prince to become their first king. In terms of culture, Belgium can be attributed to a lot of things. Some of the world’s most renowned surrealist artists came from Belgium like Rene Magritte, cartoons like the Smurfs, Tintin and almost every single one of those comics.
The national dish of Belgium is mussels with French fries and mayonnaise. Belgians will tell you that fries originated from Belgium and of course waffles. They make some of the best chocolate in the world that rivals Switzerland and of course everyone’s favorite Belgian actor Jean-Claude van Damme. Belgium host the headquarters of the EU and are typically called upon to help Europe administer their diplomatic affairs with other countries.
Belgium is a very neutral country. After gaining independence from the Netherlands, they quickly rose to become one of the leading powers of the industrialized Europe world and it was a founding member of both the EU and NATO. This means that since day one Belgium has had a huge entourage of affiliates that they’ve kind of kept close however some are still closer than others. The UK has always been a good buddy of Belgium since they played a pivotal role in the independence of Belgium. The US is also a good friend and to this day they still commemorate the Battle of the Bulge in which the US played a huge role in during the liberation of Belgium in World War II.
The only country that might have a little bit of a distaste towards Belgium might be the Democratic Republic of Congo as they were occupied and became a colony for a little less than a century. Belgium kind of did a lot of things to the Congo. Although tensions are generally eased off a bit today and numerous Congolese people immigrated to Belgium yearly there’s still a somewhat of version that lingers on in the back of each Congolese mind when history is brought up. France is a close friend to whom not only played a role in Belgium’s independence but also culturally resonates with this South Walloon region as well. The Netherlands is a close friend as they thrive well with the Flanders region despite the fact that they have a somewhat friendly rivalry with each other.
Over the years many referendums have actually passed in Belgium in which they almost considered re annexing themselves back to their respective neighboring countries the Netherlands and France. However, they just can’t seem to do it even though the sense of nationalism is kind of weak except during soccer games in which they go all out Belgian pride they still can’t seem to let go of each other for some weird reason.
In terms of their best friend, Belgium would probably consider Luxembourg. Luxembourg is kind of seen as like the little brother of Belgium and has been there with Belgium since the very beginning. They were even for a short while part of Belgium after independence and their own monarchs Philip I and Grand Duke Henry are actually cousins. In conclusion, Belgium is disputedly the most confusing politically engineered country in all of Europe and by all means it makes no sense how they’ve kept together for almost 200 years but they actually did somehow. Belgium, we dip our fries and mayonnaise to you.