This Friday feels different. It is the first Belgian National Day that I will celebrate as a Belgian citizen. What does it mean? Well, for me it is more than just a public holiday to commemorate the independence of Belgium, and the foundation of the state in 1831. For me it is a celebration of the democratic heritage of Belgium, and the rights and privileges that I enjoy as a citizen taking part in society here; the rule of law, respect for my fellow citizens and the protection of human rights, the sharing of common European values and ethics, and being a citizen of the European Union.
The National Day celebrations follow a similar pattern to previous years beginning today with a national ball in the Marolles and a series of free concerts. (www.nationalbal.be) The National Orchestra of Belgium will also perform at the Henry Le Boeuf Hall of the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts. A Te Deum mass will be celebrated in the presence of the King and Queen in the Cathedral of St. Michael; then a street party will be celebrated in the Rue de la Régence and in the surrounding areas throughout the day; there will be a military and police parade in front of the Royal Palace, and the day will be rounded off with a grand musical firework display (www.2107.be).
Belgium came into existence after the napoleonic wars and was established as a constitutional monarchy covering the Flemish Region of the Southern Netherlands and Wallonia. A unique feature of the state is that the country has three official languages, French, German and Dutch. Although this can be the source of some discord from time to time, the example of working with multiple official languages is sometimes held up for other states (such as Ukraine) to reflect on how to solve language differences. English is also frequently spoken as a language of compromise.
When the state was first established, a Monarchy was considered more politically stable than a Republic; the experience of republicanism in France had connotations of mob rule. The current King of the Belgians is Philippe, who came to the throne in 2013 following the abdication of his father. Under the constitution he is bound to guard national unity and independence, and since taking up office, he has worked effectively to correct and improve his image and communications skills to become a more popular figure. As a francophone, he is naturally more popular in Wallonia than in Flanders. But he unites the diverse elements of the country that make it unique. Whatever calls exist for a reduction in the constitutional powers of the king, or even the establishment of a republic in Belgium, they are very much in the minority.
So please join me in toasting the success of Belgium, and the King of the Belgians on this important National Day. What better way to celebrate than with an excellent steak frites, (Bleu Belge and Belgian Fries of course), and a glass of UNESCO heritage approved Belgian beer.