Belgium, a country of two.

Belgium has played a much bigger role in the formation of the European Union than one might think. Cycling through Flanders fields, the traces of the two World Wars are still to be found. On this very ground where we have pitched our tent, massive armies fought each other. The first time in 1914-1919 as an imperialistic war and the second time (1939-1945) to fight a harmful ideology.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

John McCrae, 1915

After the first World War, which left millions dead and countries bankrupt, the first steps were taken into the direction what is now the EU and the United Nations, namely the League of Nations. Apparently the Western World needs to see suffer before acting together. Fast forwarding 20 years, Germany was again in its war modus; the treaty of Versailles, facism, deep economic crises, deep social crises all created this situation where Adolf Hitler could rise to become the dictator. And yet again, Belgium and north of France was the place where the battlefields were born. Hitler blitzed through these countries and thereby conquered Western Europe. The countless war cemeteries of both wars dotted on these fields are a grim reminder of what these fields were.

IMG_20160806_200101
The one of many memorial sites

Fast forwarding yet again, Charleroi, which is near the 2nd campsite, saw fierce fighting to liberate Europe from the Nazi’s. This ground again is the place where a World War had been fought and won. This time, the world took another serious effort to build a League of Nation like organization; the United Nations. The first forms of the European Union, the steel and coal community, including Belgium as well, were soon formed after that. Now the heart of the European Union beats in Brussels, which is near these contested grounds from the previous wars.

The Flanders fields are more than just cycling races, they are the places where the soul of the European was forged and where the heart of the Union beats at the moment.

Language

Besides the two wars and Brussels, Belgium has another aspect that has formed the country; The bilingualism of French and Flemish. I expected to see a continuum of languages, from the North to the South gradually becoming more French. However being on the bike, it seems that there is actually a stark contrast when crossing the region border.

We cycled up a hill out of a village in the Flemish part of the country and in the downhill the roads where suddenly named in French.

Culturally speaking, the region we cycled through changed as well. Not quite sure if this is to be generalized, but the buildings and cities had different architecture and lay out. The real border was not the border we crossed between France and Belgium but the language border earlier that day. It became clearer that Belgium is a transition zone between the Dutch and the French cultures. Generalizing a lot, it seems that the cultural borders, which are far more poignant than the national borders, lay between the Rivers in the Netherlands and the language border in the heart of Belgium.

The bilingualism, the fields that have seen great wars, the heart of the European Union, Belgium is a country not the be under estimated in its importance for the European Union and its perculiar borders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: