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History of Belgium

This is the history of Belgium. See also the history of Europe, history of the European Union, and history of present-day nations and states.

Belgium derives its name from a Celtic tribe, the Belgae, whom Julius Caesar described as the most courageous tribe of Gaul. However, the Belgae were forced to yield to Roman legions during the 1st century BC. 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 the Germanic tribe of the Franks penetrated into northern Belgium. About 100 years later, they took possession of the rest of Belgium and started their conquest of Gaul. 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, it passed into the possession of the Habsburgs as part of the Seventeen Provinces. Later, 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, Ypres, 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 Breughel to Rubens and Van Dyck[?]--became the most prized in Europe. Flemish tapestries hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe.

Following the French Revolution, Belgium was invaded and annexed by Napoleonic France in 1795. After this, it was made a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

In 1830, Belgium wrested 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.

During Leopold II's 44 year reign from 1865 to 1909, Belgium acquired a colony in Congo. The colony's natural resources were ruthlessly exploited, bringing prosperity to Belgium. At first, the colony was called the Congo Free State and was the private property of the king, but in 1908 the colony was transferred to the state and renamed Belgian Congo.

Genocide in the Congo

It must be noted that the integration of traditional economies in the Congo within the framework of the modern, capitalist economy was particularly exploitative. Leopold's fortune was greatly added to through the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had never been mass-produced in surplus quantities.

Exploitation of the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina (Vietnam), German Southwest Africa[?], Rhodesia, and South Africa paled in comparison to that of the Belgian Congo. Like all colonial powers at the time, the fortunes of Belgium and its king, Leopold II, and those of the multinational concessionary companies under his auspices, were mainly made on the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had historically never been mass-produced in surplus quantities. While King Leopold II was the defacto sovereign of the Belgian controlled Congo Free State, between 1880 and 1920 the population of Congo nearly halved. Although the actual figure is disputed because of a lack of documented statistics at the time, nontheless, several million natives were the victims of murder, starvation, exhaustion induced by over-work, and disease.

20th century Belgium

Belgium was invaded by the Germans in 1914 and again in 1940 (Belgium surrendered on May 28). This, plus disillusionment over postwar Soviet behavior, made Belgium one of the foremost advocates of collective security within the framework of European integration (EU) and the Atlantic partnership (NATO).

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

A parliamentary democracy, Belgium has been governed by successive coalitions of two or more political parties, with the centrist Flemish Christian Democratic Party[?] providing the Prime Minister most of the time. Two major political controversies have marked the postwar years: a dispute over King Leopold III's conduct during World War II (which caused him to abdicate in 1951), and the insistence of the nation's majority linguistic community--the Flemish--upon a reorganization of the state into autonomous regions.

The last 50 years also have been marked by a rapid economic development of Flanders, which had been largely agricultural and, since the Industrial Revolution, had become the poorer half of Belgium. This Flemish resurgence has been accompanied by a corresponding shift of political power to the Flemish, who now constitute an absolute majority (58%) of the population.

Reference Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.



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