Nationalism National Building Process of Belgium Flemish Term Paper

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Nationalism / National Building Process of Belgium


Scientific research regarding nationalism gave a lot of theories, more or less disputed, that evolved and were improved in time. M. Crawford Young defined nationalism as an "ideology claiming that a given human population has a natural solidarity based on a shared history and a common destiny. This collective identity as a historically constituted "people" crucially entails the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community. The idea of nationalism takes form historically in tandem with the doctrine of popular sovereignty: that the ultimate source of authority lies in the people, not the ruler or government." (Crawford Young, 2004). The nationalist ideology generally states that the fundamental unit for human social organization is the nation which is the most legitimate basis for a state and that the borders of states should be congruent with the borders of the nation.

The influence of nationalism was great in world history, as the nation-state has become the dominant form of state organization. In fact, the existence of nations is the starting point of nationalism, as nations are entities with a long history and nationalist claims are based particularly on the historical aspect.

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A very important distinction when speaking about nationalism is that between nation and state, as state refers at the institutional framework provided for a nation or for more nations. The term "nation" refers to a specific identity that individuals identify with. Some nations do not identify as much with their state and they identify more with their specific nation than with the state, this being the case of the Flemish in Belgium.

Nationalism often takes the form of patriotism and can become extreme in the situation that the members of a nation do not identify themselves with the state. In some states this nationalism taken to extreme took the form of violent civil wars in which each nation wanted to have its own state.

Term Paper on Nationalism National Building Process of Belgium Flemish Assignment

A very important theoretician in the field of nationalism is Paul Brass and he presented the conditions in which nationalism arises: "Nationalism is most likely to develop when new elites arise to challenge a system of ethnic stratification in the cities or an existing pattern of distribution of economic resources and political power between ethnically distinct urban and rural groups or ethnically diverse regions. One moment at which such challenges tend to arise most forcefully is when industrial development and political centralization have led to concentrations of job opportunities in key urban centers and to the need for trained personnel to fill the new positions. It is at this point also in pluralistic societies that the issue of language becomes critical because the choice of the official language and the medium of education determine which groups have favored access to the best jobs" (Brass, 1991).

There are several criteria that nationalists use in order to identify a nation and distinguish one nation from another. These criteria include a shared language, culture, values. Another important component is the territorial one, as each nation has its own territory to which it is associated to. Based on such criteria the nation-state preserves the distinct identity of a nation and provides a territory where the national culture is dominant.

Analyzing nationalism and nation-state according to the criteria mentioned above, Belgium is often seen in political science as a case study because it has come up with a rather strange way of making different nations coexist in the same political framework. This Belgian model emerged gradually, as during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th the Belgian political elite tried to make Belgium a united nation. The new political framework was needed in fact because these elite failed and so the Belgian model had to be invented.

Belgium proclaimed its independence in 1830 and the Belgian elite found themselves into the situation of having to give a national identity to the new state and they tried this by creating a national feeling. The 1830s were a decade of romanticism in Europe and the Belgian bourgeoisie was willing to be proud of its Volksgeist as all other European nations were at the time (Deprez & Vos, 1998). All these intentions were meant to provide Belgium a new sense of national identity by going to the historical factor and creating traditions that would bind together the nation. This process was somehow successful, but mostly to the ruling elite that did associate itself with a Belgian national identity.

But this feeling of belonging to a Belgian nation was not so equally spread along the country, as a particular characteristic of this elite promoting national identity was that it was all part of the French-speaking elite. They believed that the official language should be French, disregarding the fact that in the old Walloon and Flemish dialects were still spoken in some parts of the country and suburbs. The intention of having only one national language was taken due to the fact that the Belgium elite believed that in this way the national identity of Belgium would best be shaped. So, French was the sole language of the Belgian Parliament, higher courts, central administration and army, until the Language Acts of the 1930s. A particular aspect was not taken into consideration - the fact that education was not compulsory at that time, so people that did not speak French were not able to follow the Belgian institutional process. This fact led to a failure of the desired homogenization and creation of a Belgian national identity.

This language aspect affected particularly the Flemish population, which had a long tradition and a strong sense of ethnicity, based primarily on the Flemish language. So, the Flemish did not identify themselves with a French speaking government and this led to the appearance of a Flemish movement.

The Flemish people felt the need to create their own identity, first by writing in Flemish and then by Flemish political movements. The first claim of Flemish political movements was that the Flemish speaking regions should be bilingual, but as the leading class refused to accept the bilingual status, the movements became more radical, going as far as collaborating with the German invader during the First World War.

On this background, the idea of regional autonomy grew more after the Second World War as there was a small separatist minority (Maddens, Beerten & Billiet, 1998). As this minority gained ground in the 1950s, new regionalist parties emerged asking for cultural independence. Following this current, traditional parties grew closer to the regional cause and there also was a Walloon political movement.

There was a gap though between the Flemish and the Walloon movements and the French speaking parties regarding economic policies and this led to a split in the parties and the call for federalization. The frontier between the two regions of Belgium was set as separating the Flemish and the French speaking regions and it was designed in 1963.

This was why, by the end of the sixties Belgium was split in two nations belonging to the same state. The Flemish political parties were characterized at that time as regionalist, at times even radical. They identified more with a Flemish national identity, rather than a Belgium one and they promoted themselves more as the Flemish people than as Belgian.

The other part of the country was defined as the Belgian nation, which was developing its own sub-nation-building process. A part of the Belgian nation was made of Walloons, which did not have such a strong national identity as the Flemish. Although most French-speaking parties adapted their platforms to regional claims, they spoke for the Belgian people and they promoted their culture as Belgian.

This special situation of Belgium is best described by Francois Perin's statement that Belgium is "one state for two nations." This is the Belgian model that is so unique, the model of consociative democracy. However, the origins of this model do not lie in the national divide, but in a historically anterior and equally powerful cleavage, the one which opposes catholic and non-confessional citizens (Seiler,1999). In the nineteenth century, there was a permanent conflict between the right-wing catholic and the left-wing liberal segments. As the worker's movements emerged, the right-wing created its own worker movement, even creating trade-unions, cooperatives, etc., following the pattern of socialist movements. This led to a split in two from the very formation of the Belgian welfare state, and this state was based on two pillars. This led to two different sub-nations with very different identities and citizens were defined from birth as catholic or non-confessional, thus being part of one of the nations. Flanders was thus mainly a catholic pillar, while Wallonia was largely non-confessional.

This divide is more than the national divide presented before. It led to the formation of catholic sub-societies, irrespective of the citizens being Flemish or French-speaking. This was also the case for non-confessional societies. This type of situation creates a highly complex society, in which the classic majoritarian system can… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Nationalism National Building Process of Belgium Flemish.  (2006, November 27).  Retrieved April 3, 2020, from

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