Belgium: How Low Can a Low Country Get?

In the 15 years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, a messy series of events — international conferences, great-power land swaps, treaties, riots, military skirmishes, and, finally, a brief revolution — resulted in a redrawing of borders in the Low Countries and the establishment of a new country called Belgium. Even in the best of times, it was hardly a country, fatally divided into a French-speaking south and a Flemish-speaking north, whose residents had little sense of shared identity. If, when the European Union came along, the Belgians embraced the idea so ardently — and welcomed the transformation of their own capital into the capital of the EU — it was largely because they had far less of a sense of nationhood than their Western European neighbors, and felt, or hoped, that the EU would artificially supply something ineffable that their own history and culture had failed to give them.

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