Celebration of a nation!

20th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

A King's speech, a military parade in the capital and street parties, this is how Belgium celebrates its Independence Day. We take a look at the events on offer and what the day signifies.

As complex of a nation it is, Belgium will celebrate its national holiday on Friday.


The 21 July annual street party occurs in spite of the linguistic mud-slinging and regional snatches for greater autonomy that tends to define the country on any other day.

Independence Day is therefore exactly that: the anniversary of when a united Belgium won its autonomy from the Kingdom of the Netherlands back in 1830.

Back then, the Francophone community and Flemish region united to defeat a common enemy: the Dutch in a short, but ultimately successful revolution.

Nowadays, Wallonia and Flanders tend to view the other as the 'enemy within'. In fact, the federated state of Belgium is sliding (inevitably it seems) towards a structured divide united only by bilingual Brussels.

Turbulent year

This year's national holiday will not carry the same significance as last year, when Belgium celebrated 175 years of independence and 25 years of federalism.

It remains a day of significance however and can serve as a chance to reflect on the achievements and disappointments of the past 12 months.

A brief glimpse at the past year cannot exclude Wallonia's hailed EUR 1.4 billion economic recovery plan or the reactionary protests to the federal government's youth employment and older worker retention plan, dubbed the 'generation pact'.

The terrorism trial in Brussels last November reminded the nation of an ever present threat, while a series of violent murders in the first half of this 2006 have alarmed the nation further, sending thousands into the street in peace marches.

Protests of another kind have seen illegal immigrants occupy churches across the country and stage hunger strikes in support of demands for a more humane immigration policy and a residency amnesty.

Federal government ministers have found themselves in hot water, particularly Interior Minister Patrick Dewael over the asylums issue and Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx over the escape or questionable parole of dangerous felons.

But there have also been some lighter moments, such as research indicating that 80pc of Belgian workers are happy at their workplace and the approaching October local elections in which long-term non-EU immigrants to Belgium will be granted the right to vote.

There have also been royal births and amid several upbeat economic forecasts in recent months, the Belgian employment rate was soaring at a record high last April.

Entry restrictions for workers from the new EU member states were partially lifted in June and gay couples have recently won adoption rights.

There is thus much to celebrate in a prosperous, largely peaceful and stable nation, but there is also much to contemplate as the nation looks to the upcoming local elections and the federal elections in 2007.

King's speech

On the eve of Independence Day, Belgian King Albert II traditionally delivers a public address to the nation and this year he placed strong emphasis on research and development to secure future economic prosperity.

It was also notable that the King broke with tradition by not directly addressing the public at the start of his speech.

Instead, Albert spoke about the various violent crimes that have shook Belgian society in recent months, expressing sympathy for the involved families.

"The dignified manner in which the involved families responded to their hard ordeal made an impression and created respect and admiration," he said.

King Albert II then focused on the economy, pointing to Europe's stated aim in which national governments would invest 3 percent of their budget into research and development. He said Belgium is not doing enough by only investing 2 percent.

In that respect, the King stressed the importance of education, encouraging youths to start scientific studies.

But languages, the hobby horse of the King, was not forgotten either as he cited academic studies indicating that bilingual children need less brain activity to perform the same task as what monolingual children do.

Brussels celebrates

The national holiday celebrations will focus on Brussels, where the Belgian military will perform its traditional parade in front of King Albert II, government ministers and distinguished guests.

The parade has grown into a public party in the adjoining streets and in the Warandepark, but the national holiday will start in the capital with a public ball on the Vossenplein starting at about 7.30pm on Thursday.

Between 10 and 11am on Friday, the public will be admitted for free to public institutes the Lower House of Parliament and the Senate, the Justice Palace and the Treasury.

Museums will open their doors for the symbolic price of EUR 1. These include, the Belvue Museum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België (Kunstberg), de Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten, het Museum voor Moderne Kunst and the archeological site of the Coudenberg. Entry to the Bozar is free.

The Main Synagogue of Brussels will be open to visitors in the afternoon, while sporting activities can be found in the Warandepark throughout the day (except during the military parade from 3-4pm).

At the 'police village' on the Grote Zavel, various police services will perform demonstrations and on the nearby Poelaertplein, daredevils can try the 'Death Ride' provided by the federal police.

At the Kunstberg, the federal police's Mac Donnell Douglas helicopter will be on display and several concerts will take place there throughout the day with tributes Johnny Holliday and in the evening, Jacques Brel.

Under the motto Feest dans la ville/Fête in de stad (Celebration in the City), Brussels will throw open its doors to the world. From 4pm, five small music festivals will start at various locations.

There is accordion music on the Oude Graanmarkt, folk music on the Sint-Rochusvoorplein on the Antwerpsesteenweg, Latino in Neder-over-Heembeek, African music in Laken and blues and ska in Haren.

Fireworks will signal an end to festivities from 11pm. They will be ignited from the gardens of the Paleis der Academieën and the best place to watch them will be on Koningsplein and in Koningsstraat.

From Tuesday, the public will also be able to visit the Koninklijk Paleis between 10am and 5pm until 10 September. The palace will be closed on Mondays.

A science exhibition and do-it-yourself centre for children will be set up in the palace, while afternoon workshops will also be held.

20 July 2006

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Belgian news

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