Flamenpolitik (German; "Flemish policy") is the name for certain policies pursued by German authorities occupying Belgium during World War I and World War II. The ultimate goal of these policies was the dissolution of Belgium into separate Walloon and Flemish components.
The German authorities aimed to exploit the longstanding linguistic problems in Belgium, particularly the systematic discrimination towards the Dutch language present in Belgium that existed before World War I. The policy was also based on Pan-Germanism. Kossmann concludes that the German policy of fostering separatism in Flanders was a failure well before the German surrender because it did not win popular support.
World War I
In the beginning, Flamenpolitik consisted only of an effort to translate the laws of Germany into the languages of Belgium. However, in 1916, a new plan was developed with the idea that Belgium should never again be an obstacle to German advancement and that Germany should be surrounded by weak buffer states open to German influence. This plan required a separate Flemish state not subject to Walloon influence, and thus necessitated much more radical measures than had yet been taken.
The first solely Dutch-speaking university (Von Bissing University) was established in Ghent, named after the German military governor Moritz von Bissing. German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg encouraged Flemish nationalist leaders to declare independence and to integrate into the German sphere; at the same time, the German occupying forces were helped and encouraged by Walloon and Flemish nationalist movements.
Von Bissing convened a commission to organise the division of the country, and in a decree issed on March 21, 1917, separated Belgium into two administrative areas: Flanders and Wallonia. A Flemish government, known as the Raad van Vlaanderen or RVV, was established. Taking into account the 1912 decision by Walloon nationalists to recognize Namur as the most central city of Wallonia, he established the Walloon administration there. Wallonia then consisted of four southern Belgian provinces and one part of the province of Brabant: the district of Nivelles, realizing also another revendication of the Walloon movement: the creation of the Walloon Brabant. The Flemish region had Brussels as its capital, and was made up of the four northern provinces of Belgium, as well as the districts of Brussels and Leuven. This was the first attempt at dividing Belgium along linguistic lines.
The geographical basis for the country's division was largely inspired by the federalist goals of the Flemish and Walloon nationalist movements, and divisions along similar lines were advanced later by the same movements. In the present day, after the federalisation of Belgium, the Flemish Community and Wallonia have the same capitals and almost the same territory as the administrative entities of Flamenpolitik.
World War II
As part of this policy, the German authorities decided to release all Flemish NCOs and reservists who were made prisoners of war after the Belgian surrender. Any soldier of these categories who passed a linguistic test was theoretically entitled to an Entlassungschein, allowing him to return home.
However, in practice this was extended preferentially to Flemish soldiers, while Walloon soldiers frequently remained in POW camps until the end of the war. That policy was intended to exacerbate internal Belgian conflicts and foster support for the German occupiers in the north of Belgium. Implementation was made easier by the fact that in 1938 the Belgian army had been divided into Flemish and Walloon regiments.
The German regime decided to take the next step for the wartime Flamenpolitik in 1944 by initiating the total annexation of both the Flemish and Walloon sections of Belgium as full-fledged provinces of the German Reich: the Reichsgaue Flandern and Wallonien. The bicultural capital of Brussels was maintained as special district under the authority of a Reichskommissar.
- E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries: 1780-1940 (1978) p 528
- F.L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism (London: Methuen & Co, 1974), pp. 205-9