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Belgium[edit]

For other uses, see Belgium (disambiguation).
Kingdom of Belgium
Koninkrijk België
Royaume de Belgique
Königreich Belgien
Motto: "Eendracht maakt macht"  (Dutch)
"L'union fait la force"  (French)
"Einigkeit macht stark"  (German)
"Strength through Unity"
Location of  SomeHuman/Sandbox4  (orange)– in Europe  (tan & white)– in the European Union  (tan)                  [Legend]
Location of  SomeHuman/Sandbox4  (orange)

– in Europe  (tan & white)
– in the European Union  (tan)                  [Legend]

Capital Brussels
50°54′N 4°32′E / 50.900°N 4.533°E / 50.900; 4.533
Largest metropolitan area Brussels Capital Region
Official languages Dutch, French, German
Government Federal constitutional monarchy and bicameral parliamentary democracy
• King
Albert II
Guy Verhofstadt
Independence
• Declared
October 4 1830
April 19, 1839
Area
• Total
30,528 km2 (11,787 sq mi) (139th)
• Water (%)
6.4
Population
• 2006 estimate
10.511.382[1]
(76th [2005])
• 2001 census
10,296,350
• Density
344.32/km2 (891.8/sq mi) (2006) (29th [2005])
GDP (PPP) 2004 estimate
• Total
$316.2 billion (30th)
• Per capita
$31,400 (12th)
Gini (2000) 33
medium · 33th
HDI (2004) Steady 0.945
Error: Invalid HDI value · 13th
Currency Euro ()1 (EUR)
Time zone UTC+1 (CET)
• Summer (DST)
UTC+2 (CEST)
Calling code 32
ISO 3166 code BE
Internet TLD .be²
  1. Prior to 1999: Belgian franc.
  2. The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states.

The Kingdom of Belgium is a country in northwest Europe bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France and for a short stretch by the North Sea. It is one of the founding and core members of the European Union and hosts its headquarters, as well as those of many other major international organizations, such as NATO. Belgium has a population of over ten-and-a-half million people, in an area of around 30,000 square kilometres (11,700 square miles).

Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is linguistically divided. The Dutch-speaking northern region, Flanders, houses 58% of the population. Another 10%, of which approximately 85% mainly uses French in public, inhabits the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital Region.[2][3] In this enclave within the Flemish Region however, neither language is the primary one for roughly half of the residents.[4][5][6] French is the language in the southern region Wallonia apart from most of the 73,000 inhabitants of its German-speaking Community.[7] This linguistic diversity often leads to political and cultural conflict and is reflected in Belgium's complex system of government and political history.[4][8][9][10]

Belgium derives its name from the Latin name of the northernmost part of Gaul, Gallia Belgica, named after a group of mostly Celtic tribes, Belgae.[11] Historically, Belgium has been a part of the Low Countries, which included the Netherlands and Luxembourg and used to cover a somewhat larger region than the current Benelux group of states. From the end of the Middle Ages until the seventeenth century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture. From the sixteenth century until the Belgian revolution in 1830, the area at that time called the Southern Netherlands, was the site of many battles between the European powers, and has been dubbed "the battlefield of Europe"[12] and "the cockpit of Europe".[13] Upon its independence Belgium eagerly participated at the Industrial Revolution, bringing relative wealth which further increased during the era of its African colonies.

History[edit]

Main article: History of Belgium

Over the past two millennia, the area that is now known as Belgium has seen significant demographic, political and cultural upheavals. The first well-documented population move was the conquest of the region by the Roman Republic in the first century BC, followed in the fifth century by the Germanic Franks. The Franks established the Merovingian kingdom, which became the Carolingian Empire in the eighth century. During the Middle Ages the Low Countries were split into many small feudal states. Largely united in the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the house of Burgundy, the Burgundian Netherlands gained a degree of autonomy. Charles Quint completed the unification of the Seventeen Provinces in the 1540s.[14]

The Seventeen Provinces (orange, brown and yellow areas) and the Bishopric of Liège (green area).

The course of history of the present-day countries Belgium and Luxembourg is distinguishable from that of the Netherlands from the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) onwards, as of the division into the northernly United Provinces and the Southern Netherlands. The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs, and —until independence— sought after by numerous French conquerors and the theatre of most Franco-Spanish and Franco-Austrian wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Following the Campaigns of 1794 in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Low Countries —including territories that were never under Habsburg rule, such as the Bishopric of Liège— were overrun by France, ending Spanish-Austrian rule in the region. The reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the end of the French Empire in 1815.

The 1830 Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic and neutral Belgium under a provisional government and a national congress. Since the installation of Leopold I as king in 1831, Belgium has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Initially an oligarchy characterized mainly by the Catholic Party and the Liberals, by World War II the country had evolved towards universal suffrage, the Labour Party had risen, and trade unions already played a strong role. French as single official language and adopted by the nobility and the bourgeoisie, had lost its overall importance as Dutch had become recognized as well, but only in 1967 an official Dutch version of the Constitution was accepted.[15]

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830 (1834)
by Egide Charles Gustave Wappers,
in the Ancient Art Museum, Brussels.

The Berlin Conference of 1885 agreed to hand over Congo to King Leopold II as his private possession, called the Congo Free State. In 1908, it was ceded to Belgium as a colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo. Belgium's neutrality was violated in 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium as part of the Schlieffen Plan. The former German colonies then called Ruanda-Urundi —now Rwanda and Burundi— were occupied by the Belgian Congo in 1916, and mandated to Belgium in 1924 by the League of Nations. Belgium was again invaded by Germany in 1940 during the blitzkrieg offensive, and occupied until its liberation by Allied troops in the winter of 1944–45. During the Congo Crisis, the Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960; two years later followed by Ruanda-Urundi.

After World War II, Belgium joined NATO, headquartered at Brussels, and formed the Benelux group of nations with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In 1951 Belgium became one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, and since 1957 of the European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community, now the European Union for which the country hosts a major part of the administrations and institutions, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the extraordinary and committee sessions of the European Parliament.

Government and politics[edit]

Main article: Politics of Belgium
See also: Belgian federal parliament, Belgian federal government, and Political parties in Belgium
Further information: List of Belgian monarchs, List of Belgian Prime Ministers, Foreign relations of Belgium

Belgium is a constitutional popular monarchy and parliamentary democracy. During the twentieth century, and in particular since World War II, Belgian politics were increasingly dominated by the autonomy of its two main communities. This period saw a rise in intercommunal tensions, and the unity of the Belgian state came under scrutiny.[8] Through constitutional reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, regionalisation of the unitary state led to a federation as a three-tiered system of federal, regional, and linguistic community governments, a compromise designed to minimize mainly linguistic cultural tensions.

The federal bicameral parliament is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The former is a mix of directly elected senior politicians and representatives of the communities and regions; while the latter represents all Belgians over the age of eighteen in a proportional voting system. Belgium is one of the few countries that has compulsory voting, thus having one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the world.[16] The federal government, having obtained the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives and to be led by the Prime Minister, is formally nominated by the King, head of state with limited prerogatives. The numbers of Dutch- and French-speaking ministers are equal as prescribed by the Constitution.[17] Actual power is vested in the Prime Minister and the different governments. The judicial system is based on civil law and originates from the Napoleonic code. The Court of Appeal is one level below the Court of Cassation.

Guy Verhofstadt, Prime Minister of mainly Liberal - Social Democrat governments for two full terms

Belgium's political institutions are complex; most political power is organized around the need to represent the main language communities. Since around 1970, the significant national Belgian political parties have split into distinct components that mainly represent the interests of these communities (that is to say along political as well as linguistic fronts). The major parties in each community, though close to the political centre, belong to three main families: the right-wing Liberals, the social conservative Christian Democrats, and the Socialists as left-wing. Other important, and younger, parties are the Green party and —nowadays mainly in Flanders— nationalist parties, in particular after a steady rise of the far right separatist party Vlaams Blok, which upon a conviction by Belgium's highest court of promoting racism was immediately superseded by Vlaams Belang, against which also by this new name the other parties except VLOTT —a fortuynist minor newcomer at the 2006 municipal elections— maintain a cordon sanitaire.[18][19] Politics is influenced by lobby groups, such as trade unions and business interests in the form of the Trade Federation of Enterprises in Belgium.

King Albert II succeeded Baudouin in 1993. The series of coalitions since 1958 with the Christian Democrats was broken by normally scheduled 1999 elections which had been immediately preceded by the first dioxin crisis, a major food intoxication scandal which also led to the establishment of the Belgian Food Agency.[20][21] An atypically large representation by the Greens in parliament gave light to the 'rainbow coalition' of six parties, Liberal - Social Democrat - Green from both north and south, and greater emphasis on environmental politics during the first government led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from the VLD. One Green policy, for example, resulted in nuclear phase-out legislation — which became modified during Verhofstadt's second term in office, then with the four-party 'purple coalition' of Liberals and Social Democrats elected in 2003.[22][23]

A significant accomplishment of the two successive Verhofstadt governments has been the achievement of a balanced budget; Belgium is one of the few member-states of the EU to have done so. A policy towards this end had been applied by the successive governments during the 1990s under pressure from the European Council. The absence of Christian Democrats from the ranks of the government has enabled Verhofstadt to tackle social issues from a more liberal point of view and to develop new legislation on the use of soft drugs, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. During both terms the government has promoted active diplomacy in Africa,[24] it opposed a military intervention during the Iraq disarmament crisis, and has passed legislation concerning war crimes. The major points of contention between Belgian communities during Verhofstadt's terms, have been the nocturnal air traffic routes at Brussels Airport and the status of the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde.

Communities and regions[edit]

Main article: Communities, regions and language areas of Belgium
Vlaamse GemeenschapLocatie.png
Flemish Community
(Dutch-speaking)
Franse GemeenschapLocatie.png
French Community
(French-speaking)
Duitstalige GemeenschapLocatie.png
German-speaking
Community
Vlaams GewestLocatie.png
Flemish Region
Wallonia (Belgium).png
Walloon Region

BelgiumBrussels.png
Brussels-Capital
Region

The 1993 revision of the country's constitution builds on the in 1962–63 determined four language areas (taalgebieden in Dutch, Sprachgebiete in German), occasionally called linguistic regions (régions linguistiques in French),[25] to establish a unique federal state with competences at three levels:

  1. The federal government, based in Brussels.
  2. The three language communities:
  3. The three regions:

Conflicts between the bodies are resolved by the Constitutional Court of Belgium. The setup allows a compromise so distinctly different cultures can live together peacefully.

At the creation of the Communities and Regions in 1980, the Flemish politicians decided to merge both, hence in the Flemish Region a single institutional body of parliament and government is competent for all except federal and specific municipal matters.[26] The overlapping boundaries of the Regions and Communities have created two notable peculiarities: the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region (which came to be nearly a decade after the other regions) is included in both Flemish and French Communities, and the territory of the German-speaking Community lies wholly within the Walloon Region. Flemish and Walloon regions are furthermore subdivided in administrative entities, the provinces.

Linguistic region Authorities rendering services in the language of Authority, limited to their respective competences, of
individuals & organisations expressing themselves the Communities the Regions (and their provinces) the
Federal
government
in Dutch in French in German Flemish French German-
speaking
Flemish Walloon Brussels-
Capital
Dutch language area obviously facilities (12) not required × - - × - - ×
French language area facilities (4) obviously facilities (2) - × - - × - ×
Bilingual area Brussels-Capital obviously obviously not required × × - - - × ×
German language area not required facilities (all 9) obviously - - × - × - ×
  Facilities exist only in specific municipalities near the borders of the Flemish with the Walloon and with the Brussels-Capital Regions,
and in Wallonia also in 2 municipalities bordering its German language area as well as for French-speakers throughout the latter area.
Within parentheses: number of municipalities with special status, i.e. required to offer facilities for speakers of the column's language.

The Federal State retains a considerable "common heritage". This includes justice, defence, federal police, social security, monetary policy, public debt and other aspects of public finances, nuclear energy, State-owned companies (such as the Post Office and —an exception on regionalized transport— Belgian Railways). It is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalized institutions towards the European Union and NATO. It controls substantial parts of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs.[27]

Communities exercise competences only within linguistically determined geographical boundaries, originally oriented towards the individuals of a Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education, the use of the relevant language. Extensions to personal matters less directly attributed to the language comprise health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.)[28]

Regions have authority in fields connected with their territory in the widest meaning of the term, thus relating to the economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, and foreign trade. They supervise the provinces, municipalities and intercommunal utility companies.[29]

In several fields, the different levels each have their own say on specificities. On education for instance, the autonomy of the Communities does neither include decisions about the compulsory aspect nor setting minimum requirements for awarding qualifications, which remain federal matters.[27] Each level can be involved in scientific research and international relations associated with its powers.[28][29]

Geography, climate, and environment[edit]

Main article: Geography of Belgium

Belgium, with a land area of 30,528 square kilometres (33,990 km² in total), has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west, the central plateau, and the Ardennes uplands in the south-east. The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level that have been reclaimed from the sea, from which they are protected by dikes or, further inland, by fields that have been drained with canals. The second geographical region, the central plateau, lies further inland. This is a smooth, slowly rising area that has many fertile valleys and is irrigated by many waterways. Here one can also find rougher land, including caves and small gorges. Belgium shares borders with France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km and Netherlands 450 km.

High Fens in the Ardennes.

The third geographical region, called the Ardennes, is more rugged than the first two. It is a thickly forested plateau, very rocky and not very good for farming, which extends into northern France and in Germany where it is named Eifel. This is where much of Belgium's wildlife can be found. Belgium's highest point, the Signal de Botrange, is located in this region at only 694 metres (2,277 ft).

The climate is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb). The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 °C (37 °F), and highest in July with 18 °C (64 °F); the average precipitation per month varies between 54 millimetres (2.1 in) in February or April, to 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in July.[30] Averages for the years 2000 till 2006 show for daily temperatures a minimum of 7 °C (45 °F) and a maximum of 14 °C (57 °F), for monthly rainfall 74 millimetres (2.9 in), which are about 1 degree centigrade and nearly 10 millimetres above last century's normal values.[31]

Because of its high population density, location in the centre of Western Europe, and inadequate political effort, Belgium faces serious environmental problems. A 2003 report suggested Belgian rivers to have the lowest water quality of the 122 countries studied.[32]

Economy[edit]

Main article: Economy of Belgium

Densely populated, Belgium is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialized regions, which helps to explain its place amongst the world's ten largest trading nations despite its small size, and with a highly productive work force its world leadership in export per capita.[12] Currently, the Belgium economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature with a dynamic Flemish part and Brussels as its main multilingual and multi-ethnic centre and a GNP/person which is one of the highest in the European Union,[citation needed] and a Walloon economy that lags roughly one quarter behind (in GNP/person).

Steelmaking along the Meuse River at Ougrée, near Liège.

Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 1800s.[33] Liège and Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis and there was famine in Flanders (1846–50). After World War II, Ghent and Antwerp experienced a fast expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession, in particular prolonged in Wallonia where the steel industry had become less competitive and has experienced serious decline.[34] In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the country continued to shift northwards, where it is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area.[35]

By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had resulted in a cumulative government debt of about 120% of GDP. Currently, budget is in balance and public debt is equal to 90.30% of GDP (2006).[36] In 2005 and 2006 the real growth rate of GDP at 1.5% and 3.0% respectively, was slightly above the average for the euro area; the unemployment rate of 8.4% in 2005 was under the same area's average, but came above that in 2006, though decreased to 8.2%.[37]

Belgium has a particularly open economy.[12] It has developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways and roads to integrate its industry with that of its neighbours. The Port of Antwerp is the second-largest European port and Zeebrugge, the modern port of Bruges, is an important European port as well. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate the member economies. In 1999, Belgium adopted the euro, the single European currency, which fully replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. The Belgian economy is strongly oriented towards foreign trade, in particular of high value-added goods. The main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. The main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union — the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union. Its main trading partners are Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Spain. Belgium ranks thirteenth on the 2006 United Nations Human Development Index.

Demographics[edit]

Main article: Demographics of Belgium

By New Year 2004 nearly 92 percent of the Belgian population had the country's nationality and 5.5 percent were citizens of the earliest 15 members of the European Union. The more prevalent foreign nationals were Italians (183,021), French (114,943), Dutch (100,700), Moroccans (81.763), Spanish (43,802), Turkish (41.336), and Germans (35,530).[38]

Main areas and places in Belgium

Urbanisation[edit]

Almost all of the population is urban (97.2% in 2004).[39] Statistics of 1991 indicate for Flanders and Wallonia, two out of three inhabitants to be proprietors of their dwelling, in the Brussels-Capital Region 40%.[40] The population density of Belgium is 342 per square kilometre (886 per square mile) — one of the highest in Europe, after that of the Netherlands and some microstates such as Monaco. The most densely inhabited area is the Flemish Diamond, outlined by the Antwerp-Leuven-Brussels-Ghent agglomerations. The Ardennes have the lowest density. As of 2006, the Flemish Region has a population of about 6,078,600, with as most inhabited cities Antwerp (457,749), Ghent (230,951) and Bruges (117,251); Wallonia 3,413,978 with Charleroi (201,373), Liège (185,574) and Namur (107.178); Brussels houses 1,018,804 in the Capital Region's 19 municipalities, two of which have over 100,000 residents.[1]

Languages[edit]

Both the Dutch spoken in Belgium and the Belgian French have minor differences in vocabulary and semantic nuances from the varieties spoken in the Netherlands and France. Many people still speak dialects of Dutch in their local environment. Walloon, once the main regional language of Wallonia, is now only understood and spoken occasionally, mostly by elderly people. Its dialects, along with those of Picard,[41] are not used in public life.

There are no official statistics on Belgium's three official languages (or their dialects) that inhabitants prefer. As no census exists, such is not always simply established for an individual (language of which parent or of which years of education). Figures here given for Dutch, French or German include foreign immigrants and their children for whom neither is necessarily the primary language : 59%[42] of the Belgian population, being 6.23 million people in the north, mainly in the region Flanders, speaks Dutch (while Belgians of both major language groups often refer to it as Flemish) ; French is spoken by 40%, comprising 3.32 million in the southern region Wallonia and an estimated 0.87 million or 85% of the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital Region[2][3] — in which enclave encompassed by the Flemish Region thus a minority of perhaps 0.15 million speaks Dutch, its local language till shortly before Belgium's independence.[9][10][2][3] With recent immigration having caused 56.5% of the capital region's population to be of foreign origin, usually natively neither French nor Dutch-speaking, neither official language is the primary one for roughly half of the inhabitants (though 74% has the Belgian nationality).[4][5][43] In general the population of Brussels is younger and the gap between rich and poor is wider. Of the 73,000 people of the German-speaking Community in the east of the Walloon Region, around 10,000 German and 60,000 Belgian nationals are speakers of German; roughly 23,000 more of its speakers live in municipalities near the official Community.[7][44]

In 2006, the French Community's coheir of Belgium's oldest university published a survey report calling Flanders' leadership in speaking multiple languages "undoubtedly wellknown", and showing this lead to be considerable : 59% of the Flemish respondents can speak French and 53% English; of the Walloons on the other hand, merely 19% Dutch and 17% English; of the Brussels' residents, 95% declare to be able to speak French, 59% Dutch, and 41% the non-local English. Significant in an increasingly globalizing epoch, in their respective regions 59, 10, and 28 percent of people under forty can speak all three languages. In each region, Belgium's third official language, German, is notably less known than any of this survey's forementioned ones.[45][4]

Education[edit]

See also: Education in Belgium

Education is compulsory from six to eighteen, but many Belgians continue to study until they attain about 23 years of age. Among the OECD countries in 2002, Belgium had the third-highest proportion of 18–21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education, at 42 percent.[46] Though an estimated 98 percent of the adult population is literate, concern is rising over functional illiteracy.[41][47] Highly politicized conflicts between freethought and Catholic segments of the population during the 1950s, caused education to be split into a secular branch controlled by the Community, the province, or the municipality, and a religious, mainly Catholic branch organized by religious authorities though subsidized and supervised by the Community.[48]

Religion[edit]

See also: Religion in Belgium

Since independence, Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics. The laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The monarchy has a reputation of deep Catholicism, for instance having required the then christian-democrat Prime Minister Martens to have former King Baudouin declared 'temporarily unfit to reign' in order to enpower a law opposed by Rome after it had been passed by both chambers.[49] Nevertheless, symbolically and materially the Roman Catholic Church stays in a favourable position, and the concept of 'recognized religion' caused a tedious path for Islam to become at the level of Jewish and Protestant religions, other minority religions such as Buddhism do not yet have such status.[48][50][51] According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion,[52] about 47 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church while Islam is the second-largest religion at 3.5 percent. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered more religious than Wallonia, showed 55% to call themselves religious, 36% believe that God created the world.[53]

Science and technology[edit]

Gerardus Mercator

Historical contributions to the development of science and technology continue through the Belgian era. Cartographer Gerardus Mercator, anatomist Andreas Vesalius, herbalist Rembert Dodoens, and mathematician Simon Stevin are among the most influential scientists from the beginning of the Early Modern Age in the Low Countries. Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1846. At the end of the nineteenth century, in applied science, the chemist Ernest Solvay and the engineer Zenobe Gramme have given their names to the Solvay process and the Gramme dynamo. Georges Lemaître is credited with proposing the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in 1927. Three Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have been awarded to Belgians: Jules Bordet in 1919, Corneille Heymans in 1938, and Albert Claude and Christian De Duve in 1974. Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977.[54]

Culture[edit]

Main article: Culture of Belgium

Belgian cultural life has tended to concentrate within each community.[55][56] The shared element is less important, because there are no bilingual universities besides the Royal Military Academy, no common media, and no single, common large cultural or scientific organisation where both main communities are represented.

The region corresponding to today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence over European art. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish,[57] the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting,[58] and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture,[59] and the Renaissance vocal music of the Franco-Flemish School[60] developed in the southern part of the Low Countries, are milestones in the history of art. Famous names in this classic tradition are Jan van Eyck, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. This rich artistic production, as a whole usually referred to with little distinction between Flemish and Dutch, gradually declined during the second half of the seventeenth century ; high quality tapestry however, continued to be created till well into the eighteenth.[61][62] In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters such as Egide Wappers, James Ensor, Constant Permeke and René Magritte appeared, as well as the CoBrA movement, and Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art.[63][64]

In music, Henri Vieuxtemps, Eugène Ysaÿe and Arthur Grumiaux were major nineteenth- and twentieth-century violinists. The first Belgian singer to successfully pursue an international career is the pioneer of varieté and pop music Bobbejaan Schoepen.[65] Jazz musician Toots Thielemans is world famous, so are the singers Jacques Brel and Italy-born Adamo.[66] In rock/pop music, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Front 242 and dEUS are well known.[67] In architecture, Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style.[68][69] In literature, Belgium has produced several well-known authors, such as the poets Emile Verhaeren and novelists Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon and Suzanne Lilar. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. The best known Franco-Belgian comics are The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé but many other major authors of comics have been Belgian, including Peyo (the smurfs), André Franquin, Edgar P. Jacobs and Willy Vandersteen. Belgian cinema, often showing influences by Dutch or French cinema, brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to new life.[70] The absence of a major Belgian cinema company has forced several talented directors to emigrate, or participate in low-budget productions such as Marc Didden's Brussels by Night (1983).[71] Other Belgian directors include André Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; actors include Jan Decleir, Marie Gillain; and films include Man Bites Dog and The Alzheimer Affair.[72] In the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six.[73] On the contemporary art scene, Belgian artists such as Jan Fabre and the painter Luc Tuymans are internationally renowned.

The Gilles of Binche, in costume, wearing wax masks

Folklore plays a major role in Belgium's cultural life: the country has a comparatively high number of processions, cavalcades, 'ommegangs' and 'ducasses',[74] and local festivals and kermesse, nearly always with a religious background that nowadays often has become (all but) forgotten. The Carnival of Binche with its famous Gilles, and the 'Processional Giants and Dragons' of Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons are recognized by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.[75] Other examples are the Carnival of Aalst; the still very religious processions of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Virga Jesse in Hasselt, and Hanswijk in Mechelen; the August 15 festival in Liège; and the Walloon festival in Namur. A major non-official holiday is the Saint Nicholas Day, a festivity for the children and, in Liège, of the students.[76]

Football and cycling are especially popular. Among the wellknown cyclists, Eddy Merckx is considered one of the best cyclists ever because of his five victories of the Tour de France and numerous other bicycle races as well as for his several records, in particular the hour speed record in 1972 that lasted twelve years. Belgium has two current female tennis champions: Kim Clijsters (who, at less than 24 years of age, on 2007-05-06 decided her tennis career to have ended),[77] and Justine Henin. The Spa-Francorchamps motor-racing circuit is home to the Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix. Belgium's most notable racing driver is Jacky Ickx, winner of eight Grands Prix and six times winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Belgium has also a strong reputation in motocross with many world champions, among others Roger De Coster, Joel Robert, Georges Jobé, Eric Geboers and Stefan Everts.

Belgium is well known for its cuisine.[78] Many highly ranked restaurants can be found in the high-impact gastronomic guides, such as the Michelin Guide.[79] Brands of Belgian chocolate, like Neuhaus, and Godiva, are world renowned and widely sold. In addition to chocolate, Belgian sweets have a reputation of very high quality. Confiserie Roodthooft in Antwerp produces the famous 'Mokatine', also known as the 'Arabier'. Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer. The biggest brewery in the world by volume is Inbev based in Belgium.[80] Belgians have a reputation for loving waffles and French fried potatoes, both assumed to have originated in their country. The national dishes are steak-fries and lettuce, and mussels-fries.[81]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

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General online sources[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

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External links[edit]

See also: section References, subsection General online sources

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  1. ^ "Structuur van de bevolking — België / Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest / Vlaams Gewest / Waals Gewest / De 25 bevolkingsrijkste gemeenten (2000–2006)" (asp) (in Dutch). Belgian Federal Government Service (ministry) of Economy — Directorate-general Statistics Belgium. © 1998/2007. Retrieved 2007-05-23.  Check date values in: |date= (help)