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The Flemish Region :
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The Flemish Community :
Official languageDutch
Minister-President Yves Leterme
 - Total

13,522 km2
 - In Flemish region
 - in Brussels region

6,016,024 (2004)
/- 200,000
Regional anthemDe Vlaamse Leeuw


Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen, French: Flandre or Flandres) has two main designations: a historical region (the County of Flanders), and an administrative region of Belgium (the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community). A more controversial designation is those parts of Belgium where Dutch is or was spoken, the community. This is the root of many communautary quibbles in Belgium. This designation finds its root in the romantic nationalism of the 19th century but later got a more peiorative meaning, which is now overcome. A related contentious point is the "historical legality" of calling the whole of present Flanders "Flanders", as this includes parts of the Duchy of Brabant and the Bishopric of Liège (Belgian Limburg).

The precise geographical area denominated by Flanders has changed a great deal over the centuries:

In the past, the term Flanders was applied to an area in western Europe, the County of Flanders (Graafschap Vlaanderen), spread over:

The significance of the County and its counts eroded through time, but the designation remained.

But even in the past there were instances where what is now Flanders was, in fact, referred to as Flanders.This is a point of some debate, however. But somewhere in the 19th century it became commonplace to call the area now known as Flanders, from Maasmechelen to De Panne as "Flanders". This usage started to find its modern usage in a "disambiguation" of the northern part of Belgium (la partie septentrionale), from 1831, the establishment of the Belgian monarchy, on.

At this time, for most, the term Flanders is normally taken to refer to a geographical area, one of the three regions in Belgium, namely the Flemish Region. This is Flanders' most accepted and general current designation.

For some others, including a part of the Flemings, Flanders is more than just a geographical area. It is the name of their community – some even call it a nation: a people of over 6 million living in the Flemish Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region, where they form a minority. All Flemings share the same political, cultural, scientific, educational and many social institutions (the main exceptions being those where the Belgian legislator imposes a Belgian-scale organisation). This community should not be confused with the institutionalised Flemish Community. Because Belgium is a federation (not a confederation), many Flemings wonder why this community is still used, because they see it as equivalent to the Flemish Community. But on the other hand, because the institutions of the Flemish Community are there for all citizens of the Flemish Region, including those who speak French, the community of Dutch speakers in Belgium is not totally identical to the Flemish Community. These notions are furthermore clouded by the great many francophonicised Flemings, whose "Flemish ancestry" is only evident from their family name. Some find the community kitsch, or even worse, tainted by history. Nevertheless, many Flemings identify themselves more with Flanders than with Belgium.

Administrative Flanders

Both the Flemish region as the Flemish Community are federal units of the Kingdom of Belgium. The area of this region and community are represented on the maps above. The Flemish Region has a population of around over 6 million. The Flemings in Brussels are estimated around 150,000 to 200,000 (official figures do not exist as there is no official subnationality).

As of 2005, the Flemish institutions as its government, parliament, etc. represent the whole Flemish Community, which absorbed all constitutional competencies of the Flemish region. The region thus has no parliament anymore, no ministers, and as good as no civil servants. All these institutions are based in Brussels.

The principal and official language spoken of all Flemish institutions is Dutch, although with some distinction from the dutch spoken in the Netherlands. these distinctions are much like those between American and British english, and in the case of Flanders, is called 'flemish'. Minorities speak French, Yiddish, Italian, Polish, Turkish, Berber, Arabic and other languages.

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Provinces of Flanders

The Flemish Region covers 13,522 km² and contains over 300 municipalities. It is divided into 5 provinces:

  1. Antwerp (Antwerpen)
  2. Limburg (Limburg)
  3. East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen)
  4. Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant)
  5. West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen)

Independently from the provinces, Flanders also has its own local institutions in the Brussels-Capital region, being the Vlaamse GemeenschapsCommissie (VGC), and its municipal antennae (Gemeenschapscentra, community centers for the Flemish community in Brussels). These institutions are independent from the educational, cultural and social institutions which depend directly from the Flemish governement.

Political Flanders

Main article: Politics of Flanders

Many new political parties during the last half century were founded in Flanders and most often in Antwerp: Daensism, progressive Christian-Democrats; Frontpartij & Volksunie, moderate nationalism; Agalev, alternative/Green; Vlaams Belang: far-right nationalism; and ROSSEM, a short-lived anarchistic spark).


See also: History of Belgium

Historical Flanders: County of Flanders

Main article: County of Flanders

Created in the year 862, the County of Flanders was divided when its western districts fell under French rule in the late 12th century. The remaining parts of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191. The entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy, in 1477 to the Habsburg dynasty, and in 1556 to the kings of Spain. The western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668, and 1678.

During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent and Bruges) made it one of the most urbanised parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export.

Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory's autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation (1300-1302), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk. Two years later, the uprising was defeated and Flanders remained part of the French Crown. Flemish prosperity waned in the following century, however, owing to widespread European population decline following the Black Death of 1348, the disruption of trade during the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War (1338-1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woollen industry.

Flanders -as it is known now- in the Low Countries

Main article: History of the Low Countries

The Reformation

Martin Luther's 95 Theses from 1517 had a profound effect on the Low Countries. Among wealthy Antwerpian traders, the Lutheran beliefs of the German Hanseatic traders found appeal, perhaps partly for economic reasons in Dutch (http://home.versateladsl.be/vt607832/hagepreek.htm#hagepreken). The spread of protestantism in this city was aided by the presence of an Augustinian cloister (founded 1514) in the St. Andries quarter: Luther's works were in print by 1518 and some monks studied under his tutelage. Charles V ordered the closing of this cloister around 1525. The first lutheran martyrs came from Antwerp. The reformation resulted in consecutive but overlapping waves of reform: a lutheran, followed by a militant anabaptist, later mennonite, and finally a calvinistic movement. These movements existed independently of each other.

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Low Countries as the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Holy Roman Empire and from France.

The schism between the southern Catholics and northern Calvinists resulted in the Union of Atrecht and the Union of Utrecht, respectively.

It was the iconoclasm of 1566 (the Beeldenstorm) – the demolition of statues and paintings depicting saints – that caused the final ire of the catholics. The Beeldenstorm started in what is now French Flanders with open-air masses (hagepreken) in Dutch (http://www.mdsk.net/jicono_nl.html). The first took place on the Cloostervelt near Hondschoote. The first larger mass was held near Boeschepe on Juli 12, 1562. These open-air masses, mostly of anabaptist or mennonite signature, spread through the country. On August 10, 1566 at the end of the pilgrimage from Hondschoote to Steenvoorde, the chapel of the Sint-Laurensklooster (Cloister of Saint Lawrence) was defamed by protestants. The iconoclasm resulted not only in the destruction of catholic art, but cost the lives of many priests also. It next spread to Antwerp, and on August 22, to Ghent. One cathedral, eight churches, twenty-five cloisters, ten hospitals and seven chapels were attacked. From there, it further spread east and north, but in total lasted not even a month.

Charles' son, King Philip II of Spain, a devout catholic and self-proclaimed protector of the Counter-Reformation who was also the duke or earl of each of the Seventeen Provinces, started to crack down on the rising Calvinists in Flanders, Brabant and Holland. What is now approximately Belgian Limburg was part of the Bishopric of Liège and was catholic de facto. Part of what is now Dutch Limburg supported the Union of Atrecht, but did not sign it.

The Eighty Years' War and its consequences

In 1568 the Seventeen that signed the Union of Utrecht started a (counter)rebellion against Philips II: the Eighty Years' War. Before the Low Countries could be completely reconquered, war between England and Spain broke out, forcing the Spanish troops under Philips II to halt their advances. Meanwhile, Philips' Spanish troops had conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent. Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world had to be conquered. On August 17, 1585, Antwerp fell. This ended the Eighty Years' War for the (from now on) Southern Netherlands. The United Provinces (the Netherlands proper) fought on until 1648 – the Peace of Westphalia. The definite loss of the southern Low Countries caused the rich Calvinist merchants of these cities to flee to the north. Many migrated to Amsterdam, which was at the time a tiny port, but was quickly transformed into one of the most important ports in the world in the 17th century. The exodus can be described as 'creating a new Antwerp'.

This mass immigration from Flanders and Brabant (especially Antwerp) was an important driving force behind the Dutch Golden Age. While Spain was at war with England, the rebels from the north, strengthened by refugees from the south, started a campaign to reclaim areas lost to Philips II's Spanish troops. They managed to conquer a considerable part of Brabant (the later Noord-Brabant of the Netherlands), Limburg and a small part of Flanders (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), before being stopped by Spanish troops. The frontline at the end of this war stabilized and became the current border between present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch (as they later became known) had managed to reclaim enough of Spanish king-controlled Flanders to close of the river the Scheldt, effectively closing Antwerp off from a significant trade route. Due to these events, Flanders and Brabant went into a relative decline in the 17th century. From the view of the sophisticated northerners and the present benefit of hindsight, it became a country of peasants and simple but happy folk. The potential to reclaim their wealth and prominent world position remained possible until just recently. Today Flanders is one of the most productive and wealthiest regions of the world.

Although arts remained at an relatively impressive level for another century with Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flanders experienced a loss of its former economic and intellectual power under Spanish, Austrian, and French rule, with heavy taxation and rigid imperial political control compounding the effects of industrial stagnation and Spanish-Dutch and Franco-Austrian conflict. But even in these circumstances Flanders continued to flourish. The only danger to its position as one of the wealthiest regions in the world came after Belgium became independent in 1830, with the 1845 famine in West Flanders as a sad example.

1581-1815: The Southern Netherlands

Conquered by revolutionary France in 1794 and annexed the following year as the départements of Lys, Escaut, Deux-Nèthes, Meuse-Inférieure and Dyle. The people rose against the French in 1798, the Boerenkrijg, with the heaviest fights in the Campine area. The main reason for this uprising was the forced army service for all men aged 16-25.

1815-1830: United Kingdom of the Netherlands

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo in Waterloo, Brabant, sovereignty over the Austrian Netherlands – Belgium minus the East Cantons and Luxembourg – was given by the Congress of Vienna (1815) to the Kingdom of Holland, a French puppet kingdom that succeded the United Provinces. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was born. The Protestant King of the Netherlands, William I succeeded in rapidly starting the industrialisation of the Southern Netherlands, but failed to maintain good relations with the larger and rebellious Catholic provinces. The Belgian bourgeoisie was not only Catholic, as opposed to the Protestant north, but they also spoke French, instead of Dutch. Resentment grew both among Catholics and among the powerful liberal bourgeoisie. It became a part of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1831 following the Belgian Revolution of the previous year.

Kingdom of Belgium

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution led to the splitting up of the two countries. Belgium was confirmed as an independent state by the Treaty of London of 1839, but deprived of the military strongholds of Maastricht and Givet. Givet is located in the indentation of the French border in Belgium, near the Meuse River. Sovereignty over Zeeuws Vlaanderen, south of the Westerscheldt river delta, was left with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which closed this river for any sea traffic to and from Antwerp harbour until 1863.

Rise of the Flemish Movement

See Flemish movement

World War I and its consequences

Flanders saw some of the greatest losses of life of the First World War including the battles of Ypres and the Somme. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties, the poppies that sprang up from the battlefield and that were immortalised in the poem In Flanders Fields, have become an emblem of human life lost in war. It is perfectly normal for poppies to invade disturbed arable ground. More important for the course of history is the resentment some felt of being used as cannon fodder, as a whole nation, and not as single soldiers.

Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities had taken several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly the experiences of the Dutch speaking soldiers on the front lead by French speaking officers catalysed Flemish emancipation. Their suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage and Wake of the Yser in Diksmuide at the monument of The Yser tower.

Right-Wing Nationalism in the interbellum and World War II

See VNV, Verdinaso, Dietsland, Voorpost, Cyriel Verschaeve

Communautary quibbles and the Egmont pact

See Egmont pact, Vlaams Blok, Voeren, José Happart, Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde

The community: Flemish language and culture

The standard language used in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands, i.e., Dutch. The Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are often referred together as Flemish (Vlaams in Dutch). Using Flemish to refer to dialectic language may be confusing as there are many different Flemish dialects that are sometimes mutually incomprehensible.

At first sight, Flemish culture is defined by its language. However, a distinctive Flemish literature as such does not exist. Books written by Flemings and by Dutchmen are read all over the Dutch-speaking areas, though most readers are able to distinguish the fine differences in vocabulary.

See also

External links

Communities, regions and provinces of Belgium Flag of Belgium

Communities: French Community of Belgium | Flemish Community in Belgium | German-speaking community of Belgium

Regions and provinces:

Flanders: Antwerp | East Flanders | Flemish Brabant | Limburg | West Flanders

Wallonia: Hainaut | Liège | Luxembourg | Namur | Walloon Brabant

Brussels-Capital Region


de:Flandern es:Flandes eo:Flandrio fr:Flandre gl:Flandes it:Fiandre nl:Vlaanderen ja:フランドル no:Flandern ro:Flandra sv:Flandern


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