Belgium's war and peace
Saturday 03 September 1994
But the street dances, the military tattoo, the blitz of the media coverage and the ceremonies of remembrance have only served to underline the extent to which the country is still at war with itself.
For many, the liberation (Belgium was not fully liberated until February 1945) was followed by the darkest days of the whole war as a populace once united against the enemy split again into its constituent parts and vengeful citizens settled scores.
The German-speaking cantons in the north-east, only Belgian after the First World War, were annexed in the second. After liberation, thousands of citizens were rounded up, beaten and imprisoned - the movement to suppress the region's language and culture intensified.
The resentment between French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish Flanders was played out in executions and summary displays of civilian justice.
For many Flemings, the horrors inflicted on them by Walloon officers in the First World War and the severe discrimination they suffered subsequently had stoked nationalist sentiments that fed on Nazi promises of an independent Flemish nation. Some joined up and others actively collaborated, as did the Francophone Rexists, who were intellectually attracted to Fascism.
At the end of the war, collaborators were harshly treated. The worst offenders were executed. Others were jailed, forced to pay reparations and fines and stripped off civic rights. Property could be sequestered, and pension rights abolished.
Over the years successive laws have rehabilitated all but some 600 or so pariahs and at the start of the year King Albert created a stir by suggesting they, too, be granted an amnesty. But his idea, which commands greater support in Flanders than in Wallonia, has merely unleashed all the old animosities.
Last weekend, at the so- called Ijzerbedevaart, 35,000 Flemish nationalists urged him to act and decried what was termed '50 years of Belgian intolerance'. The Ijzerbedevaart is the annual pilgrimage to a monument towering 85 metres above the Flemish plain commemorating the Flemish dead of the First World War. Anti-Flemish feeling ran so high in 1946 that the original tower was blown up.
It is a display of nationalist fervour on a par with old-style Afrikaner rallies, attracting Flemish politicians and mainstream voters as well as extremist elements that the authorities say they cannot stop attending. This year the theme was Brussels - capital of Flanders.
Under the federal reforms of last year, Belgium is now composed of autonomous regions. Brussels is a category on its own but Flemish nationalists still believe that it should be the capital of Flanders.
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 3 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 4 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 5 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
Tube strike July 2015: Is it still on? Everything you need to know about the industrial action
Eiji Tsuburaya: Godzilla co-creator honoured in today's interactive Google Doodle
Florida teacher sentenced to 22 years in prison for sexually abusing three pupils
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...