Skip to comments.Patriots for Themselves (Belgium, the Maine of Europe)
Posted on 02/07/2006 4:20:22 PM PST by robowombat
Patriots for Themselves By John O'Sullivan Published 1/6/2006 12:04:44 AM
A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianization of Europe by Paul Belien (Imprint Academic, 384 pages, $49)
IN THE LAST FEW YEARS Belgian politicians have passed a law empowering them to arrest anyone for crimes committed anywhere, threatened to put Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, under its provisions, generously amended the legislation slightly when Donald Rumsfeld said that NATO would have to move from Brussels if it remained on the books, and in general thrown about the weight of a much larger nation. Exactly how did the home of moules-frites and child rape acquire notions of such undeserved grandeur? Will this extraordinary non-nation prove to be the model for a united Europe? And how should the U.S. and its closest allies react to this possibility?
Paul Belien answers these questions in a consistently shocking book that begins with a shocking little historical curiosity. It reveals that Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, is now thought to be the illegitimate son of his supposed uncle, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later King of the Belgians. Prince Albert is known to history as the man who achieved a perfect family life with Queen Victoria, brought a German seriousness to the court at Windsor, and all but invented British respectability. Yet his biological father, Leopold, was a practiced rouÃ© who, while in the service of Napoleon, serviced the Empress Josephine (and her daughter) among others, writing home with happy surprise to his sister: "Here if you ask a lady to be seated, she goes to bed. That is the habit here."
How different, how very, very different, from the home life of his own dear daughter-in-law.
Despite their temperamental differences the father did right by Albert -- and by his other bastards, and even by his legitimate children too. Leopold helped to put Albert next to a throne, if not on it, by his intrigues to match him with Victoria. By the end of the 19th century, other descendants of Leopold occupied the thrones of Belgium, Bulgaria, and Portugal. Today Saxe-Coburgs occupy two royal thrones in Britain and Belgium and one prime ministerial limousine in post-communist Bulgaria. Not a bad record for a penniless princeling from a small German province. How did Leopold do it?
He was a marital entrepreneur. Good-looking, aristocratic, greedy, shrewd, and a second son, Leopold saw that the quickest way to wealth and position would be to marry both. So, after a brief career of social soldiering, first on Napoleon's side and then serving the Russian Tsar, Leopold set out to find "a suitable gel" in postwar London. With the covert assistance of another high-placed mistress (this time the Russian Tsar's sister), he outmaneuvered other suitors to win Princess Charlotte, daughter of Britain's George IV.
Charlotte was very suitable indeed. Their marriage gave Leopold British nationality, the rank of Field-Marshal, a lifetime annual stipend of 50,000 pounds ($6.25 million in today's money), and various grand houses in London and Europe. There was a bonus too -- Leopold liked Charlotte. They were happy. He was in line to exercise the power of the boudoir over the world's dominant power. All was set fair.
Then he suffered one of the few blows in a charmed life. Charlotte died giving birth to a still-born child. Leopold was briefly sad but permanently rich. He had the lifetime British pension which he had invested well. Money, however, was not enough. He wanted to own a country too -- thus outranking his brother, Duke Ernst, as well as cuckolding him. With the help of British ministers who hoped to offload this financial liability onto some other polity, he contrived to be offered the Kingdom of Greece. Then he had second thoughts -- Greece was far away and unstable -- and turned it down.
He had taken a right royal risk. One year later, however, events justified him. French-speaking Catholic rebels in the southern Netherlands rose up against the Protestant House of Orange in an attempt to unite their provinces with France. London could not allow Paris to extend its territory so far up the English Channel. The diplomatic compromise eventually reached was to create a new country, Belgium; to give it to Leopold; and to guarantee its borders by an international treaty.
That treaty ultimately dragged Britain into the First World War and thus ensured its genocidal longevity. For the moment, however, it solved the crisis. Leopold entrenched the diplomatic compromise by marrying the daughter of the French king. This marriage, contracted before his second (and abandoned) wife's suicide, was probably bigamous. But kings are rarely convicted of small crimes. So, at the age of 40, Leopold had achieved all he desired -- "King, Cawdor, Glamis, and all!"
AS SO OFTEN, THOUGH, there was a drawback. Leopold was king of a territory rather than a nation. Belgium was an artificial construction built for the convenience of greater powers. It was divided between French-speakers in the south and Flemish-speakers in the north. Neither group was loyal to Belgium or to Leopold. As Mr. Belien puts it, "Some loved France, some loved the Netherlands, others loved their local Flemish or Walloon communities, but no one loved Belgium. Those who defended Belgium did so because it was their gravy train. One of these was Leopold."
Members of his family accounted for a very high proportion of the rest.
If there is a scalier royal family than the Belgian branch of the Saxe-Coburgs, the news has yet to reach Debretts. They make the Borgias look like pickpockets and Richard III like a philanthropist. Leopold started the trend. He bribed leading politicians to keep them loyal. He dealt with opposition supporters of the House of Orange by having the military attack them and burn their homes. He made the Catholic Church into a virtual agent of his monarchy by affecting to be its protector. He was the secret owner of two newspapers (one conservative, one liberal) whose editorial line followed his direct instructions. He amassed a vast fortune by misusing government funds for his private interests.
Leopold II achieved the remarkable feat of being even worse than his father. Dissatisfied with the relative modesty of his kingdom, he set out to build an empire by stealth. Telling the other European powers that he wanted to end slavery in the Congo, he seized an area of central Africa equal to one-third of the continental U.S., gave it to a private commercial company controlled by himself, and set about making all of the natives there his slaves. This personal empire recognized no limits in its ruthless exploitation of people and resources. The Congolese were forced to labor for the Crown without pay. Draconian taxes were imposed on them. Failure to pay led to such punishments as the lopping-off of hands, the rape of wives, the incarceration of children, and of course execution. By such methods Leopold halved the population of the Congolese Free State (CFS) over a period in which the value of a share in his company rose from Francs 500 to Francs 22,500.
His brutalities were eventually uncovered by the campaigning journalist, E.D. Morel, and the British civil servant (and later Irish Nationalist gun-runner), Sir Roger Casement. Morel, as a young shipping clerk, had noticed that ships coming from the Congo were loaded with ivory and rubber while those going there contained little more than guns and ammunition. Morel and Casement were even better at PR than Leopold. Between them they made his rule an international scandal. Under strong pressure, the Belgian government took over the colony -- not, however, before Leopold had destroyed all its accounts.
Only one piece of documentation survived: an official report into the CFS that had been quietly shelved by the Belgian government. As late as the 1980s, it was withheld from researchers because it might damage Belgium's reputation. It has since provided the evidence of Leopold's extraordinary cruelties for Mr. Belien and earlier historians.
Albert I has enjoyed a rather better historical reputation than his two successors. He is remembered as the brave king who led gallant little Belgium in its resistance to the Kaiser in 1914. This reputation is seriously undermined by Mr. Belien, however, who cites chapter and verse to show that Albert secretly sought a separate peace with the Germans on several occasions. Only when the tide definitely turned in July 1918 did Albert allow Belgian troops to take part in an Allied offensive -- the first time they had done so in a war in which the Allies had come to Belgium's assistance.
But this wavering was less treacherous than the behavior of Albert's son, Leopold III, who stayed in Belgium in 1940 rather than leaving for Britain like the Dutch and Norwegian monarchs. Nor did Leopold help the Belgian resistance covertly. He collaborated with the Occupation, seeking Hitler's guarantee for the continuation of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty, living a pleasant life under German protection, and occasionally asking the Nazis to make it seem that he was acting under duress! These maneuvers deceived few people. After the war, he returned and risked civil war by trying to keep his throne. But he was forced to abdicate in 1950 in favor of his son.
Baudoin I proved more pious than his red-hot and blue-blooded relatives but no more successful at making Belgium a less divided nation or one more popular with its own citizens. His extraordinary folly in praising Leopold II to an audience of native Congolese provoked the long Congo crisis of the 1960s, in which thousands perished. And he seems to have been complicit in the plot to murder the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba -- less from concern for Belgium's vast assets in Africa than from priggish indignation at Lumumba's contradicting his encomium to Leopold publicly.
Mr. Belien tells the story of this slimy dynasty with great gusto. There is a wealth of hilarious anecdotes about the sex life of the male Saxe-Coburgs who spend more time with call girls than with prime ministers (though Leopold II's tours of Parisian brothels were partly a cover for more sinister political dealings). Only Baudoin was a faithful husband to his fellow-Catholic mystic, Queen Fabiola -- suggesting that a Prince Albert crops up about every 150 years in the family. And even the would-be-saintly Baudoin at the age of 22 shared a sleeping compartment with his louche but glamorous stepmother, Liliane, then estranged from Leopold III, though more, it seems, from repressed family affection than for sex. The female Saxe-Coburgs retaliated by dying prematurely or going mad in different ways. Queen Elizabeth, who lived on for years as a dowager, went mad politically, switching effortlessly from Hitler to Stalin but always rejecting "the Americans" and capitalism, always "progressive."
HILARIOUS FOR THE READER, all this is a sad story for Belgium. For these anecdotes are dotted throughout a serious political history of the country. And Mr. Belien establishes convincingly that the scandals, betrayals, and failures of the Saxe-Coburgs are not accidents of heredity but arise directly from the nature of the country created for and by Leopold I. Not only is Belgium not a nation, it is a country founded upon the rejection of nationality -- indeed, the first multi-ethnic, multicultural polity. Multi-ethnic polities can prosper by developing a common culture and common national identity. But Leopold and his successors did not want to reconcile Fleming and Walloon in a common culture since they might then make common cause against the family state. So they had to keep them divided and inside Belgium by whatever discreditable means were necessary.
They created an entire corrupt political establishment that had a vested interest in the continuation of the Belgian state that was the source of their wealth and titles. In place of a common reconciling patriotism, they invented a state ideology, "Belgicism," an early version of multiculturalism, which presents Belgium as the antidote to "selfish" or "racist" nationalism to uphold the Belgicist establishment. They employed extra-legal repression to crush or frustrate resistance from either Walloon or Flemish national movements. As the 20th century wore on, they increasingly sought covert political alliances with the socialist left and labor unions to create welfare arrangements that would corrupt entire communities rather than just individual politicians into their clients. They invented a whole series of undemocratic institutions -- notably a "Social Partnership" of corporations and labor unions -- that overrode democratic parliamentary governments whenever they threatened these economic, constitutional, or political arrangements. In the 1970s they pushed through a form of federalism that was consciously designed to entrench existing "Belgicist" political parties in power more or less permanently and to prevent even very large democratic majorities from dismantling the present multicultural state. And in pursuit of these aims and their family interests, they repeatedly intervened in secret (following the first Leopold's shrewd example) to ensure that the taxpayer paid the bribes necessary to keep enough Belgians loyal to the Saxe-Coburg family state.
The end-result, as Mr. Belien documents in a depressing final chapter, is the most corrupt, highly taxed, economically inefficient, and constitutionally undemocratic country in Europe. The economic statistics are bad enough. Belgium has the highest percentage of social beneficiaries in the world -- more people live on social benefits than work for a living. But the scandals are worse. Leading Belgian politicians, mostly in the socialist party, have been slapped lightly on the wrist after pleading guilty to serious charges of corruption. Yet while indulging establishment politicians caught committing serious crimes, the courts have outlawed the largest political party in Flanders on spurious charges but in reality because, as everyone knows, it threatens the oligopolistic control of government by the Belgicist establishment.
Mr. Belien lays out this bill of indictment very powerfully. He writes from a certain perspective -- that of a moderate Flemish nationalist. At times he overstates that case by always seeing mitigating circumstances whenever Flemish nationalists behave wrongly or foolishly as when they sought the Kaiser's support for their cause late in the war. But the facts are massively on his side. He presents them clearly and readably. And his tale has a moral for the wider world.
He points out that Belgian leaders, including the Saxe-Coburgs, far from reconsidering the country's constitutional and political arrangements in the light of recent troubles, are in a missionary mood. They believe that Belgium -- with its multiculturalism, welfarism, cross-subsidization, and undemocratic political structures -- is and should be the model for a future united Europe. Many of these constitutional features already exist in the European Union, albeit in embryonic form. And now some of the same results are beginning to appear. Corruption in Brussels is both pervasive and glossed over. And the attitude of Eurocrats to inconvenient referendum results -- namely, keep voting until you get it right -- belongs firmly to the Saxe-Coburg school of political science. Like their teachers, the bureaucratic rulers of the EU intend to create a new polity irrespective of the wishes of the nations inside it.
It can't work. As the history of Belgium since 1831 shows, however, it can do a great deal of damage in the course of failing.
John O'Sullivan is editor at large of National Review and a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. This review ran in the November 2005 issue of The American Spectator.
He left out the Marc Dutroux scandal.
I was in Belgium in both 04 and 05.It's basically an Islamic country. A HUGE amount of the little towns have all their business signs in Arabic.Belgium is NOT what you may picture it to be from your high school geography books.It's closer to Mecca then it is to old Europe. Seems every 3rd person is a Moslem there. A Euro sh*thole at it's worst.
I think it is worse in the south of Belgium (French speaking Waloons) where they import French speaking Moslems from North Africa. The Mayor of Brussels, "the capital of Europe," has a Moslem woman as mayor. The Dutch speaking (Flemish) north is better, and it's is trying to secede.
Completely agree with everything you say. Especially the part about Belgium being the biggest sh*thole in Europe. When I was stationed in Germany I did quite a bit of travelling around Europe, and had to spend a little bit of time in Belgium (I also worked with a fair amount of Belgian "soldiers"). It is an offensive place in every way, shape, and form. I also cannot imagine another country having such arrogant, petty, ignorant, and self righteous citizens/subjects.
Belgium is approximately the area that had been known before the wars of the French Revolution as the Austrian Netherlands, earlier as the Spanish Netherlands--those parts of the Netherlands which had remained under Spanish rule when the northern provinces gained independence. If the Spanish had been less or more successful in the 16th century, there wouldn't be two countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) occupying that space today.
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