Belgium: an exciting little country


In 1998 Harry Pearson published a delightful book about Belgium, The Tall Man of the Lowlands. In the preface to his book, he recalled that at his dinner party, one of his diners asked him why he wanted to write a book about such a “boring” country.

However, reading this book will make it clear that Belgium is not boring, but actually a fascinating country at the crossroads of Europe. It has a rich and colorful history and has produced outstanding artists, scientists, writers and athletes.

Prior to independence in 1830, foreign-based rulers ruled the country. Belgium was also occupied by Germany in both world wars.

This book is an accessible and often entertaining travelogue that sheds light on the Belgian fascination with beer. Belgium produces around 1,500 different brands of beer in all colors, flavors and alcohol strengths.

Belgium’s beer culture has been recognized by UNESCO as part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage. Its most important cycling race, the Tour of Flanders, is a major annual event that attracts cycling enthusiasts from all over the world.

After each general election, Belgium often fails to form a government for a long time. In fact, on June 1, 2011, Belgium became the world record holder for the time it took to form a government. This is 353 days, a record previously held by Cambodia.

Yet, during that period of indecision, the country managed to survive just fine, proving that a country seeking to install a democratically elected government could be governed by an interim government.

For this reason, the controversial commentator claimed In The Economist, “Belgium offers a lesson from chaos to stability. Even its demise is calm. It is the world’s most successful and unsuccessful nation.”

But even success has its limits.

have a tough time

In fact, when I recently spoke with an acquaintance of mine who is a prominent commentator on Belgium’s economy and politics, he told me that the country had changed dramatically since my last visit in 2019, before the pandemic. rice field.

For him, the country is beset with problems including a thorny pension system. He calculated that since the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine, the cost of energy has tripled for him, inflation has skyrocketed and government spending is no longer under control.

Epoch Times photo
A cowboy employee wearing a protective mask and riding a cowboy e-bike on the streets of Brussels, July 28, 2020. (JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)

In September 2022, Belgian inflation rose to 11.27%. This is the highest inflation rate since January 2019. The unemployment rate is 6.3%, but there are important regional differences (3.9% in Dutch-speaking Flanders and 8.9% in French-speaking Wallonia). , 12.5% ​​in the bilingual capital Brussels). His average monthly wage also rose to €3,832 (US$3,700).

The global downturn has hit Belgium hard. People who until recently were classified as middle class are slowly sinking into the mire of poverty.

Even attendance at football matches, patronized by ardent and sometimes enthusiastic fans, has fallen to alarming levels, resulting in a Belgian economy already devastated by draconian COVID-19 restrictions. Adding to the losses suffered by football clubs.

Nevertheless, the country still celebrates sports heroes. Remco Evenepoel is an amazingly talented cyclist who won the men’s elite road race (Union Cycliste International Road World Championship) in Wollongong on September 25th and this year’s He Vuelta in Spain.

And just a few days ago, Max Verstappen became World Champion for the second time in driving F1 racing. But even the success of these sports cannot hide the pessimism that is engulfing the country.

Of course, Belgium, like all NATO members, is going through a warlike situation. She provided 8 million euros in non-lethal aid to Ukraine to stop a Russian aggression.

Belgium’s dependence on Russia for energy will pose a big problem, especially now that winter is here. Gas from Russia has been replaced by gas from Norway.

Australia is not so different

I explained to my friend that the situation in Belgium was not uncommon and that Australia was also in danger of survival. and about the emergence of Australia’s most unfree period since World War II.

Those who no longer have the courage to voice their opinions harbor a dark feeling of conformity, fear of being silenced, insulted, or ridiculed. Australia’s self-proclaimed new morality brigade speaks out against anyone who boldly acts on or expresses his or her religious beliefs.

Epoch Times photo
A man wearing a face mask walks past as the Australian Defense Force walks through the streets of Melbourne, Australia, July 27, 2020. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Australia also struggles with security concerns, particularly the unstable situation in China’s economy and the threat of Beijing’s military invasion of democratically ruled Taiwan.

The geopolitical situation in the Pacific is as much of a concern to Australia as the Ukraine conflict is to Belgium. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manase Sogavale had to make a personal visit to assure Australia that Chinese military bases would not be tolerated in the islands.

So the Australian and Belgian experiences are not that different. In fact, the histories of these countries are intertwined, as Australians fought on Belgian territory in World War I.

Australians who died in the trenches of West Flanders are immortalized at the Menin Gate, where each night the last members of the Postal Society perform the traditional final salute to fallen soldiers.

The thousands of Australians who died in Flanders are immortalized in John MacRae’s immortal poem In the Fields of Flanders.

Poppies bloom in the fields of Flanders

Between the crosses, line by line,

It shows our location.and in the sky

The skylark still sings bravely as it flies

It was barely audible amidst the gunshots below.

If Pearson has proved anything in his fascinating book, it is certainly that Belgium is not boring, it is an exciting little country whose history and culture should appeal to Australia.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Epoch Times.

Gabriel Moens


Gabriël A. Moens AM is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and has served as Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor of Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centennial Medal by the Prime Minister for his contributions to education. He has taught extensively in Australia, Asia, Europe and America. Moens recently published two novels, A Twisted Choice (2020) and The Coincidence (2021).