Most English schoolboys learn this quip: Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy the French.
Which is just about true. And if you don’t understand why and how Belgium was invented, you won’t understand the significance of the elections in Belgium earlier this summer.
In 1795 the revolutionary French occupied what were then the Austrian Netherlands. After Napoleon’s defeat and the expulsion of the French, the allied powers re-established the ancient union between the Austrian Netherlands and the Dutch Republic. This created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, whose Protestant king was to act as a brake against any further adventures by France.
But in 1830 French-speaking intellectuals and Catholic leaders in Brussels led a revolution against the Protestant Dutch king. In fact, the revolution had been fomented by the French. The allied powers were afraid the revolution would set up an independent republic aligned with France. This would give the French access to the strategic port of Antwerp, which was, in Napoleon’s words, “a pistol pointed at the heart of England.” So instead the allies, led by the British, imposed a kingdom named Belgium and installed a German prince as “king of the Belgians.”
Now, what’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is that none of it mentions the Flemish. ...