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The Flemish Movement (Dutch: Vlaamse Beweging) is a popular term used to describe the political movement for emancipation and greater autonomy of the Belgian region of Flanders, for protection of the Dutch language, and for the over-all protection of Flemish culture and history.

The Flemish Movement's moderate wing was for a long time dominated by the Volksunie ("People's Union") – a party that from its onset in 1954 till its collapse in 2002 greatly advanced the Flemish cause, though severely criticised by hardliners for being too accommodating. After the Volksunie's collapse, the party's representatives were absorbed by other Flemish parties. Nowadays nearly every Flemish party (except for the far right Vlaams Belang) can be considered part of the moderate wing of the Flemish Movement. This wing has many ties with union and industry organisations, especially with VOKA (network of the VEV, Vlaams Economisch Verbond, Flemish Economic Union).

The Flemish Movement's radical wing is dominated by radical right-winged organizations such as Vlaams Belang, Voorpost, Nationalistische Studentenvereniging (Nationalist Students Union), and several others. The most radical group on the left side is the socialist and Flemish independentist Flemish-Socialist Movement. The militant wing also still comprises several moderate groups such as the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, New-Flemish Alliance), a relatively small party with representatives in the regional and federal parliament) and several extra-parliamentary organisations, many of which are represented in the OVV (Overlegcentrum van Vlaamse Verenigingen, Consultation Centre of Flemish Associations). The most important of these is the VVB (Vlaamse Volksbeweging, Flemish People's Movement).


Internal trends


Today, the militant wing of the Flemish Movement generally advocates the foundation of an independent Flemish republic. Rightist Vlaams Belang and traditional, conservative N-VA support this view. Vlaams Belang, carrying 24.15% of the votes in Flanders at the last regional elections (2004), is now the second largest political formation in Flanders. A part of this militant wing also advocates reunion with the Netherlands. This view is shared with several Dutch right-winged activists and nationalists, as well as some mainsteam politicians both in the Netherlands and Flanders (such as Louis Tobback, the mayor of Leuven or former minister of defence and Eurocommissioner Frits Bolkestein).


Left wing regionalist VlaamsProgressieven and the liberal List Dedecker, as well as several representatives of important Flemish parties belonging to the moderate wing, including the Christian democrat CD&V party (the largest party in Flemish Parliament as of 2003), the liberal VLD party (3rd largest), and, to a lesser extent, the socialist party SP.a (4th largest), prefer a confederal organisation of the Belgian state over the current federal organisation. Such a scheme would make the Flemish government responsible for nearly all aspects of government, whereas some important aspects of government are currently the responsibility of the Belgian federal government. The Belgian capital of Brussels would remain a city where both Dutch-speaking and French-speaking citizens share equal rights.


Several representatives of the SP.a and, to a lesser extent, the CD&V and VLD parties, prefer an improved federal organisation of the Belgian state over a confederal one. This view is shared with several social and cultural organisations such as the Vermeylenfonds (Vermeylen Foundation), with labor unions, and with mutual health insurance organisations. The advocates of this view hope to improve the Belgian institutions so that they work correctly. However, recent allegations on continued discrimination against Dutch-speaking citizens by hospitals and medical emergency services in Brussels, the resistance of French-speaking people living in Flanders to adapt to the Dutch-speaking environment (by insisting on maintaining language privileges that are arguably provided by federal law), and the near-impossibility to alleviate labor costs because of alleged conservative resistance from the French-speaking Socialist union is not likely to strengthen Flemish support for the federalist cause.


After the secession of Belgium in 1830, the Orangist sentiment in Flanders for a time sought the restoration of the United Kingdom under the house of Orange. Some of the most prominent Flemish Orangists were Jan Frans Willems and Hippolyte Metdepenningen. This sentiment inspired the later Greater Netherlands movement, although that movement was not all monarchist. At present there is only little public support in Flanders (mainly around Flemish-nationalistic parties and the Algemeen-Nederlands Verbond), so there is hardly any public support for the house of Orange. A confederate state made out of these two nations is the only idea that has gained wider support.


For prior events: see History of Belgium and Flanders

Early roots

In 1788 Jan Baptist Chrysostomus Verlooy (1747-1797), a jurist and politician from the Southern Netherlands, wrote an essay on d'onacht der moederlycke tael, the first sign of life of the Flemish movement: a plea for the native language, but also for freedom and democracy.

Belgian Independence

When the Protestant Dutch king, Willem I, became king of the Netherlands and Belgium he declared Dutch to be the only official language in the country. Wallonia, as well as the Catholic clergy and the bourgeoisie in Brussels and Flanders, spoke mainly French causing unbalanced representation in the Dutch Parliament.

On October 4, 1830, Belgian separatists declared the independence of Belgium from the Netherlands. The Flemish provinces were subordinated by a Belgian army consisting mainly of volunteers from Wallonia. For example, Ghent was "liberated" by the French count Pontécoulant with volunteers from Brussels and Paris: Antwerp by Generals De Parent, Mellinet and Niellon.

Large Flemish cities like Ghent and Antwerp were opposed to separation for economic reasons. They had to deal with rebellious workers who mostly chose the side of the separatists due to bad harvests. This was, however, more an act of discontent than an act of rejecting separatism. (In Brugge, however, they opposed the separatists who had already taken power there.) During the municipality elections only three years after the separations, Orangists parties gained a majority in some of these cities.

A French Flanders

Upon Belgium becoming an independent state from the Netherlands, there was an (administrative) reaction against the Dutch and their language. In an attempt to remove Dutch from the new country, Belgian officials declared that the only official language in Belgium now was French. The Administration, Justice System, and higher education (apart from elementary schools in Flanders) all functioned in the French language. Even Brussels, the capital where more than 95% of the population spoke Dutch, lacked a formal, state sanctioned, Flemish school of higher education. The consequence was that every contact with the government and justice was conducted in French. This led to a number of erroneous legal judgements where innocent people received the death penalty because they were not allowed to defend themselves at trials.

The French-speaking Belgian government succeeded in removing the Dutch language from all levels of government more quickly in Brussels than in any other part of Flanders. Because the administration was centered in Brussels, more and more French-speaking officials took up residency there. Education in Brussels was only in French which led to a surplus of young, unskilled and uneducated Flemish men. Dutch was hardly taught in the French schools. For example: Dutch was worth 10 points in French schools, but drawing earned 15 points. Today 15% of Brussels is Dutch-speaking, whereas in 1830 it was over 95%.

The French-speaking bourgeoisie showed very little respect for the Flemish part of the population. Belgium's co-founder, Charles Rogier, wrote in 1832 to Jean-Joseph Raikem, the minister of justice:

"Les premiers principes d'une bonne administration sont basés sur l'emploi exclusif d'une langue, et il est évident que la seule langue des Belges doit être le français. Pour arriver à ce résultat, il est nécessaire que toutes les fonctions civiles et militaires soient confiées à des Wallons et à des Luxembourgeois; de cette manière, les Flamands, privés temporairement des avantages attachés à ces emplois, seront contraints d'apprendre le français, et l'on détruira ainsi peu à peu l'élément germanique en Belgique."

"The first principles of a good administration are based upon the exclusive use of one language, and it is evident that the only language of the Belgians should be French. In order to achieve this result, it is necessary that all civil and military functions are entrusted to Walloons and Luxemburgers; this way, the Flemish, temporarily deprived of the advantages of these offices, will be constrained to learn French, and we will hence destroy bit by bit the Germanic element in Belgium."

In 1838, another co-founder, senator Alexandre Gendebien, even declared that the Flemish were "one of the more inferior races on the Earth, just like the negroes".

The economic heart of Belgium in those days was Flanders. However, Wallonia would soon take the lead due to the Industrial Revolution. The Belgian establishment deemed it unnecessary to invest in Flanders and no less than 80% of the Belgian GNP between 1830 and 1918 went to Wallonia. This had as a consequence that Wallonia had a surplus of large coal mines and iron ore facilities, while Flanders, to a large extent, remained a rural, farming region. When Belgium became independent, the economy of Flanders was hard hit. Antwerp was now almost impossible to reach by ships (The Scheldt River was blocked by the Netherlands) and foreign trade was drastically affected. The prosperous textile industry of Ghent lost a major portion of its market to Amsterdam.

Start of the Flemish Movement

It was decades after the Belgian revolution that Flemish intellectuals such as Jan Frans Willems, Philip Blommaert, Karel Lodewijk Ledeganck, Ferdinand Augustijn Snellaert, August Snieders, Prudens van Duyse and Hendrik Conscience began to call for recognition of the Dutch language and Flemish culture in Belgium. This movement became known as the Flemish Movement, but was more intellectual than social, with contributors the poets Guido Gezelle, Hugo Verriest and Albrecht Rodenbach.

Cultural organizations promoting the Dutch language and Flemish culture were founded, such as the Willemsfonds in 1851, and the Davidsfonds in 1875. The first Vlaemsch Verbond (Constant Leirens, Ghent) and the Nederduitse Bond, were founded in 1861. The Liberale Vlaemsche Bond was founded in 1867. Writers such as Julius de Geyter and Max Rooses were active in the Nederduitse Bond. On 26 September 1866, Julius de Geyter founded the Vlaamsche Bond in Antwerp. The Flemish weekly magazine Het Volksbelang, founded by Julius Vuylsteke, appeared for the first time on 12 January 1867.

In 1861, the first Flemish political party, the Meetingpartij was founded in Antwerp, by radical liberals, Catholics and Flamingants (Jan Theodoor van Rijswijck, J. De Laet and E. Coremans), and it existed until 1914. In 1888, Julius Hoste Sr. founded the moderate liberal Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, to support the Flemish Movement in Brussels. In 1893, the Flemish priest Adolf Daens, founded the Christene Volkspartij, which would cause a radicalization and democratization of the Catholic party. The first Flemish political success was the passing of the Gelijkheidswet (Equality law) in 1898 that for the first time recognized Dutch as equal to French in judicial matters (legal documents).

World War I

The liberal politician Louis Franck, the Roman Catholic Frans Van Cauwelaert and the socialist Camille Huysmans (together they were called the three crowing cocks) worked together for the introduction of Dutch at Ghent University. In 1911 the proposal by Lodewijk De Raet to this end was accepted, though it would not be implemented until 1930. With the coming of the 20th century the Flemish Movement became more radical and during World War I some activists welcomed the occupiers as "liberating Germanic brothers". The young Marnix Gijsen and the poet Paul van Ostaijen, were involved in the activist movement during the war. The Germans did indeed help out their "Germanic brothers" by setting Dutch as the sole administrative language and by converting Ghent University to the Dutch language. Most of the Flemish population loathed those traitors that had collaborated with the brutal German occupiers. The language reforms implemented by the Germans during occupation did not remain in place after the War. The collaboration and subsequent prosecution of certain leaders of the Flemish Movement did not produce a climate congenial to compromise.


The Flemish Movement became more socially oriented through the Frontbeweging (Front Movement), an organization of Flemish soldiers who complained about the lack of consideration for their language in the army, and Belgium in general, and harbored pacifistic feelings. The Frontbeweging became a political movement, dedicated to peace, tolerance and autonomy (Nooit Meer Oorlog, Godsvrede, Zelfbestuur). Yearly pilgrimages to the IJzertoren are still held to this day. The poet Anton van Wilderode wrote many texts for this occasion. Many rumours arose regarding the treatment of Flemish soldiers in World War I (though mostly debunked by research of Flemish historians) live on and are part of the Flemish martyr syndrome. For instance, one such legend is that many Dutch-speaking soldiers were slaughtered because they could not understand orders given to them in French by French speaking officers. While the official language of the army was indeed French, units were organized by geographical origin, and their commanding officers were perfectly capable of translating central orders into the language of their troops, be it in Dutch (or in one of its dialects), French or Walloon. Another source of further frustration was the Belgian royal family's poor knowledge of Dutch. King Albert I gave a speech during WW I, in French, concluding with the words Pour les Flamands, la même chose('For the Flemings, the same', a very condescending expression towards the Flemish community.)

In the 1920s the first Flemish nationalist party was elected. In 1928, Auguste Borms, a prominent Flemish leader (sentenced to death for working in the German Flemish government during the war) was elected. In the 1930s the Flemish Movement grew ever larger and Dutch was recognized for the first time as the sole language of Flanders. In 1931, Joris Van Severen founded the Verbond van Dietse Nationaal-Solidaristen Verdinaso, a fascist movement in Flanders.

World War II

During World War II, Belgium was once again occupied by Germany. The Third Reich enacted laws to protect and encourage the Dutch language in Belgium and, generally, did all they could to propagate the ill-feelings between Flemings and Francophones, e.g. by setting free only Flemish POWs. Although the Nazis had no intention whatsoever to allow the creation of a Greater Netherlands or of a Flemish state, many Flemish nationalists embraced collaboration, mainly because the occupying forces gave them rights they never had in their own country. Interestingly, there was even more collaboration in Wallonia, although it was not politically inspired. In Wallonia and Brussels, the Rexist organization of Leon Degrelle was a French-speaking movement and the leading and most fanatic collaboration group. After the war, all collaborators were heavily prosecuted, and the Flemish cause thoroughly discredited. The alienation of the Flemish Movement via the collaborators worked to the benefit of the French-speaking elite. They were able to strengthen their grip on the linguistic sector of Belgian society. To many of the Flemish nationalists the reasons for their collaboration were understandable.

Post War

After the war, the Flemish Movement lay dormant for nearly 20 years. The Vermeylenfonds was founded in 1945. Then in the 1960s the movement once more gathered momentum and in 1962 the linguistic borders were finally drawn up, with Brussels being designated as a bilingual city. The late 1960s saw all major Belgian political parties splitting up into Flemish and Francophone wings. It also saw the emergence of the first major nationalist Flemish party, the Volksunie (Popular Union, but not in a communist sense). In 1977 more radical far right-wing factions of the Volksunie came united and, together with earlier far right nationalist groups, formed Vlaams Blok. This party would eventually overtake the Volksunie, only to be forced later, on the grounds of a discrimination conviction, to change its name to Vlaams Belang. Numerically, it has become the main right-wing party of the Flemish Movement.

The language border

During the existence of Belgium more and more Dutch-speaking regions have became French-speaking regions; for example, Mouscron (Moeskroen), Comines (Komen), and particularly Brussels (see Frenchification of Brussels). Every ten years the government counted the people who spoke Dutch and those who spoke French. These countings always favoured the French-speaking part of Belgium. In 1962 the Linguistic Border was drawn. In order to do so, a complicated compromise with the French-speakers was orchestrated: Brussels had to be recognised as an autonomous and bilingual region while Flanders and Wallonia remained monolingual regions. The French-speakers also demanded that in certain regions where there was a minority of more than 30% French-speaking or Dutch-speaking people; there would be language facilities. This means that these people can communicate with the government in their birth language.

Present day

The Flemish saw this as a measure of integration to another language, as opposed to viewing it as a recognition of a permanent linguistic minority. The Flemish adjusted and nowadays there is only a small minority left of those 30%. The French-speaking people, however, saw these language facilities as an acquired right. As a result, those regions (mostly around Brussels) contain a large majority of French-speaking Belgians that refuse to be forced to speak Dutch. This refusal is considered frustrating by the Flemish Movement and a reason for a call to separate.

The situation is intensified due to a lack of Dutch language classes in the French schools. In Wallonia every student is required to learn two foreign languages but the students can choose for themselves (at age 14). The majority choose English as a second language. In Flanders, however, most students learn a minimum of 3 foreign languages: French, English and German. (This difference is also visible at the statistics for schools (PISA 2003: Flanders 1st, Wallonia 18th). It should be added, though, that even if a person from a French-speaking area has qualifications at a masters degree level in the knowledge of Dutch they may still find they have "failed" the language tests for the national ministries or branches of the national civil service.


A singularly important issue for the 21st Century Flemish Movement are the financial transfers; the Net amount of money that flows from Flanders to Wallonia and Brussels. Flanders has supposedly transferred 6 billion euros every year (12 billion if you add the interest on Walloon part of the National debt, which is supposedly about 60% of the total debt). During the 19th century there were transfers from Flanders to Wallonia, even though Wallonia was the richer of the two regions.[1] The reason was that there was no social security system and the tax legislation was never adjusted to reflect the industrial affluence of Wallonia.[2]

In 2000 the Volksunie split into Spirit and the N-VA. Both parties have since formed coalitions with other parties. The 2004 elections were won by both Spirit (in a cartel with SP.a) and N-VA (in a cartel with CD&V), both taking part in the newly formed government of the Flemish part of Belgium. The federal elections of 2007 were won by CD&V with N-VA, whilst SP.a with Spirit lost those elections. This has given the N-VA some important influence in the formation of a new Belgian government, which resulted in the longest and most difficult government formation in Belgium ever. This is due to the N-VA's promise of giving more self control to Flanders and Wallonia, and the Francophone parties opposing that promise.

In September 2008 N-VA joined the opposition against its partner CD&V, leading to a virtual breakdown of the political cartel, while Spirit had already changed its name to VlaamsProgressieven in April to digest its political defeat.

See also


  1. ^ Juul Hannes, De mythe van de omgekeerde transfers,, retrieved 2008-10-21  
  2. ^ Filip van Laenen (2002-05-20), Flemish Questions - Flows of money out of Flanders,, retrieved 2008-09-04  
  • Van geyt et al., The Flemish Movement, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.1946; 247: 128-130
  • Vos Hermans, The Flemish Movement: A Documentary History, 1780-1990, Continuum International Publishing Group - Athlone (Feb 1992), ISBN 0485113686
  • Clough Shepard B., History of the Flemish Movement in Belgium: A study in nationalism, New York, 1930, 316 pp.
  • Ludo Simons (ed.), Nieuwe Encyclopedie van de Vlaamse Beweging, Lannoo, 1998, ISBN 978-90-209-3042-9
  • M. Van Haegendoren, The Flemish movement in Belgium, (J. Deleu) Ons Erfdeel - 1965, nr 1, p. 145

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