Broedertwist, België en Nederland en de erfenis van 1830 * Peter Rietbergen & Tom Verschaffel (isbn 9040091137 * waanders 2005)

From 24 september 2005 to 8 januari 2006 the “Noord-Brabants Museum” in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands has an exposition about “A brotherly dispute, Belgium and the Netherlands and the heritage of 1830”. From 3 februari to 30 april 2006 the same exposition will move to the “Stedelijk Museum Vanderkelen-Mertens” in Leuven, Belgium. The exposition is (after good tradition) accompanied by a very nice publication, which is the book under review.
The exposition is held because Belgium had its 175th anniversary in 2005.This also means that 175 years ago, the Netherlands ‘lost a part’. The book gives a nice insight in this part of our history. In 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and a congress was held in Vienna (Wien). There was decided what Europe should look like after Napoleon. Belgium and the Netherlands where united into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and Luxemburg also fell under Dutch kingship, but it remained a separate state. “1815” Was doomed to go wrong, since two different countries were forced together. This is the subject of the book.
In 1830 in Brussel riots arose after an opera. The riots soon spread throughout Belgium and after the “Belgian revolution”, Belgium was separated from the Netherlands. Belgium got their own king, the Dutch king wasn’t too pleased with the result and tried to take Belgium back by force, but failed.
A large part of the book is dedicated to what happened immediately after the separation, how the revolution was (and is) commemorated, what the historical significance of the revolution is and what it caused in both countries. Of course, the Belgians felt victorious after having regained their freedom. The Dutch pride and honour had received a serious blow. Also both countries needed to have their inhabitants be proud of the countries, so the glorious pasts were investigated or invented (some parts highlighted, other parts left away). Painters, sculptures, music and other kinds of art and of course the royal houses where used as national propaganda to make the civilians proud. This didn’t work too well initially, but both countries managed to gain relative succes overtime.
Of course this wasn’t the end of the story. Belgium became a bilingual country, Dutchspeaking in the North, Frenchspeaking in the South. This caused new problems and the rise of Flemish (Dutchspeaking) and Wallonian (Frenchspeaking) nationalism and even groups saying that Belgium should be split in two (and united with the Netherlands and France). This interesting development is described nicely, but the part about ‘two nationalisms’ in Belgium could have been a bit more extensive.
Something that I personally miss, is the subject of religion. Over and over again there is spoken about “the Catholic Southern Netherlands” (meaning Belgium) and “the Protestant Northern Netherlands” (meaning the Netherlands). I don’t know any better than that 2 of the 12 Dutch provinces, laying in the South (being North-Brabant and Limburg), are traditionally Catholic, whereas the rest of the Netherlands tends to be Reformed. It seems that somewhere in the early 19th century Catholism was forbidden, but the book doesn’t say if this only was the case for the nowadays Netherlands and not for Belgium or that it was different from that. I can’t find myself in these descriptions of the Protestant Northern Netherlands and this is not explained very well I think.
But, overall this is a beautiful book about a significant part in the history of the Netherlands. There are many images in colour and in black and white, a lot of very readable texts, the book and the exposition doesn’t shy ‘difficult subjects’ such as nationalism, the abandonned national anthems (both where regarded too nationalistic when nationalism became a crime), or ‘sensitive subjects’ in the history of both countries. Also the book explains what makes Dutchmen different from Belgians (well a little at least) and how the developments in the first half of the 19th century influenced the communities of that and the present time. The book even explains current ‘sensitivities’ a little (such as a Flemish person not seeing himself as a Belgian, the tensions between both ‘kinds of Belgians’, etc., how Dutchmen see Belgians and the other way around). As for myself being a Dutchman, some suppositions are nicely explained. It is always good to have a good look at yourself and your background and background information is always helpfull. A nice and informative book. I don’t know if it is also available in other languages. I can imagine that there is a French version and these exposition publication also often appear in English, but I can only find the Dutch version on the internet…

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