Flanders (Vlaanderen, Flandre, Flandern) is a geographical region located in parts of present day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Over the course of history, the geographical territory that was called "Flanders" has varied.
In modern Belgium, there is a geographical, political and administrative entity called the Flemish Region (het Vlaams Gewest) and a separate -but to some extent overlapping- political, legal, administrative, cultural and linguistic entity called the Flemish Community (de Vlaamse Gemeenschap). The Flemish parliament and government govern both the Community and the Region. The capital city of Flanders is Brussels.
Related to these geographical or political uses of the noun 'Flanders', and the adjective 'Flemish', they may also be used to describe several other distinct (but inter-connected) cultural, geographical, historical, linguistic or political items or entities.
The significance of the County and its counts eroded through time, but the designation remained in a very broad sense. In the Early Modern, the term Flanders was associated with the southern part of the Low Countries, the Southern Netherlands. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it became increasingly commonplace to refer to the area from De Panne to Maasmechelen, including the Belgian parts of the Duchy of Brabant and Limburg, as "Flanders".
The ambiguity between this eastwardly much wider area and that of the Countship (or the Belgian parts thereof), still remains. In most present-day contexts however, the term Flanders is generally taken to refer to either the political, social, cultural and linguistic community (and the corresponding official institution, the Flemish Community), or the geographical area, one of the three institutional regions in Belgium, namely the Flemish Region.
In history of art, the adjectives Flemish, Dutch and Netherlandish are commonly used to designate all the artistic production in this area. For examples, Flemish Primitives is synonym for early Netherlandish painting, Franco-Flemish School for Dutch School, and it is not uncommon to see Mosan art categorized as Flemish art.
Created in the year 862 as a feudal fief in West Francia, the County of Flanders was divided when its western districts fell under French rule in the late 12th century. The remaining parts of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191. The entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy, in 1477 to the Habsburg dynasty, and in 1556 to the kings of Spain. The western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668, and 1678.
During the late Middle Ages Flanders' trading towns (notably Ghent, Bruges and Ypres) made it one of the richest and most urbanised parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivalling those of Northern Italy.
Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory's autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation (1300–1302), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk. Two years later, the uprising was defeated and Flanders remained part of the French Crown. Flemish prosperity waned in the following century, however, owing to widespread European population decline following the Black Death of 1348, the disruption of trade during the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War (1338–1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woollen industry.
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Charles V, established the Low Countries as the Seventeen Provinces (or Spanish Netherlands in its broad sense) as an entity separate from the Holy Roman Empire and from France.
Charles' son, King Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic and self-proclaimed protector of the Counter-Reformation who was also the duke, count or lord of each of the Seventeen Provinces, suppressed Calvinism in Flanders, Brabant and Holland. What is now approximately Belgian Limburg was part of the Bishopric of Liège and was Catholic de facto. Part of what is now Dutch Limburg supported the Union of Atrecht, but did not sign it.
While Spain was at war with England, the rebels from the north, strengthened by refugees from the south, started a campaign to reclaim areas lost to Philips II's Spanish troops. They managed to conquer a considerable part of Brabant (the later Noord-Brabant of the Netherlands), and the south bank of the Scheldt estuary (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), before being stopped by Spanish troops. The front line at the end of this war stabilized and became the current border between present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch (as they later became known) had managed to reclaim enough of Spanish-controlled Flanders to close off the river Scheldt, effectively cutting Antwerp off from its trade routes.
First the fall of Antwerp to the Spanish and later also the closing of the Scheldt were causes of a considerable emigration of Antverpians. Many of the Calvinist merchants of Antwerp and also of other Flemish cities left Flanders and emigrated to the north. A large number of them settled in Amsterdam, which was at the time a smaller port, only of significance in the Baltic trade. In the following years Amsterdam was rapidly transformed into one of the world's most important ports. Because of the contribution of the Flemish exiles to this transformation, the exodus is sometimes described as "creating a new Antwerp".
Flanders and Brabant, due to these events, went into a period of relative decline from the time of the Thirty Years War. In the Northern Netherlands however, the mass emigration from Flanders and Brabant became an important driving force behind the Dutch Golden Age.
Although arts remained at a relatively impressive level for another century with Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Flanders experienced a loss of its former economic and intellectual power under Spanish, Austrian, and French rule, with heavy taxation and rigid imperial political control compounding the effects of industrial stagnation and Spanish-Dutch and Franco-Austrian conflict.
The in 1815 reinstated Dutch Senate (Dutch: Eerste Kamer der Staaten Generaal) the nobility, mainly coming from the south, became more and more estranged from their northern colleagues. Resentment grew both among the Roman Catholics from the south and the Protestants from the north and among the powerful liberal bourgeoisie from the south and their more moderate colleagues from the North. On August 25, 1830 (after the showing of the opera 'La Muette de Portici' of Daniel Auber in Brussels) the Belgian Revolution sparked off and became a fact. On October 4, 1830, the Provisional Authority (Dutch: Voorlopig Bewind) proclaimed the independence which was later confirmed by the National Congress that issued a new Liberal Constitution and declared the new state a Constitutional Monarchy, under the House of Saxe-Coburg. Flanders now became part of the Kingdom of Belgium, which was recognized by the major European Powers on January 20, 1831. The de facto dissidence was only finally recognized by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands on April 19, 1839.
Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities had taken several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly, the experiences of many Flemish speaking soldiers on the front led by French speaking officers catalysed Flemish emancipation. The French speaking officers barked the orders in French, followed by "et pour les Flamands, la même chose", which basically meant, "Same thing for the Flemish", which obviously did not help the Flemish conscripts, who were mostly uneducated farmers and workers, who didn't speak French at all. The resulting suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage in Diksmuide at the monument of the Yser Tower.
These victories for the advocates of much more Flemish autonomy are very much in parallel with opinion polls that show a structural increase in popular support for their agenda.
Several negotiators having come and gone since the last federal elections of 10 June 2007 without diminishing the disagreements between Flemish and Walloon politicians regarding a further State reform, continues to prevent the formation of the federal government.
The area of the Flemish Community is represented on the maps above, including the area of the Brussels-Capital Region (hatched on the relevant map). Roughly, the Flemish Community exercises competences originally oriented towards the individuals of the Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education, and the use of the language. Extensions to personal matters less directly associated with language comprise sports, health policy (curative and preventive medicine), and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.).
The area of the Flemish Region is represented on the maps above. It has a population of around 6 million (excluding the Dutch-speaking community in the Brussels Region, grey on the map for it is not a part of the Flemish Region). Roughly, the Flemish Region is responsible for territorial issues in a broad sense, including economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, and foreign trade. It supervises the provinces, municipalities, and intercommunal utility companies.
The number of Dutch-speaking Flemish people in the Capital Region is estimated to be between 11% and 15% (official figures do not exist as there is no language census and no official subnationality). According to a survey conducted by the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006, 51% of respondents from Brussels claimed to be bilingual, even if they do not have Dutch as their first language. They are governed by the Brussels Region for economics affairs and by the Flemish Community for educational and cultural issues.
As of 2005, Flemish institutions such as Flanders' government, parliament, etc. represent the Flemish Community and the Flemish region. The region and the community thus de facto share the same parliament and the same government. All these institutions are based in Brussels. Nevertheless, both bodies (the Community and the Region) still exist and the distinction between both is important for the people living in Brussels. Members of the Flemish parliament who were elected in the Brussels Region cannot vote on affairs belonging to the competences of the Flemish Region.
The official language for all Flemish institutions is Dutch. French enjoys a limited official recognition in a dozen municipalities along the borders with French-speaking Wallonia, and a large recognition in the bilingual Brussels Region. French is widely known in Flanders, with 59% claiming to know French according to a survey conducted by the Université catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006.
Many new political parties during the last half century were founded in Flanders: the nationalist Volksunie of which the right nationalist Vlaams Blok (Vlaams Belang) split off, and that later dissolved into SPIRIT, moderate nationalism rather left of the spectrum, and the NVA, more conservative moderate nationalism; the leftist alternative/ecological Groen!; the short-lived anarchistic libertarian spark ROSSEM and more recently the conservative-right liberal Lijst Dedecker, founded by Jean-Marie Dedecker.
The Flemish Region covers and contains over 300 municipalities. It is divided into 5 provinces:
Independently from the provinces, Flanders has its own local institutions in the Brussels-Capital Region, being the Vlaamse GemeenschapsCommissie (VGC), and its municipal antennae (Gemeenschapscentra, community centers for the Flemish community in Brussels). These institutions are independent from the educational, cultural and social institutions which depend directly on the Flemish government. They exert, among others, all those cultural competences that outside Brussels fall under the provinces.
Flanders has two main geographical regions: the coastal Yser basin plain in the north-west and a central plain. The first consists mainly of sand dunes and clayey alluvial soils in the polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level that have been reclaimed from the sea, from which they are protected by dikes or, a little further inland, by fields that have been drained with canals. With similar soils along the lowermost Scheldt basin starts the central plain, a smooth, slowly rising fertile area irrigated by many waterways that reaches an average height of about five metres (16.4 ft) above sea level with wide valleys of its rivers upstream as well as the Campine region to the east having sandy soils at altitudes around thirty metres Near its southern edges close to Wallonia one can find slightly rougher land richer of calcium with low hills reaching up to 150 m (492 ft) and small valleys, and at the eastern border with the Netherlands, in the Meuse basin, there are marl caves (mergelgrotten). Its exclave around Voeren between the Dutch border and the Walloon province of Liège attains a maximum altitude of 288 m (945 ft) above sea level.
The climate is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb; the average temperature is 3 °C (37 °F) in January, and 18 °C (64 °F) in July; the average precipitation is 65 millimetres (2.6 in) in January, and 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in July).
Flanders was one of the first continental European areas to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the 19th century. Initially, the modernization relied heavily on food processing and textile. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis and there was famine in Flanders (1846–50). After World War II, Antwerp and Ghent experienced a fast expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. Flanders also attracted a large majority of foreign investments in Belgium, among others thanks to its well-educated and industrious labour force. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession. The steel industry remained in relatively good shape. In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the Belgium continued to shift further to Flanders. Nowadays, the Flemish economy is mainly service-oriented, although its diverse industry remains a crucial force. Flemish productivity per capita is between 20 and 25% higher than that in Wallonia.
Flanders has developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways and highways. Antwerp is the second-largest European port, after Rotterdam.
In 1999, the euro, the single European currency, was introduced in Flanders. It replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. The Flemish economy is strongly export oriented, in particular of high value-added goods. The main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. The main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union—the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union. Its main trading partners are Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Spain.
The (Belgian) laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the various government generally respects this right in practice. Since independence, Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics, since the 20th century in Flanders mainly via the Christian trade union (ACV) and the Christian Democrat party (CD&V). According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion, about 47 percent of the Belgian population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church while Islam is the second-largest religion at 3.5 percent. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered more religious than Wallonia, showed 55% to call themselves religious, 36% believe that God created the world. (See also Religion in Belgium).
According to Npdata, 9.7% of the Flemish population is of foreign descent. 4.5% European (including 1.8% Dutch, 0.6% Italian and 0.4% French), and 5.1% from outside the European union, (including 1.8% Moroccan and 1.5% Turks).
Education is compulsory from the ages of six to 18, but most Flemings continue to study until around 23. Among the OECD countries in 1999, Flanders had the third-highest proportion of 18–21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education. Flanders also scores very high in international comparative studies on education. Its secondary school students consistently rank among the top three for mathematics and science. However, the success is not evenly spread: ethnic minority youth score consistently lower, and the difference is larger than in most comparable countries.
Mirroring the historical political conflicts between the freethought and Catholic segments of the population, the Flemish educational system is split into a laïque branch controlled by the communities, the provinces, or the municipalities, and a subsidised religious—mostly Catholic—branch controlled by both the communities and the religious authorities—usually the dioceses. It should however be noted that—at least for the Catholic schools—the religious authorities have very limited power over these schools. Smaller school systems follow 'methodical pedagogies' (Steiner, Montessori, Freinet, ...) or serve the Jewish and Protestant minorities.
At first sight, Flemish culture is defined by its language and its gourmandic mentality, as compared to the more calvinistic Dutch culture. Some claim Flemish literature does not exist, because it is 'readable' by both Dutch and Flemings. This is correct for the vast majority of the literature written by Flemings, although one might argue a distinct Flemish literature already began in the 19th century, when most of the European Nation-states arose, with writers and poets such as Guido Gezelle, who not only explicitly referred to his writings as Flemish, but actually used it in many of his poems, and strongly defended it:
"Gij zegt dat ‘t vlaamsch te niet zal gaan:
‘t en zal!
dat ‘t waalsch gezwets zal boven slaan:
‘t en zal!
Dat hopen, dat begeren wij:
dat zeggen en dat zweren wij:
zoo lange als wij ons weren, wij:
‘t en zal, ‘t en zal,
‘t en zal!"
"You say Flemish will disappear:
It will not!
that Walloonish rantings will prevail:
It will not!
This we hope, this we crave:
this we say and this we swear:
as long as we defend ourselves, we:
It will not, It will not,
It will not!"
This distinction in literature is also made by some experts such as Kris Humbeeck, professor of Literature at the University of Antwerp Nevertheless, the near totality of Dutch-language literature read (and appreciated to varying degrees) in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands.
Influential Flemish writers include Ernest Claes, Stijn Streuvels and Felix Timmermans; their novels mostly describe rural life in Flanders in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They were widely read by the elder generation but are considered somewhat old-fashioned by present day critics. Some famous Flemish writers from the early 20th century wrote in French, like Nobel Prize winners (1911) Maurice Maeterlinck and Emile Verhaeren. Still widely read and translated into other languages (including English) are the novels of authors like Willem Elsschot, Louis Paul Boon and Hugo Claus. The younger generation is represented by novelists like Tom Lanoye, Herman Brusselmans and the poet Herman de Coninck.