Definitions

geogr

Belgium

[bel-juhm]

The Kingdom of Belgium is a country in northwest Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts its headquarters, as well as those of other major international organizations, including NATO. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 km² (11,787 square miles) and has a population of about 10.5 million.

Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home for two main linguistic groups, the Flemings and the French-speakers, mostly Walloons, plus a tiny group of German speakers.

Geographically, Belgium's two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north, with 59% of the population, and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia, inhabited by 31%. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region and near the Walloon Region, and has 10% of the population. A small German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium's linguistic diversity and related political and cultural conflicts are reflected in the political history and a complex system of government.

The name 'Belgium' is derived from Gallia Belgica, a Roman province in the northernmost part of Gaul that was inhabited by the Belgae, a mix of Celtic and Germanic peoples. Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were known as the Low Countries, which used to cover a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture. From the 16th century until the Belgian revolution in 1830, many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed "the battlefield of Europe" and "the cockpit of Europe—a reputation strengthened by both World Wars. Upon its independence, Belgium eagerly participated in the Industrial Revolution, and, at the end of the nineteenth century, possessed several colonies in Africa. The second half of the 20th century was marked by the rise of communal conflicts between the Flemings and the Francophones fuelled by cultural differences on the one hand and an asymmetrical economic evolution of Flanders and Wallonia on the other hand. These currently still active conflicts have caused far-reaching reforms of the unitary Belgian state into a federal state. There is constant speculation by observers that this process of devolution might lead to the partition of the country.

History

In the 1st century BC, the Romans, after defeating the local tribes, created the province of Gallia Belgica. A gradual immigration by Germanic Frankish tribes during the 5th century, brought the area under the rule of the Merovingian kings. A gradual shift of power during the 8th century led the kingdom of the Franks to evolve into the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the region into Middle and Western Francia and therefore into a set of more or less independent fiefdoms which during the Middle Ages were vassals either of the King of France or of the Roman Emperor. Many of these fiefdoms were united in the Burgundian Netherlands of the 14th and 15th centuries. Emperor Charles V extended the personal union of the Seventeen Provinces in the 1540s, making it far more than a personal union by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, and increased his influence over the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) divided the area into the northern United Provinces (Belgica Foederata in Latin, the "Federated Netherlands") and the Southern Netherlands (Belgica Regia, the "Royal Netherlands"). The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs and comprised most of modern Belgium. This was the theatre of most Franco-Spanish and Franco-Austrian wars during the 17th and 18th centuries. Following the campaigns of 1794 in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Low Countries — including territories that were never nominally under Habsburg rule, such as the Prince-Bishopric of Liège — were annexed by the French First Republic, ending Austrian rule in the region. The reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the dissolution of the First French Empire in 1815. The 1830 Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic, and neutral Belgium under a provisional government and a national congress. Since the installation of Leopold I as king in 1831, Belgium has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Although the franchise was initially restricted, universal suffrage for men was introduced in 1893 (with plural voting until 1919), and for women in 1949. The main political parties of the 19th century were the Catholic Party and the Liberal Party, with the Belgian Labour Party emerging towards the end of the century. French was originally the single official language adopted by the nobility and the bourgeoisie. It progressively lost its overall importance as Dutch became recognized as well. This recognition became official 1898. In 1967 a Dutch version of the Constitution was legally accepted.

The Berlin Conference of 1885 gave the Congo Free State to King Leopold II as his private possession. From around 1900 there was growing international concern at the savage treatment of the Congolese population under Leopold II, for whom the Congo was primarily a source of revenue from ivory and rubber. In 1908 this outcry led the Belgian state to assume responsibility for the government of the colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo.

Germany invaded Belgium in 1914 as part of the Schlieffen Plan, and much of the Western Front fighting of World War I occurred in western parts of the country. Belgium took over the German colonies of Ruanda-Urundi (modern day Rwanda and Burundi) during the war, and they were mandated to Belgium in 1924 by the League of Nations, of which Belgium was a founding member. The Treaty of Versailles subjected several border towns that had been ceded to Prussia in 1815, most notably Eupen and Malmedy, to a controversial plebiscite, which led to their return to Belgium in 1925, thereby causing the presence of a small German community. Belgium was again invaded by Germany in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg offensive, and occupied until its liberation by Allied troops in the winter of 1944–1945. The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis; Ruanda-Urundi followed two years later.

After World War II, Belgium joined NATO as a founder member, and formed the Benelux group of nations with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Belgium became one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, and of the European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community, established in 1957. The latter is now the European Union, for which Belgium hosts major administrations and institutions, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the extraordinary and committee sessions of the European Parliament.

Government and politics

Belgium is a constitutional, popular monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.

In the 19th century it was necessary to speak French to get ahead, and those who could only speak Dutch effectively became second-class citizens. Late that century, and continuing into the 20th century, the Flemish movement evolved to counter this situation. Following World War II, Belgian politics became increasingly dominated by the autonomy of its two main language communities. Intercommunal tensions rose and even the unity of the Belgian state became scrutinized. Through constitutional reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, regionalization of the unitary state led to a three-tiered federation: federal, regional, and community governments were created, a compromise designed to minimize linguistic, cultural, social and economic tensions.

The federal bicameral parliament is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The former is made up of 40 directly elected politicians and 21 representatives appointed by the 3 community parliaments, 10 coopted senators and the children of the king, as senators by Right who in practice do not cast their vote. The Chamber's 150 representatives are elected under a proportional voting system from 11 electoral districts. Belgium is one of the few countries that has compulsory voting, and thus holds one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the world.

The King (currently Albert II) is the head of state, though with limited prerogatives. He appoints ministers, including a Prime Minister, that have the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives to form the federal government. The numbers of Dutch- and French-speaking ministers are equal as prescribed by the Constitution. The judicial system is based on civil law and originates from the Napoleonic code. The Court of Cassation is the court of last resort, with the Court of Appeal one level below.

Belgium's political institutions are complex; most political power is organized around the need to represent the main cultural communities. Since around 1970, the significant national Belgian political parties have split into distinct components that mainly represent the political and linguistic interests of these communities. The major parties in each community, though close to the political centre, belong to three main groups: the right-wing Liberals, the socially conservative Christian Democrats, and the Socialists forming the left-wing. Further notable parties came into being well after the middle of last century, mainly around linguistic, nationalist, or environmental themes, and recently smaller ones of some specific liberal nature.

A string of Christian Democrat coalition governments from 1958 was broken in 1999 after the first dioxin crisis, a major food contamination scandal. A 'rainbow coalition' emerged from six parties: the Flemish and the French-speaking Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens. Later, a 'purple coalition' of Liberals and Social Democrats formed after the Greens lost most of their seats in the 2003 election. The government led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from 1999 to 2007 achieved a balanced budget, some tax reforms, a labour-market reform, scheduled nuclear phase-out, and instigated legislation allowing more stringent war crime and more lenient soft drug usage prosecution. Restrictions on withholding euthanasia were reduced and same-sex marriage legalized. The government promoted active diplomacy in Africa and opposed the invasion of Iraq. Verhofstadt's coalition fared badly in the June 2007 elections. Since then the country has been experiencing a long-lasting political crisis. This crisis is such that many observers have speculated on a possible partition of Belgium. From the 21 December 2007 until 20 March 2008 the Verhofstadt III Government was in office. This coalition of the Flemish and Humanist Democratic Centre (Francophone Christian Democrats), the Flemish and Francophone Liberals together with the Francophone Social Democrats was an interim government until 20 March 2008. On that day a new government, led by Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, the actual winner of the federal elections of June 2007, was sworn in by the king. On 15 July 2008 Leterme announced the resignation of the cabinet to the king, as no progress in constitutional reforms has been made.

In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Belgium (along with Finland and Sweden) 5th out of 169 countries.

Communities and regions

Based on the four language areas defined in 1962–63, consecutive revisions of the country's constitution in 1970, 1980, 1988 and 1993 established a unique federal state with segregated political power into three levels:

  1. The federal government, based in Brussels.
  2. The three language communities:
  3. The three regions:

The constitutional language areas determine the official languages in their municipalities, as well as the geographical limits of the empowered institutions for specific matters. Although this would allow for seven parliaments and governments, when the Communities and Regions were created in 1980, Flemish politicians decided to merge both; thus in the Flemish Region a single institutional body of parliament and government is empowered for all except federal and specific municipal matters. The overlapping boundaries of the Regions and Communities have created two notable peculiarities: the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region (which came into existence nearly a decade after the other regions) is included in both the Flemish and French Communities, and the territory of the German-speaking Community lies wholly within the Walloon Region. Conflicts between the bodies are resolved by the Constitutional Court of Belgium. The structure is intended as a compromise to allow different cultures to live together peacefully.

The Federal State's authority includes justice, defence, federal police, social security, nuclear energy, monetary policy and public debt, and other aspects of public finances. State-owned companies include the Belgian Post Group and Belgian Railways. The Federal Government is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalized institutions towards the European Union and NATO. It controls substantial parts of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs. The budget – without the debt – controlled by the federal government amounts to about 50% of the national fiscal income. The federal government employs ca. 12% of the civil servants.

Communities exercise their authority only within linguistically determined geographical boundaries, originally oriented towards the individuals of a Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education, and the use of the relevant language. Extensions to personal matters less directly connected with language comprise health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.).

Regions have authority in fields that can be broadly associated with their territory. These include economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, and foreign trade. They supervise the provinces, municipalities, and intercommunal utility companies.

In several fields, the different levels each have their own say on specifics. With education, for instance, the autonomy of the Communities neither includes decisions about the compulsory aspect nor allows for setting minimum requirements for awarding qualifications, which remain federal matters. Each level of government can be involved in scientific research and international relations associated with its powers. The treaty-making power of the Region's and Communities' Governments is the broadest of all the Federating units of all the Federations all over the world.

Geography, climate, and environment

Belgium shares borders with France Germany Luxembourg and the Netherlands (). Its total area, including surface water area, is 33,990 square kilometres; land area alone is 30,528 km². Belgium has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west and the central plateau both belong to the Anglo-Belgian Basin; the Ardennes uplands in the south-east are part of the Hercynian orogenic belt. The Paris Basin reaches a small fourth area at Belgium's southernmost tip, Belgian Lorraine.

The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape irrigated by numerous waterways, with fertile valleys and the northeastern sandy plain of the Campine (Kempen). The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are more rugged and rocky with caves and small gorges, and offer much of Belgium's wildlife but little agricultural capability. Extending westward into France, this area is eastwardly connected to the Eifel in Germany by the High Fens plateau, on which the Signal de Botrange forms the country's highest point at 694 metres (2,277 ft).

The climate is maritime temperate, with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb). The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 °C (37 °F), and highest in July at 18  °C (64  °F). The average precipitation per month varies between 54 millimetres (2.1 in) in February or April, to 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in July. Averages for the years 2000 to 2006 show daily temperature minimums of and maximums of and monthly rainfall of 74 millimetres (2.9 in); these are about 1 degree Celsius and nearly 10 millimetres above last century's normal values, respectively.

Phytogeographically, Belgium is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Belgium belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests.

Because of its high population density, location in the centre of Western Europe, and inadequate political effort, Belgium faces serious environmental problems. A 2003 report suggested Belgian rivers to have the lowest water quality of the 122 countries studied. In the 2006 pilot Environmental Performance Index, Belgium scored 75.9% for overall environmental performance and was ranked lowest of the EU member countries , though it was only 39th of 133 countries.

Economy

Belgium's economy and its transportation infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helps made it 2007 the world's 15th largest trading nation. The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP, and high exports per capita. Belgium's main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. Its main exports are automobiles, food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. In 1999, Belgium adopted the Euro, the single European currency, which fully replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union: the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union.

Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 1800s. Liège and Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century in the SambreMeuse valley, the sillon industriel. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis and the region experienced famine from 1846–50.

After World War II, Ghent and Antwerp experienced a rapid expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession; it was particularly prolonged in Wallonia, where the steel industry had become less competitive and experienced serious decline. In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the country continued to shift northwards and is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area.

By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had resulted in a cumulative government debt of about 120% of GDP. As of 2006, the budget was balanced and public debt was equal to 90.30% of GDP. In 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth rates of 1.5% and 3.0%, respectively, were slightly above the average for the Euro area. Unemployment rates of 8.4% in 2005 and 8.2% in 2006 were close to the area average.

From 1832 until 2002, Belgium's currency was the Belgian franc. Belgium switched to the euro in 2002, with the first sets of euro coins being minted in 1999. While the standard Belgian euro coins designated for circulation show the portrait of King Albert II, this does not happen for commemorative coins, where designs are freely chosen.

Demographics

At the start of 2007 nearly 92% of the Belgian population were national citizens, and around 6% were citizens from other European Union member countries. The prevalent foreign nationals were Italian (171,918), French (125,061), Dutch (116,970), Moroccan (80,579), Spanish (42,765), Turkish (39,419), and German (37,621).

Urbanisation

Almost all of the Belgian population is urban—97% in 2004. The population density of Belgium is 342 per square kilometre (886 per square mile)—one of the highest in Europe, after that of the Netherlands and some microstates such as Monaco. The most densely inhabited area is the Flemish Diamond, outlined by the AntwerpLeuvenBrusselsGhent agglomerations. The Ardennes have the lowest density. As of 2006, the Flemish Region had a population of about 6,078,600, with Antwerp (457,749), Ghent (230,951) and Bruges (117,251) its most populous cities; Wallonia had 3,413,978, with Charleroi (201,373), Liège (185,574) and Namur (107.178) its most populous. Brussels houses 1,018,804 in the Capital Region's 19 municipalities, two of which have over 100,000 residents.

Languages

Belgium has three official languages, which are, in order from the greatest speaker population to the smallest, Dutch (in a Belgian context often colloquially called Flemish), French, and German. A number of non-official, minority languages are spoken as well.

As no census exists, there is no official statistical data regarding the distribution or usage of Belgium's three official languages or their dialects. However, various criteria, including the language(s) of parents, of education, or the second-language status of foreign born, may provide suggested figures. An estimated 59% of the Belgian population speaks Dutch (often referred to as Flemish), and French is spoken by 40%. Total Dutch speakers are 6.23 million, concentrated in the northern Flanders region, while French speakers comprise 3.32 million in Wallonia and an estimated 0.87 million or 85% of the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital Region. The German-speaking Community is made up of 73,000 people in the east of the Walloon Region; around 10,000 German and 60,000 Belgian nationals are speakers of German. Roughly 23,000 more of German speakers live in municipalities near the official Community.

Both the Dutch spoken in Belgium and the Belgian French have minor differences in vocabulary and semantic nuances from the varieties spoken respectively in the Netherlands and France. Many Flemish people still speak dialects of Dutch in their local environment. Walloon, once the main regional language of Wallonia, is now only understood and spoken occasionally, mostly by elderly people. Wallonia's dialects, along with those of Picard, are not used in public life.

Education

Education is compulsory from six to eighteen for Belgians, but many continue to study until about 23 years of age. Among OECD countries in 2002, Belgium had the third-highest proportion of 18–21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education, at 42%. Though an estimated 98% of the adult population is literate, concern is rising over functional illiteracy. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Belgium's education as the 19th best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average.

Highly politicized conflicts between freethought and Catholic segments of the population during the 1950s caused a split in educational organization. A secular branch of schooling is controlled by the Community, the province, or the municipality, while religious, mainly Catholic branch education, is organized by religious authorities, although subsidized and supervised by the Community.

Religion

Since the country's independence, Roman Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics. However Belgium is largely a secular country as the laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. During the reign of Albert I and Baudouin, the monarchy has had a reputation of deeply-rooted Catholicism.

Symbolically and materially, the Roman Catholic Church remains in a favourable position. Belgium's concept of 'recognized religions' set a path for Islam to follow to acquire the treatment of Jewish and Protestant religions. While other minority religions, such as Hinduism, do not yet have such status, Buddhism took the first steps toward legal recognition in 2007. According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion, about 47% of the population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church, while Islam is the second-largest religion at 3.5%. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered to be a more religious region than Wallonia, showed that 55% considered themselves religious, and that 36% believed that God created the world.

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 43% of Belgian citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", whereas 29% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 27% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".

It is estimated that between 3 to 4% of the Belgian population is Muslim (98% Sunni) (350 000 to 400 000 people). The majority of Belgian Muslims live in the major cities, such as Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. The largest group of immigrants in Belgium are Moroccans, with 264,974 people. The Turks are the third-largest group, and the second-largest Muslim ethnic group, numbering 159,336. There is also a tiny Hindu and Sikh population.

Science and technology

Contributions to the development of science and technology have appeared throughout the country's history. The sixteenth century Early Modern flourishing of Western Europe included cartographer Gerardus Mercator, anatomist Andreas Vesalius, herbalist Rembert Dodoens, and mathematician Simon Stevin among the most influential scientists.

The quickly developed and dense Belgian railroad system caused major companies like La Brugeoise et Nivelles (now the BN division of Bombardier Transportation) to develop specific technologies, and the economically important very deep coal mining in the course of the First Industrial Revolution has required highly reputed specialized studies for mine engineers.

The end of the nineteenth century and the twentieth saw important Belgian advances in applied and pure science. The chemist Ernest Solvay and the engineer Zenobe Gramme (École Industrielle de Liège) gave their names to the Solvay process and the Gramme dynamo, respectively, in the 1860s. Georges Lemaître (Catholic University of Leuven) is credited with proposing the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in 1927. Three Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine were awarded to Belgians: Jules Bordet (Université Libre de Bruxelles) in 1919, Corneille Heymans (University of Ghent) in 1938, and Albert Claude (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and Christian De Duve (Université Catholique de Louvain) in 1974. Ilya Prigogine (Université Libre de Bruxelles) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977.

Culture

Cultural life is nowadays concentrated within each language community and a variety of barriers have made a shared cultural sphere less pronounced. There has been since the 1970s no bilingual universities except the Royal Military Academy, no common media, and no single large cultural or scientific organization in which both main communities are represented. The forces that once held the Belgians together—Roman Catholicism and economic and political opposition to the Dutch—are no longer strong. Despite its political and linguistic divisions that have been strongly changing during the centuries, the region corresponding to today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence on European art and culture.

Fine arts

Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish, the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting, and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture are milestones in the history of art. While the 15th century's art in the Low Countries is dominated by the religious paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, the 16th century is characterized by a broader panel of styles such as Peter Breughel's landscape paintings and Lambert Lombard's representation of the antique. Though Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck flourished in the early 17th century in the Southen Netherlands, it gradually declined thereafter. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including James Ensor, Constant Permeke and René Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art. The multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre and the painter Luc Tuymans are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene. Belgian contributions to architecture also continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style.

The vocal music of the Franco-Flemish School developed in the southern part of the Low Countries and was an important contribution to Renaissance culture. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the appearance of major violinists, such as Eugène Ysaÿe and Arthur Grumiaux, while Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1846. The composer César Franck was born in Liège in 1822. Belgium has also produced music of contemporary note. Jazz musician Toots Thielemans and singer Jacques Brel have achieved global fame. In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known.

Belgium has produced several well-known authors, including the poet Emile Verhaeren and novelists Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon, Suzanne Lilar and Amélie Nothomb. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé is the best known of Franco-Belgian comics, but many other major authors, including Peyo (The Smurfs), André Franquin, Edgar P. Jacobs, and Willy Vandersteen brought the Belgian cartoon strip industry on a par with the U.S.A. and Japan.

Belgian cinema, often influenced by the Dutch or French, has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to life on-screen. Other Belgian directors include André Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; well-known actors include Jan Decleir and Marie Gillain; and successful films include Man Bites Dog and The Alzheimer Affair. In the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six.

Folklore

Folklore plays a major role in Belgium's cultural life: the country has a comparatively high number of processions, cavalcades, parades, 'ommegangs' and 'ducasses', 'kermesse', and other local festivals, nearly always with an originally religious background. The Carnival of Binche with its famous Gilles, and the 'Processional Giants and Dragons' of Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons are recognized by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Other examples are the Carnival of Aalst; the still very religious processions of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Virga Jesse in Hasselt, and Hanswijk in Mechelen; the August 15 festival in Liège; and the Walloon festival in Namur. Originated in 1832 and revived in the 1960s, the Gentse Feesten have become a modern tradition. A major non-official holiday is the Saint Nicholas Day, a festivity for children and, in Liège, for students.

Sports

The 1920 Summer Olympics were held in Antwerp, Belgium.

Football (soccer) and cycling are the most popular sports in Belgium. With five victories in the Tour de France and numerous other cycling records, Belgian Eddy Merckx ranks #1 as the greatest cyclist of all time. His hour speed record (set in 1972) stood for twelve years. Jean-Marie Pfaff, a former Belgian goalkeeper, is considered one of the greatest in the history of football. Belgium is currently bidding with the Netherlands to host the 2018 World Cup. Both countries previously hosted the UEFA European Football Championship in 2000. Belgium also hosted the European Football Championships in 1972.

Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin both were Player of the Year in the Women's Tennis Association as they were ranked the number one female tennis player. The Spa-Francorchamps motor-racing circuit hosts the Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix. The Belgian driver, Jacky Ickx, won eight Grands Prix and six 24 Hours of Le Mans, and twice finished as runner-up in the Formula One World Championship. Belgium also has a strong reputation in motocross; world champions include Roger De Coster, Joël Robert, Georges Jobé, Eric Geboers, Joël Smets and Stefan Everts.

Cuisine

Belgium is well known in the world over for its cuisine. Many highly ranked Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential gastronomic guides, such as the Michelin Guide. Belgians love waffles and french fries. Contrary to their name, french fries also originated in Belgium. The name "french fries" actually refers to the description of the manner in which the potato is cut. To "french" means to cut into slivers. The national dishes are "steak and fries with salad", and "mussels with fries".

Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Callebaut, Côte d'Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas, Guylian and Godiva, are world renowned and widely sold.

Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is InBev based in Belgium.

See also

References

Footnotes

General online sources

Bibliography

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