Minister-president calls for new history museum in 11 July address
Flanders’ minister-president, Geert Bourgeois, would like to see a new museum dedicated to local history, one of the many issues he touched on during two speeches commemorating Flemish Community Day
There’s no place like home
The day falls on the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs, when several thousand Flemish farmers and other citizens took up arms against the French cavalry, driving them out of West Flanders. The 14th-century battle has gone down in Flemish collective history as a symbol of independence from foreign oppression.
“Places where people feel they are at home, where they can identify with each other,” said Bourgeois (pictured) in his speech on Kortrijk’s Groeningenkouter, “have multiple forms because we humans are not one-dimensional: It’s not ‘either/or’, it’s ‘and/and’.”
He went on to describe how different communities appeal to different people. “The family, the extended family, the association, the club, the professional organisation, the neighbourhood, the church, the district, the town, the city … these are places people can come home to, where they see themselves, where they can find a sense of collective identity. Flanders is also such a place.”
Newcomers: welcome, and learn Dutch
Bourgeois then called for a museum of Flemish history where all of these identities and shared experiences could be gathered. He pointed to similar European museums, such as the Friesland Museum in the Netherlands and the upcoming Museum of Bavarian history in Germany.
“We have the most wonderful museums here featuring the most diverse subjects but no museum dedicated to bringing our own history and culture to life. Isn’t it time to create a socially responsible museum that shows how Flanders’ cultural, sociological and political identity has developed?”
Bourgeois went on to talk about honouring the immigrants and expats who have moved to Flanders, as they, too, need a place to call home. He also called on these residents to learn about Flanders’ history and culture and to learn the language, which he said “builds bridges” between citizens.
“Language allows people to be a part of a culture, a part of a society. That is why it is important – an outright duty – for anyone who comes to live in Flanders to learn Dutch.”
Globalisation has created openness and prosperity, but it has also made the world much more complex
Bourgeois delivered an altogether different kind of Community Day speech on Monday to the diplomatic corps – the group of international diplomats and ambassadors based in Belgium. The speech, in English, touched on European and international relations, with special mention of the UK and the US in the wake of Brexit and president Donald Trump’s trade tariffs.
“The May 2019 elections at Flemish, federal and EU level will come at a time when the world against finds itself at the crossroads of interlinked challenges,” Bourgeois told the crowd. “Globalisation has created openness and prosperity, but it has also made the world much more complex as it has become more integrated and interdependent. Policy decisions taken in one country may seriously affect other states, regional blocks and indeed world trade.”
Bourgeois continued by saying that Flanders was a federated state that embraces – and depends on – global trade, noting that 2017 was a record year for Flemish exports.
“A thorough ex-post evaluation of the impact of recently concluded EU trade agreements confirmed that these trade agreements effectively deliver growth and prosperity in Flanders.”
‘Clock is ticking’ on Brexit
The region is also a great believer in the added value of the European Union to trade, as well as a number of other sectors. “No EU member state is big enough to face global challenges on its own: migration, climate change, financial stability, security and defence, the promotion of peace, the respect for the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
He went on to discuss the current trade war between the US and China. “I wish to express Flanders’ concern at the unilateral actions taken by the United States of America, one of our best friends and a long-time ally. Not just for backtracking on the Paris Climate Agreement, but also for considering Nafta and EU partners a threat to American ‘national security’. I have consistently advocated a new Trans-Atlantic Partnership that includes ‘free’ and ‘fair’ trade.”
We are obliged to redefine our relationship with the UK. This is not an easy task
Flanders does, however, understand US concern, he said. “We, too, note that some still believe that over-subsidising production and dumping goods on foreign markets can continue without having consequences. Our trade rules therefore need to evolve so that all partners refrain from pursuing such policies. But to do so, we need to work together and reinforce – not withdraw from – multilateral co-operation.”
He pointed to Ceta, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreements between the EU and Canada, which Flanders has ratified, and pointed to other agreements he hoped to be able to make, specifically with Japan, Singapore, Mexico and Vietnam.
This brought him to the UK and Brexit. “Historically, Flanders has always thrived when the UK thrived. We have a unique and cherished relationship with the UK. This relationship goes back to the Great War and the Royal Privilege of 1666, which granted 50 Bruges-based fishermen eternal access to British waters and even to the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the event that is the reason why we are celebrating ‘Flanders Day’ today.”
Now, he continued, “we are obliged to redefine our relationship. This is not an easy task. The red lines of the UK government do not allow for many options. Flanders wants a trade-friendly Brexit which entails: an ambitious, deep and broad Free Trade Agreement, a plus-treaty with close co-operation in as many policy areas as possible.”
However, he said, “the clock is ticking, and I sincerely hope the next 17 weeks will be used in good stead to arrive at a ‘smart’ Brexit deal. I welcome the UK government’s comprehensive proposal of last Friday, which moves towards the ‘trade-friendly’ Brexit of which the government of Flanders is in favour.”
Citizens awarded for outstanding service
Finally, today – Flemish Community Day itself – an event in Brussels’ city hall saw many speeches, including from speaker of the Flemish parliament Jan Peumans, Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close and Els Ampe, Brussels-City councillor for public works, mobility and the Dutch language.
Bourgeois awarded the traditional Flemish Community Honours to 14 outstanding citizens for their contributions to society. Included in the 14 were Lutgart Simoens, a popular radio show host for 25 years; Khalid Benhaddou, the chair of the platform of Flemish Imams; and world-famous cardiologist Pedro Brugada.
Photo: Flanders’ minister-president Geert Bourgeois giving his Flemish Community Day speech in Kortrijk on Tuesday evening
Flemish Community Day
700th anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs
Vlaanderen Feest! events organised in 2013
percentage of Flemish towns participating in Vlaanderen Feest!