Thursday, August 1, 2013

The King of the Belgians

Since arriving in Brussels, most Sunday mornings have been spent sleeping in, drinking coffee, and maybe milling around a farmer's market if I feel like leaving the comfort of my balcony. But on July 21st-also known as Belgian National Day-I added a few additional items to my usually lazy routine: wishing King Phillipe and Queen Mathilde congratulations as they assume their new roles as King and Queen of the Belgians. 

I happen to live almost across the street from the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, which is where the Belgian family holds weddings, funerals, and for the first time in their monarchy's history, an abdication. Well, the technical abdication took place later in the day with signing official paperwork and taking the oath of office at parliament, but the cathedral bore witness to the Te Deum mass that blessed King Phillipe's upcoming reign. I figured instead of watching the ceremony from the tv, I'd cross the street to see if I could catch a glimpse of the action. What I didn't expect was to be able to walk right up to the front of the line and watch the royal family pull up to the church. 

In total contrast to the US, there was hardly any security at all. No metal detectors, very few security guards, and the king and queen seemed to roam as they pleased. The small size of the crowd was also a bit mystifying. You would think that the very first abdication of a Belgian king, the inauguration of his son, all coinciding with Belgian Independence Day, would generate a bit of interest. Not so much. The few people who were there were really passionate, as in wearing Belgian flags as capes and shouting "Long Live the King" in French and Flemish, but for the most part it seemed the country wasn't that interested. The southern Francophone province of Wallonia demonstrated much more interest than the northern Flemish-speaking province of Flanders. Traditionally, the monarchy has been seen as much more closely affiliated with the Francophone community, and there are strong Flemish political parties that want to see the end of the royal family and the creation of a republic. They don't really feel much loyalty to their king, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the monarchy is on a much smaller scale than in the UK for example. It's kind of hard to comprehend the seeming lack of nationalism and split identity between the regions, and King Philippe has his work cut out for him to help unite the country. He isn't called King of the Belgians for nothing though. 

And of course, it wouldn't be a holiday without the Manneken Pis dressed up in another costume. This time in a Belgian military uniform in honor of Independence Day.

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