Belgium is a small country in northwestern Europe. Belgium's location has
been the country's great fortune and its terrible sorrow. The country borders
three major trading nations via France, the
Netherlands, and Germany. It is separated from a fourth one, the United Kingdom,
by a narrow strip of the North Sea.
Trade with these nations has helped make Belgium an important centre of commerce
and industry. Throughout its history, however, Belgium has been a bloody
battleground for the wars of other nations because of its central location.
A Short Background
Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and was occupied by
Germany during World Wars I and II. It has prospered in the past half century as
a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU.
Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking
Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments
granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
The people of Belgium are primarily of two ethnic groups, the Flemings (Teutonic
origin) and the Walloons (Celtic origin, probably with an admixture of Alpine
elements). The most distinguishing characteristic of these two groups is
language. The Flemings speak Dutch (often referred to by its historic regional
name, Flemish; see Flemish Language), and the Walloons speak French.
The predominantly Flemish provinces are in the northern half of Belgium,
called Flanders (Flemish Region), and the predominantly Walloon provinces are in
the southern half, called Wallonia. The capital of Brussels, an enclave within
the Flanders region, is mixed. In 1993 these three ethnolinguistic areas became
official federal regions.
In 1963 a law was passed establishing three official languages within Belgium:
Dutch was recognized as the official language in the north, French in the south,
and German along the eastern border.
In the city and suburbs of Brussels, both French and Dutch are officially
recognized, although French speakers are the larger group. In the country as a
whole, strictly Dutch speakers make up about 58 percent, and French speakers
about 32 percent of the population, while about 10 percent are bilingual or
speak German or other languages. In 1971 a constitutional change was enacted
giving political recognition to these three linguistic communities, providing
cultural autonomy for them, and also revising the administrative status of
||10,258,762 (July 2001 est.)
1 EURO to US Dollar : 1,1962 (April 2004)
||Western Europe, bordering the
North Sea, between France and the Netherlands
||50 50 N, 4 00 E
||Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed
or other 11%
||Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant
or other 25%
||Dutch 58%, French 32%, German
10%, legally bilingual (Dutch and French)