After the World War, Belgium was faced with the need for reconstruction: a part of the country had been reduced to a battlefield, the means of transport were disorganized, the industrial equipment systematically destroyed or plundered by the Germans. The arduous task was met with energy and successfully completed in a few years.
On the other hand, there was a need to adapt the institutions of the state to the democratic mentality then prevailing throughout Europe, and to further develop social legislation, which had already advanced considerably before 1914. The revision of the constitution, in 1921, established pure and simple universal suffrage at the age of 21, without however extending it to women; in the same year a law was promulgated that fixed eight hours for working in industry.
These reforms had been the work of coalition governments, which included ministers belonging to the three parties: the Catholic, in which the democratic fraction had grown in strength, the socialist, which had seen its numbers increase considerably since the elections of 1919, and the liberal, who had instead seen his own decrease (Delacroix cabinets, 1919-20; Carton de Wiart, 1920-21). In 1921 they were succeeded by a Catholic-liberal coalition (Theunis cabinet), which found itself facing serious financial difficulties, due to the repercussions of the war, especially due to the heavy load of reconstruction, and with serious problems of foreign policy.
During the peace conference, which was to lead to the Treaty of Versailles, Belgium had in fact claimed a privileged condition in the matter of reparations, justifying this request on the basis of the violation of its neutrality; but he had only obtained priority over 2,500 million gold francs. His territorial claims had also been accepted by annexing the German “circles” of Eupen and Malmédy to the Belgian territory, a meeting in favor of which historical and linguistic arguments were put forward; in fact, then, a considerable part of the population did not lend itself well to assimilation. Finally, for imperious reasons of a military and economic nature, Belgium endeavored to obtain, Scheldt, which would ensure rights on the river, downstream of Antwerp, similar to those of Holland. The excesses of a nationalist campaign, to which the government remained extraneous, and which went so far as to claim the annexation of Zeland Flanders and Dutch Limburg to Belgium, contributed to souring spirits and preventing an agreement. The negotiations, interrupted by the Belgian side in 1920, were then resumed and led to the stipulation of a treaty, which in 1927 was rejected by the Dutch parliament for fear that the new regime would benefit Antwerp at the expense of Rotterdam. On the other hand, as early as 1921 the customs union with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg could be concluded. they helped to sour spirits and prevent an agreement. The negotiations, interrupted by the Belgian side in 1920, were then resumed and led to the stipulation of a treaty, which in 1927 was rejected by the Dutch parliament for fear that the new regime would benefit Antwerp at the expense of Rotterdam. On the other hand, as early as 1921 the customs union with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg could be concluded. they helped to sour spirits and prevent an agreement. The negotiations, interrupted by the Belgian side in 1920, were then resumed and led to the stipulation of a treaty, which in 1927 was rejected by the Dutch parliament for fear that the new regime would benefit Antwerp at the expense of Rotterdam. On the other hand, as early as 1921 the customs union with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg could be concluded.
Concern for its own security had led Belgium to conclude a defensive military agreement with France in 1920. However, the foreign policy of Belgium was not linked to that of France; at least, like France, Belgium sought an understanding with England, the power most interested in maintaining Belgian independence. Belgium participated in the occupation of the Ruhr basin, from 1923 to 1924, only for the purpose of safeguarding its rights to reparations due from Germany; when in 1923 an artificial movement tending towards the independence or autonomy of the Rhineland was unleashed on the left bank of the Rhine, the Belgian authorities prevented its spread in the German territory they controlled, that is, in the Aachen region.
The years 1925 and 1926 represented an important date in post-war Belgian history. The elections of 1925 brought to power a Christian-democratic and socialist coalition government (Poullet cabinet), whose policy, not exempt from demagogy, contributed to causing a strong depreciation of the currency, whose course was unstable and tended to discount from the moment of the armistice. A tripartite ministry (Jaspar cabinet) had to be rebuilt in 1926, in which the banker Francqui entered, in order to proceed with a stabilization of the currency, which was carried out, in consideration of the predominantly industrial character of the Belgian economy, at a low level, which consecrated most of the devaluation that had taken place (the new franc corresponded to 1/7 of the gold franc).
The three years that followed stabilization – in particular 1927 and 1928 – were a period of extraordinarily intense economic activity for Belgium, characterized by the exceptionally rapid and abundant development of industrial activity, accompanied by dizzying increases in the stock market, especially colonial. Similar phenomena had in fact occurred in the colony of Congo and in the African territory of Rwanda-Urundi (formerly belonging to German East Africa) placed under the Belgian mandate by the League of Nations in 1922. New increases in wages, made necessary in turn by the rise in prices. of life, assure the working class a participation in this prosperity. In reality, industrial appreciation had grown wildly and stock market values had risen to unjustified heights,
In 1927, the Socialists withdrew from the government to start an agitation, which ended in failure, for the reduction of military service to six months. The coalition governments between Catholics and liberals that succeeded one another in power (Jaspar cabinets, until 1931, and Renkin, 1931-1932) had to resolve the serious problems raised by the Flemish question. After the war, the movement, which had already pushed the Flemish populations before 1914 to demand a regime that would allow them to develop fully while maintaining their language, received a formidable impulse following the adoption of pure and simple universal suffrage: the masses of all the northern region, speaking exclusively Flemish, were able to assert their aspirations. The speech of the Crown of November 22, 1918 had, moreover, promised Flanders equality in law and in fact with Wallonia. We took a long time to fulfill this promise: in 1921 a law was promulgated on the use of languages in the administration, in 1923 another law made Ghent University partially Flemish. French-speaking in Flemish territory, Brussels environments and numerous Walloon elements, were not enough to satisfy the demands of the Flemings: and thus the Flemish nationalist movement was strengthened, ready to seek the realization of its ideal even at the cost of causing a dislocation, if not quite a fracture, in the body of Belgium.
The responsible authorities saw the danger and, from 1928 onwards, a series of laws were implemented which aimed to make all public life in Flanders exclusively Flemish: in 1928 Flemish units were created in the army; in 1930 the University of Ghent and in 1932 the elementary and middle education and administration of the whole Flemish territory were made entirely Flemish. A law relating to the administration of justice was passed in 1934.
In relations with foreign countries, Belgium, since the evacuation of the Ruhr basin in 1924, increased the pacifying character of its policy, tending, first of all, to contribute to the maintenance of a solid understanding with England, France and Italy, in the interest of peace, to maintain friendly relations with Holland, united with the Flemish provinces with a common culture, and to re-establish good neighborly relations with Germany. In short, a policy very close to voluntary neutrality between great powers whose interests have found themselves in conflict several times. Moreover, Belgium never neglected to actively participate in international negotiations. The Minister of Foreign Affairs É. Vandervelde played an important part in the conclusion of the Locarno agreements in 1928, which guaranteed the borders between Germany, France and Belgium itself; his successor P. Hymans exercised a strong conciliatory action in the League of Nations and in the great international conferences, especially in The Hague in 1929 and in Lausanne in 1932. On several occasions, Belgium tried to act in favor of the freedom of international exchanges, especially through the 1932 Ouchy Convention with Holland; but his efforts clashed with the economic nationalism of the great powers. especially through the 1932 Ouchy Convention with Holland; but his efforts clashed with the economic nationalism of the great powers. especially through the 1932 Ouchy Convention with Holland; but his efforts clashed with the economic nationalism of the great powers.
In 1930 Belgium, after having greeted with joy the wedding of Princess Marie José with Umberto di Savoia, prince of Piedmont, heir to the throne of Italy, celebrated the centenary of its independence with great solemnity. But, immediately after the holidays, new reasons for concern arose: the economic crisis and the intensification of nationalistic movements in Germany. The Renkin cabinet and especially the de Broqueville cabinet (from 1932) had to devote the most vigilant attention to these problems. The general economic crisis and the closing of numerous foreign borders caused serious losses to the agriculture, trade and industry of Belgium, which live, to a large extent, from exports. The excessive industrial equipment of the prosperous years made the crisis even more acute. Unemployment and misery grew in alarming proportions. On the other hand, the aggravation of aid to the unemployed and the lower income from income put the finances of the state in danger. To restore them, at least partially, it was not possible to follow the ordinary parliamentary procedure. In 1932 and 1933, as at the time of stabilization, in 1926, the legislative power had to confer on the king – that is, the government – the right to issue decree-laws. As for the potential danger represented by the German nationalistic movements, it forced Belgium, concerned about preserving its independence with peace, to take military measures, in order to better ensure its own defense in any eventuality. in 1926, the legislative power had to give the king – that is, the government – the right to issue decree-laws. As for the potential danger represented by the German nationalistic movements, it forced Belgium, concerned about preserving its independence with peace, to take military measures, in order to better ensure its own defense in any eventuality. in 1926, the legislative power had to give the king – that is, the government – the right to issue decree-laws. As for the potential danger represented by the German nationalistic movements, it forced Belgium, concerned about preserving its independence with peace, to take military measures, in order to better ensure its own defense in any eventuality.
On February 17, 1934, King Albert I met death in an accident on the rocks of Marche-les-Dames. His death was felt by all Belgians, regardless of party, language or social class, as a personal mourning. The action carried out by the king had been very remarkable. Respectful of the duties imposed on him by the constitution, he nevertheless, thanks to the immense prestige ensured by his heroic attitude in the world war, had exercised a constant and very profound action on the government of the country: this owes in large part to him for having been able to live, without too many serious shocks, the difficult postwar years. Concerned with the moral and intellectual interests of the nation, King Albert provoked in 1928 the creation of a very rich foundation, the National Scientific Research Fund.
A dominant concern during the first year of Leopold III’s reign was the serious repercussions of the world economic crisis on Belgium. The governments of the liberal-Catholic coalition that succeeded one another in power under the direction of the Comte de Broqueville and del Theunis (November 19, 1934) tried to resolve these difficulties through a policy of deflation. But this was not radical enough to succeed; and, on the other hand, it ran up against the violent opposition of the Socialist Party, which had adopted as a program a plan, due to the sociologist Henri de Man, to revive economic life. On March 25, 1935, the king appealed to the deputy governor of the National Bank, Fr. van Zeeland, who set up a government composed of Catholics, Socialists and Liberals, and with the participation of de Man. In order to put an end to the distressing situation in which the country found itself, the new ministry proceeded with the devaluation of the currency: a measure that allowed the Belgian economy to take advantage of the improvement that was simultaneously manifesting in the world economic situation. And so, in a few months, unemployment decreased significantly, and a notable recovery took place in the industrial, commercial and even agricultural activity of Belgium. The economic situation of Congo also improved, albeit independently. unemployment fell significantly, and a notable recovery took place in industrial, commercial and even agricultural activity in Belgium. The economic situation of Congo also improved, albeit independently. unemployment fell significantly, and a notable recovery took place in industrial, commercial and even agricultural activity in Belgium. The economic situation of Congo also improved, albeit independently.
In that atmosphere of recovery came the painful note of the death of Queen Astrid, following a car accident in Switzerland (29 August 1935): felt by all Belgians as a personal pain, such was the affection that the queen had known be captivated with his goodness.
The economic improvement continued until the spring of 1937. But the political difficulties instead worsened. Many Belgians, of different origins and backgrounds, feel uneasy in the framework of political parties and aspire to free themselves from their tyranny. In the middle classes, many people, who suffered cruelly from the economic crisis and the general evolution of the post-war period, revealed their hostility both to socialists and communists on the one hand, and to big capitalism on the other. Add to this the mistakes made by politicians involved in business life.
To regroup the discontent and denounce the “scandals” arose a movement of young people, the “rexism”, headed by a speaker of value, Léon Degrelle. Rexism immediately adopted an attitude of violent opposition against the government of van Zeeland and in the elections of May 24, 1936 won a number of seats in parliament equal to that of the Liberal party.
A second van Zeeland ministry, equally tripartite, but in which the socialist influence was more pronounced, was formed in the aftermath of the elections. It found itself grappling with the most serious difficulties. In June, strikes of a revolutionary nature with attempts, on the other hand, to occupy the factories. Then, in the following months, an increasingly fierce campaign by the Rexist party, which caused constant agitation in the country. In the spring of 1937, a partial election pitted Prime Minister van Zeeland against L. Degrelle. The struggle, of a violence rarely achieved until then in Belgium, took on the aspect of a duel between the traditional parties and the partisans of a new political system, with an authoritarian tendency. Van Zeeland had an overwhelming success on April 11; but the causes of discontent, which had served as a springboard to rexism, had not disappeared. Government became very unpopular in many quarters; and following personal incidents, van Zeeland resigned on 25 October 1937. He was succeeded by a new tripartite ministry, of the same character as the previous one, under the direction of the liberal PE Janson, who in turn resigned on 13 May. 1938 and was replaced by another tripartite ministry, chaired by PH Spaak (see App.).
The essential problem of Belgium today is that of its internal structure. The Flemish population, i.e. the majority of the Belgian people, who had already obtained laws that would make public life, in the Flemish provinces, take on a Flemish aspect, in most of the problems and institutions, continued to aspire to new reforms that allow it to fully realize its development in its own language. These reforms would tend to replace the centralized structure of the state with a structure based on the coexistence, within the Belgian state, of two peoples, the Flemish and the Walloon. And measures inspired by this principle are already in preparation. For Belgium history, please check historyaah.com.
In foreign policy, an event of capital importance has occurred in recent years. The tendency to disengage from the political link with France, which had existed for many years, especially in Flemish circles, was reinforced by two new facts: the reoccupation of the left bank of the Rhine by the German army on 7 March 1936, and the conclusion of the Franco-Russian agreement. The result was a very strong movement of public opinion for the denunciation of the Franco-Belgian military convention and the Locarno agreements, likely to drag Belgium into international complications: and on October 14, 1936, King Leopold III proclaimed the need, for Belgium, of a exclusively Belgian policy, which ruled out the possibility for the country to be drawn into a war when it had not been attacked itself.
On 13 October of the same year, Germany also undertook to respect the inviolability and integrity of Belgium and to defend it should it be attacked. Belgium, while strengthening its military organization, is therefore increasingly implementing a policy of voluntary neutrality.