It is our National holiday. 185 years ago our country was founded. All those long centuries before, the our surrounding nations have always tried to conquer our regions. We were wanted. We have been part of Spain, Austria, France, Holland and Germany (if we include the 2 last wars). Until our surrounding nations, including the UK, decided it was best to found a new country as a buffer between the rivaling big countries. They united 2 totally different people, the Flemish and the Walloons, and that was the beginning of the country called Belgium.
So it mustn’t surprise you that, on the national Belgian holidays, those that wear the Belgian national colors, are mostly tourists, maybe expats, and a lot of immigrants. (Thank God we have them).
(one of the rare people wearing national colors)
Ok. That must be a small exaggeration. But well.
I was looking forward to the National Parade. Never ever had I seen it, and the mere mentioning that I would be going to friends and family made them roll their eyes. ‘Really?’ ‘You are going to see the ‘defilé’?’. But as I go and shoot every parade I know of in Buenos Aires (and there are many) I thought it was time I did something for my home country. I took the train to Brussels with my camera at hand. Tout pour La Patrie, alles voor het vaderland.
Brussels is a small town, and to my surprise the festivities were concentrated in just a small part of the city. Streets full of French Fries (read : Belgian fries) boots and waffle stands. Dozens of them over a couple of 100 meters. Folklore music and activities passed through the main street, and then went back through the same, crossing and passing other groups, while the people just walked between them : it was totally disorganized. The bands had nothing of the sweeping Argentine drums that push up the adrenaline in Buenos Aires. Instead they played timidly. Carefully. Too controlled. They lacked passion. Fire. Energy.
The official ‘defilé’, or parade, was just around the park in front of the royal palace, the narrow sidewalk not giving enough space to half of the people present, so the streets to and from the park were over crowded and there was hardly any police to keep the people lined up. I found a good space, defending it with my life and only accepting a bunch of small kids excited to see it all, in front of me, but soon, and over and over again or rather, the whole time, overly rude people just came to stand in front of us. But that is when Argentine fury came onto me : to go in front of someone in line is probably one of the worst sins in Argentina and totally not done.
The soldiers and para-commandos passed right in front of me, proud and disciplined. The marines, air force, one group after the other. They passed by quickly with long periods of waiting in between. Meanwhile and totally unexpected and unpredicted, the sun had come out and was blazing on our heads, turning everyone’s skin red in no time. Drops of sweat pearling on our faces. Soon I grew tired and had enough of the struggle and tried to find my way through the crowds and back to the train station.
Belgians need to get some national pride, and a bit more passion about their country would do no harm either. Belgians are too modest and should see celebrations a lot grander… Says the expert. ;-)
Vive La Belgique, Lang Leve België.