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so Brussels.

Cities, culture

January 21, 2022

Brussels. I had been there a few times for business reasons, but now that Karin and I are taking it easy, an opportunity presented itself to visit the city more extensively. We booked two nights in a nice, simple hotel (Adagio) in a side street of Rue Belliard, Nijverheidsstraat or Rue de l’industrie which is all official in Brussels bilingual in French and Dutch.

The terrace on the Mont des Arts near the Royal Library with near the tower of the town hall on the Grote Markt and on the left behind in the distance the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Koekelberg.

The city is widely regarded as the unofficial capital of Europe, ie the European Union. Unofficially because the EU is not (yet) a country. How did Brussels actually become ‘European capital’? Allowing myself some speculation, I am stepping through history in seven-mile boots. Together with the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Belgium belongs to the founding states of the united Europe and the Benelux, the first small customs union after the war, formed a sort of pilot for the later European Community. Belgium and Luxembourg had already formed a single state with the northern Netherlands (the former Republic) from 1815 until the Belgian revolt and secession of 1830-1839.

Brussels was already a royal city in the Habsburg Empire from the late Middle Ages, but the Belgian King Leopold II (1835-1909) has, from the moment he became king in 1865, as a ‘builder’ quite a household in Brussels and had numerous monumental buildings erected there. which now remind the city of Paris, especially because the streets are all paved with cobblestones or ‘cobblestones’. (Although the triumphal arch in the Cinquantenaire Park is virtually a copy of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.)

Thanks to Leopold II, who reigned from 1865 and died in 1909, Brussels is full of these neoclassical buildings along cobbled avenues that give the city a Parisian appearance.

This nineteenth century eruption of royal building fever meant that when the new European institutions needed housing in the early 1950s, Brussels was a good candidate. What also helped was that Belgium is a harmless small country that is bilingual – even trilingual because German is also spoken. Strasbourg has of course also been pushed, especially by France, but that does not seem to make it as a European capital. And Liège and even Amsterdam were briefly in the picture. But Brussels is on the border of Germanic and Latin Europe, geographically central and easily accessible from both Paris and Berlin.

Some fifty thousand ‘Eurocrats’ work in Brussels and every morning they want to go to the few square kilometers where the European quarter is located. Many do this by car, so in Nijverheidsstraat – and other side streets – traffic is blocked for a large part of the day because the traffic light discharges the traffic in a dosed manner onto the Rue Belliard through which it races continuously.

Tens of thousands of Eurocrats spend all day squirming by car through the narrow streets of Brussels on their way to the car parks beneath one of the many glass-concrete offices, invariably decorated with the flags of the countries of the Union and those of the Union itself.

Here, European Commissioner Frans Timmermans can still do some beneficial missionary work for his ‘Green Deal’ to make the European continent more sustainable and green. Here and there you see something that resembles bicycle paths, but there is still a long way to go here.

We have done everything on foot that is reasonable to do. Climbing and descending is especially tiring: Brussels is a hilly city. This occasionally provides beautiful views.

The European Information Office on Rue Belliard lavishly advertises all the charities the Union pursues

The information office of the European Union exuberantly advertises all the noble goals pursued by the Union.

We visited the Magritte Museum in the huge Museum of Fine Arts. His paintings have a dreamy surrealism that fits so well with Belgium and Brussels in particular. A split country and city. Magritte questions the obvious when it comes to the names we give to objects and concepts. The ordinary suddenly becomes absurd. Name, meaning and the object to which they belong become separated from each other.

Now that we have admired Magritte in his ‘natural Belgian habitat’, a country with linguistic and cultural borders, we understand better his pre-occupation with language, object naming and meaning. He was engaged in communication in a conceptual way.

Rene Magritte’s thoughts on image, understanding, meaning and naming.

In the House of European History you become immersed in the absurdity of war – especially of the First World War, which left deep scars in the collective memory much more than in the Netherlands. An unprecedented mass destruction of people on an industrial scale that is poured out on you from tableaux and from showcases and which leaves you depressed. Impressive, yes.

The House of European History is located a stone’s throw from the European Parliament where an employee of the information office almost drags us in for a half-hour audio tour where we can take a look at the main meeting room.

Here we are shown the lesson Europe has learned from its violent history. The 750 delegates can each speak in their own national language and a large number of simultaneous translators ensure that each delegate can listen in their own national language.

The Comics Museum on Zandstraat is located in a beautiful former Art Deco department store that is elaborately decorated with iron and glass ornaments.

Now we were ready for a little light-heartedness and you can find that in Brussels in the national comics museum on the Zandstraat or Center Belge de la bande dessinée, or musée de la BD for short. BD is comic in French. The former Art Deco department store in which it is housed is worth a visit in itself.

The European Union has chosen a dignified capital in which culture and nature could nevertheless conquer a little more space from the busy car traffic of hasty Eurocrats.

We close with a Brussels love song:

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Putin’s Politics Backfire


January 21, 2022

In the geopolitical joust between the West and Russia, Vladimir Putin is increasingly isolating himself. Russian interference since 2014 in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea – parts of Ukraine ethnic Russian – have fueled Ukrainian nationalism. Ukraine aïene has become more European after 1991. Almost all satellite states of the former Soviet Union want to belong to Europe and its institutions (the EU and NATO). For Putin, this is an undermining of the Russian sphere of influence. He fails to see that the European cooperation model of reciprocity is simply more attractive (because less threatening) for many young Eastern European nations than the Russian power politics of bringing renegade vassal states back to the Motherland, willingly or ill-willed.

Putin is winning the battles in this new Cold War so far, but he cannot win the war himself. Read a good analysis by Ivo van Wijdeven, who appeared in the International Spectator in 2019

and a current update on Olivia Durand’s current situation who appeared on The Conversation yesterday, ‘How Russian is Ukraine’.

From The Conversation:

A political pamphlet published in 1762 described a conversation between “Greater Russia” and “Little Russia”. In the exchange, Little Russia refused to be reduced to a part of Greater Russia and put forward its own unique history and identity. At that time, the name “Ukraine” was not yet used to indicate a state. But the noun ukraina – a word that means “border zone” in several Slavic languages – has already been used to designate the future territory: the vast steppe area around the river Dnipro (Dnieper) and bordering the Black Sea.

The term Little Russia was gradually abandoned in the era of nationalism, when 19th-century Ukrainian-speaking academics and thinkers decided to subvert the old derogatory term in order to develop the modern idea of Ukraine as a nation. But two centuries later, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is using these historic discourses to justify its own incursions into independent Ukraine. He made his feelings clear in a July 2021 article published on his presidential webpage, when he wrote of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people – one whole”.

The capital of Ukraine, Kyiv (or Kiev), has been repeatedly described as the “mother of Russian cities”. Kiev was the center of Kievite Rus’ (882-1240), an orthodox medieval state to which the Russian leaders – from the tsars to Putin – trace the origin of their country (a lineage also claimed by Belarus and Ukraine) . This claim is often used to support Russia’s claims on Ukrainian territory.

But this is a misconception. While the forerunner of the Russian Empire, Moscow, arose in the wake of the Mongol invasion (1237-40) that marked the end of the Rus, the rulers of Moscow took control of Kiev only 500 years later. The claim of Kyivan origin was a convenient method of denying the Mongol and Tatar elements underlying Moscow’s early development and instead giving Russia an orthodox past, with tsars apparently appointed by God.

Russia’s territorial power over the Rus’ remnants was limited by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795), a bi-federation of the two great powers of Central Europe. Most of the region known as Ukraine remained outside Russian rule until the final partition of Poland in 1795.

Whose influence?
Ukraine is one of the largest states in Europe and its geography has been influenced by many more areas than just Russia. Since Ukraine originally meant “borderland”, the territory was the target of several kingdoms – not only Russia, but also the Khanate of Crimea, the Kingdom of Poland, and the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires.”

Cover image:

Translated with (free version)

Download the whole piece here and you can read it further in English:

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