VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > C. Europe, 1919–1945 > 6. The Low Countries
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
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6. The Low Countries
a. Belgium
 
Monarchs: Albert I (r. 1909–34), Leopold III (r. 1934–44).  1
 
1914
 
The government fled the German invasion and went into exile in Le Havre (Oct. 14). Faced with the prospect of starvation, since the Germans refused to supply civilians in occupied areas, Belgians established the Comité national de secours et d'alimentation, which, although neutral, became a center for patriotism.  2
Hoping to win support, Germany courted the Flemings by establishing a Flemish university at Ghent (1916) and promising administrative separation of the Flemish and Walloon provinces (creation of the Council of Flanders in 1917). The German policy of systematic massive deportation (120,000 men and boys) roused much resistance, however, sparking riots in Antwerp that killed 200 on Nov. 30, 1916. The deportations ceased in 1917.  3
While German efforts were largely unsuccessful, Flemish separatism caused greater concerns in the Belgian army. Unrest among Flemish soldiers aroused fear of mutiny in 1917 and 1918 (formation of Flemish study circles and their abolition, an open letter to King Albert listing grievances and cautiously defending Flemish activists in the occupied territories, and a demand by some Flemish leaders for self-government after the war). But such fears proved unfounded.  4
Of all the countries involved in the First World War, Belgium suffered most. The total damage was estimated at over $7 billion, but the country showed extraordinary recuperative power and soon returned to a peace basis. Politically the country was ruled by the Catholic and Socialist Parties. One of the major questions at issue was the demand of the Flemish for recognition of their language.  5
 
1918, Nov. 21
 
Roman Catholics, liberals, and Socialists formed a new government of national solidarity after the German evacuation. This was followed the next day by King Albert's promise of radical reforms: universal male suffrage, equal rights for language groups, the foundation of a Flemish university at Ghent, and the repeal of Belgium's obligatory neutrality.  6
 
1919
 
The first commissions paritaires were established by the government to quell a wave of strikes. These commissions were consultative bodies representing employers and workers on the national level. By 1923 there were 23 of them. They helped in negotiations and advised the government, but acquired legislative authority only in 1945.  7
 
April 7
 
A total of 160,000 women signed a petition demanding suffrage.  8
 
May 9
 
A new electoral law introduced universal manhood suffrage and gave the franchise to certain classes of women.  9
 
May 30
 
By agreement with Great Britain, later confirmed by the League of Nations, Belgium was given the mandate over part of German East Africa (Ruanda and Urundi).  10
 
June 28
 
By the Treaty of Versailles, Belgium acquired the German districts of Eupen, Malmédy, and Moresnet.  11
 
Nov. 17
 
Belgian claims to Limburg and part of the Scheldt river were thwarted as Belgium and the Netherlands reached agreement on the River Scheldt.  12
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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