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_La Presse,_ 20 September 1972
Section E
"Séjour on the Scheldt"

Flanders has a heritage of wealth; prosperity comes to a Fleming as
naturally as breathing. Flanders has always been prosperous, at least
since the Middle Ages. I'd like to sentimentally conclude that the
strong work ethic of the Flemish nation is entirely responsible for the
transformation of the marshes of the Scheldt into one of the densest and
richest clusters of people ever to exist on our world, but more than
that was responsible. There was the advance, in the Middle Ages, of
Christian civilization and German settlement (hardly synonymous, of
course), further and further to the east, placing Flanders squarely in
the middle of the vast European market instead of (as was the case in
Carolingian times) at the fringes of civilization. There was the fertile
soil of the Scheldt, productive enough not only to feed an intelligent
and pious peasantry but to feed the hungry city-dwellers. There was the
growth of English wool exports, providing the energetic cities of Ghent
and Antwerp and Bruges with the raw materials that would finance the
Flemish and
European renaissances, and give birth to modernity.

There are times that Flanders has not done particularly well. The worst
era of Flemish suffering was in the 16th century, inflicted by Flanders'
foolish Spanish rulers, who transferred the hardness of their campaigns
in Granada to Flanders in trying to reimpose Catholic Christianity on
all Flemish. No matter that no faith can be forced on others, only
freely accepted; the Spanish Hapsburgs simply did not care. The Austrian
Hapsburgs weren't bad rulers, as things go, but under their rule
Flanders stagnated as the best Flemish fled to the young Dutch Republic
in what was once Flanders' hinterland. Once the Dutch began their
blockade of the
Scheldt, Antwerp stagnated.

Then the German Confederation came, and Flanders was renewed in the
shell of Austrasia--the country that no one, not even the Flemish,
believe in, but which has its uses regardless--with its own kings (from
the notoriously philoprogenitive line of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringens,
its own capital (Brussel, lovely rich Brussel), the freedom of the
navigation of the Scheldt (in its dying days, the Dutch Republic was
quite unwilling to challenge revitalized Germany and its young ally),
and the chance to matter.

***

There have always been Flemish who've left. [1] I've already mentioned
the Flemish who settled in the Dutch Republic, arriving in such numbers
as to change the nature of the Dutch language [2]. It's a little-known
fact, hough, that many if not most of the inhabitants of the Teutonic
southern shore of the Baltic Sea--from southern Denmark east to the
Lithuanian frontier--can trace their roots back to the Flemish settlers
invited by any number of dukes and knightly orders to bring their skills
as farmers to Christendom's frontier. And then, there is the emigration
of the 19th century. 

Austrasia was the first country in Europe to industrialize; in the 19th
century and in our own epoch, Austrasia did a superb job of it. [3] At
first Austrasian industrialism was in the south, in the provinces of
Namur, Liège, Luxembourg, provinces now Lorraine, based on steel and the
mining of coal and productive of alienating industry towns. Flanders was
neglected. This was for the best, since it allowed Flanders to
industrialize without suffering the searing spiritual damage inflicted
upon the so-called "Walloons" of Austrasia's south. Even before the
Franco-German War [4], Austrasia was rich. The Bloody Eighties were
difficult times in Austrasia as in the rest of Europe, but social peace
came to Austrasia and Flanders much
earlier than it did in France. More: The Franco-German War left Germany
with all of France's colonies, and what better choice of a colonial port
than Flanders' Antwerp? (Hamburg was insecure, and Bremen then as now is
far more a curiosity than a serious port.) Thus ensued Antwerp's great
mercantile age, and Austrasia's vast merchant fleet.

This fleet made it much easier for ordinary Flemish to leave, though,
not just malcontents. My father's father, Andrius Maeterlinck, was a
pious man disgusted by the inanities of the revolutionaries and rioters
of France and their imitators elsewhere; unlike many other pious
Flemish, he, though, wanted to see the wider world. He had made up his
mind to emigrate, and he had decided to go to Brazil or perhaps Santa
Catarina (there would be time aplenty to choose once he descended below
the Equator). It was only by happenstance that, while walking down the
Antwerp quay, he saw the fleur-de-lisé of Québec flying high on a
freighter's mast, the _Marie-Reine Tremblay_; that sight, and the
memories of sermons past by priests praising Québécois piety and
prosperity, made him opt for northern North America.

Andrius kept in touch with his Flemish relatives, as did my father
Pierre, as do I. We thrilled to Austrasia's successes, mourned the
devastating British bombing raids of the Global War, lobbied the
Québécois government to support the Mason Doctrine and even contribute,
and sent letters all the time. Modern Austrasia is the richest kingdom
(at least in terms of wealth per capita) in the wider German Empire, and
my relatives share in this prosperity. Austrasia--or, at least
Flanders--is once again the centre of Europe.

***

I've been to Flanders and Austrasia on three previous occasions; on this
occasion, I stayed in Antwerp for five days, with my second cousin Anton
Maeterlinck. Anton is a historian, an instructor and researcher at the
Antwerp annex of the University of Leuven. [5] He is a brilliant man
only 34 years of age, with infinite potential, and I have corresponded
with him for the better part of two decades. (As second cousins with
similar interests, we could do no less.)

When I asked him what he thought of Flanders' future over morning coffee
in one of Antwerp's gentrified café districts, Anton simply smiled.
"Flanders is fine, but Austrasia ... This epoch might be the time of
Flanders' birth, whatever that is worth." 

Austrasia is not Flanders--the two terms, the name of the state and the
name of the nation, have never coincided. They coincide better now than
before the Global War, when Austrasia used to include in its southeast
the provinces that now constitute the north of the Kingdom of Lorraine.
These provinces were purely Francophone, quite industrialized, and
vehemently anti-Flemish under the leaders of the Walloon movement, and
so when Chancellor Bruning decided to give them to the young threatened
Kingdom of Lorraine in 1948 no one in Austrasia minded for various
reasons. (See more detail below.)

"Why should we care," Anton asked rhetorically over a Viennese coffee as
the wind blew on the plaza outside. I had asked him whether
Flemish--people like himself--minded that the Walloons preferred to be
Lorrainers than
Austrasians. "If they don't want to share a state with us, all well and
good, we don't want them either." A wicked grin as he lifts the cup to
his mouth. "At least we don't have to deal with greater Lorraine's rust
belt," he said after he placed the cup down. "And isn't that terribly
cynical?"

Of Austrasia's 11 millions [6], more than nine million are Flemish.
There are plenty of Francophones left in Austrasia, but their numbers
are dwindling. On my final day, for instance, I drove into the province
of
Brabant. Brabant has traditionally been divided between speakers of
French in the south and speakers of Flemish [7] in the north, but this
division is fading as vast industrial Brussel spreads into the
French-speaking countryside, Flemifying the land and the locals. 

But then, the parts of Francophone Austrasia that I've had the luck to
see, passing through on the train to _Breizh_ [8], look hauntingly like
Flemish Austrasia. The cathedral city of Tournai (which I saw from the
window of _L'Express_ as I sat in my seat) looked hauntingly like
beautiful reconstructed Bruges, no matter that Tournai was Francophone
and Bruges Flemish. How different are the two cultures? Not very, I'd
say; there has always been a fair degree of symbiosis between France and
Flanders, just as much as between Flanders and the Netherlands. 

(Incidentally, the headlines in the Antwerp dailies on the day of my
departure were full of news of the new Austrasian-Netherlandish accords.
A reunification of the Low Countries would be a marked change, even a
partial one if it were to take place. So much of the history of the Low
Countries can be described by the tension between Antwerp and Amsterdam,
each mercantile cities, the first Catholic and the second Protestant.
Now that higher birth rates among the Catholic have broken the Calvinist
majority, I wonder what shall happen next.)

In his letters, Anton introduced me to the writings of Henri Pirenne.
Like Anton, Pirenne was an Austrasian; unlike Anton, Pirenne was a
Francophone born into a rich Walloon family in Liège, near the modern
frontier with Lorraine. [9] Henri Pirenne was a brilliant historian with
an excellent command of a half-dozen languages and a marvellous talent
for synthesis, for seeing the wider picture while retaining an uncanny
ability to refer to facts. Pirenne dreamed of a united Europe, and he
treated Europe as a unity in his great historical study, _A History of
Europe_ [10]. He had several preoccupations: in particular, there were
the "middle lands," the successors to Lotharingie (the Netherlands,
Austrasia, Switzerland, Lorraine), and the uncanny transfer of
initiative and wealth from the westernmost of the Carolingian successor
states (France) to the easternmost  (Germany) after a millennium's lag.

Pirenne was a proud Austrasian, proud of the duality of Austrasia
between French and Flemish. He famously wrote that:

"In Austrasia, owing to the close proximity of Austrasia 
and France, their political relations, and their commercial 
interests, the influence of French civilization affected 
even the bourgeoisie. [...] The bilingual character which 
Austrasia has preserved to this day dates from this period. 
It was not in any degree the result--as was the bilingual 
character of Bohemia--of a foreign occupation; it was a 
natural and peaceful consequence of the fact that France 
was Austrasia's next-door neighbour." [11]

Only ten years after Pirenne's death, though, the heart of Austrasian
Wallonia was given to Lorraine. Another middle country, to be sure, but
not Austrasia. This was unfortunate, as is the ability of even humane
Flemish to envision a complete rupture. Must being Flemish mean that one
is anti-French? Must Austrasia be torn on artificial lines of language,
ending a true historical community?

Anton disagrees with that, of course. "It isn't at all Christian to
despise someone because of their nationality, and hardly Christian to
despise your fellow citizens. We live," he proclaimed, "in a liberal
polity open to all, Christians and non-Christians. The Kingdom of God
recognizes no cleavages of language."

***

The 1944 riots in Brussel are something that no one in Austrasia likes
to talk about. (Lorrainers, for their part, cannot stop talking about
these riots, as proof of their oppression.)

Austrasians of all languages had resented Germany's, and Chancellor
Bruning's, arrogation of Austrasia's liberties. Still, it was accepted
by all Flemish save the few radicals that Austrasia's link with Germany
was vital for Austrasia's prosperity, and also for Austrasia's
security--Germany was arguably provoked by Britain, Britain hardly
needed to bomb so many Austrasian cities, and the anarchy and chaos of
France was an example not to be taken. The double-headed German imperial
eagle was a bit wearing, but it was better than the British lion. The
Francophones dissented. 

Flemish acceptance and Francophone distrust might not have had any
ramifications if it was not for the fact that while Flanders' working
classes were not alienated from society, the Francophone working classes
were alienated, in the best French tradition; the missions had never
taken root in Namur, and socialism and anarchism were potent. Brussel,
in the first half of the 1940's, had a Francophone minority, mostly
working class immigrants from Austrasia's southern provinces. Brussel's
Francophone elite had long since reverted back to its native Flemish,
and the _Bruxellois_ lacked responsible leaders. 

When Bruning, in July of 1944, announced that Austrasia would be
integrated into the German Empire on equal terms with Tyrol and
Hannover, the Flemish rulers of Austrasia responded by protesting
severely and preparing petitions to be sent to Germany. The _Bruxellois_
responded by declaring a socialist commune and attacking the
police in the heart of official Austarsia, which responded by sending in
the Garde against Anton Gervais and his fanatical ilk. (The
neighbourhoods that the _Bruxellois_ insurgents seized are still being
rebuilt.)

The Brussel riots affected the rest of Austrasia. The riots began in
Namur and Luxembourg even as the _Bruxellois_ were being assaulted, and
Flemish were completely unwilling to send in their armies into the south
against their co-citizens. In the end, Germany sent its own armies in to
pacify the locals; the refugees who left fled for France, of all places,
not north beyond the line of German control. Austrasia--the  icommunal,
potentially bilingual Austrasia--died with the Brussel riots. When
Germany decided to annex the lands below the line of control to Lorraine
in 1948, which was to be annexed in turn into Germany, very few
Austrasians seemed to mind. 

***

And so Austrasia is here, in the first years of the decade of the
1970's, an anomaly. Austrasia might be smaller than before, but it has a
fair chance of becoming a homogeneous Flemish nation-state. They say
that as many people in Liège call their city "Luik" as "Liège," and some
few Francophones in south Brabant want to prevent the Flemish
bourgeoisie of Brussel from buying homes across the language line. This
homogeneity, though, strikes me as false, and unfortunate.

"Austrasia cannot live apart from the wider world," Anton mourned. "We
accept the European Customs Union and enjoy it, we trade with the
world--it is unfortunate that we seek to become a monolithic ethnic
bloc. Flanders has never been that way, and I'm not sure if I want
Austrasia to become that." Anton, though, seems to be in a distinct
minority among Austrasians.

The odd thing--to me, as a Québécois partly of Flemish descent--is that
the Flemish weren't quite sure how to recognize me. My family name is
Maeterlinck, and so when my cousin introduced me to a University séjour
most
people in earshot expected me to be Flemish. When I spoke, my French
accent betrayed my too-weak Flemish, and they thought I was Lillois.
[12] When I mentioned my nationality, Anton's sophisticated colleagues
and friends were stunned. 

"Could it be," one lovely woman exclaimed, "that the best Austrasian
among us is an American?"

I laughed; Anton looked pensive.

***

[1] See http://www.burgerschool.be/migratie/facts/flfact.html and
http://www.rootsweb.com/~belghist/Flanders/Pages/emigration.htm for
brief
overviews of OTL Flemish emigration.

[2] Flemish is recognized, in *FAN*, as a distinct language, though the
differences between the Austrasians' Flemish and the Netherlanders'
Dutch are of the same magnitude as the differences between Serb and
Croat. By and large, neither Austrasians nor Netherlanders mind much the
division of the Netherlandic language community, for many of the same
reasons that neither Serbs nor Croats mind much the division of the
Serbo-Croatian language community.

[3] Austrasian industrialization was accelerated and intensified by the
country's association into the German Confederation and consequent
acquisition of a captive market for Austrasian manufactures numbering in
the
tens of millions. 

[4] The Franco-German War was fought by Kingdom of France and the German
Confederation in 1878-9, caused by growing German military and economic
superiority. France was ultimately defeated and forced to cede southern
Alsace and Metz to the dominant German Confederation state of Prussia.
This defeat, and general French upset with their incompetent monarchy,
precipitated the French Revolution of 1879 and the Bloody Eighties.

[5] In OTL, the historic University of Louvain--dating back to the
Middle Ages and fully as important as any other European university--was
razed by German invaders in retaliation for supposed partisan attacks in
1914; the university was rebuilt and its archive restored, but it was
destroyed again in 1940. In the 1960's, university was divided on
linguistic lines, into the University of Leuven at its old site in
Flemish-speaking Belgium, and of the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in
Francophone Belgium. None of these calamities occured to the University
of Louvain in *FAN*.

[6] In *FAN*, the Franco-Germanic language frontier is substantially
further west than OTL--Alsace, Moselle département, OTL's Grand Duchy of
Luxembourg, and OTL's Eastern Cantons are entirely Germanophone, while
Flemish/Dutch is making steady progress in Brabant and Austrasian Liège.

[7] The territory of the Kingdom of Austrasia, in OTL, has a population
of roughly eight million people. Austrasia's population--larger by three
million--can be explained by its stronger industrialization that
attracted immigrants from elsewhere, and by a delayed demographic
transition owing to the absence of a disruptive war on Austrasian
territory in the first quarter of the 20th century.

[8] Breton for "Brittany." See *FAN* #44c.

[9] See footnote 4, *FAN* #*23*. As this footnote failed to describe, Liège
was in fact partitioned between Austrasia and Wallonia. Verviers falls
just on the Austrasian side.

[10] In OTL, _A History of Europe_ was written in 1914-18 while Pirenne
was a civilian prisoner of Germany. (Pirenne refused to speak in German
to the officer sent to persuade the University of Louvain to end their
protests and resume their teaching.) He credited his removal from his
historical texts during his imprisonment as having forced him not to
consider atomistic dates, but holistic trends. (His imprisonment also
made him decidedly skeptical about Germany.) _A History of Europe_ was
written in *FAN*, then, but from a decidedly more Germanophilic and
date-centred authorial position than OTL.

[11] The original quote is on pages 66 and 67 of the second volume of
the 1958 Doubleday edition of _A History of Europe._

[12] The territory of the OTL French département of Nord, centred upon
the industrial city of Lille, was home until the late 19th century to a
substantial Flemish population, long assimilated by the present day in
OTL and in *FAN*.