This year’s celebration of the Flemish feast-day on July 11 will be remembered as no other.
No free concert on the Grand Place of Brussels, no address by the speaker of the Flemish parliament in the City Hall of Brussels, and only the most subdued celebrations across the region of Flanders, thanks to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 epidemic.
The feast-day, according to Jan Jambon (N-VA), minister-president of Flanders, is a time “for looking back to where we came from, and forward to where we’re going”. This year’s celebration is very different from usual, he said, “and I hope it happens like this just once and never again”.
Yesterday, in his traditional address to the region from Kortrijk, Jambon had called on the people of Flanders to stand together to rise above the problems the current health crisis has inflicted on the region, the country and the world.
“I appeal to you: young and old, employee and employer, civil servant and self-employed. Let’s all stand shoulder to shoulder and back to back, not only to get our suffering economy up to speed again, but also to help us maintain our social fabric and our Flemish nation.”
The holiday marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs, which took place near Kortrijk on 11 July 1302, during the war between France and the County of Flanders.
Flanders was then occupied by French forces, but the rebellious Flemings had inflicted severe losses on French troops in guerilla actions. That led the French to bring in massed forces to quash the rebellion once and for all.
But the Flemings were ready, gathering together more than 9,000 man from various city militias to face off against the French. But the rout that took place on the battlefield was a surprise to even the Flemish themselves. Their pike formations were unassailable by the mounted French, who suffered terrible casualties, and the Flemish carried the day.
Since then, 11 July has been seen as a mark of Flemish pride, even now that Flanders has expanded to include the former Duchy of Brabant, as well as Limburg, formerly part of the territory of the Prince Bishops of Liege.
However the day has only been an official holiday since 1973.
There was one moment of festivity, all the same. Flemish singer Will Tura gave an impromptu concert on the Grand Place, performing his hit Hoop doet leven (Hope Gives Life) under the eyes of prime minister Sophie Wilmès, watching from the balcony of the City Hall, together with Jambon, Brussels mayor Philippe Close (PS) and Flemish minister for Brussels, Benjamin Dalle (CD&V).
“On this symbolic day, we as the Flemish government want to emphasise the strong ties between Brussels and Flanders,” Dalle said.
“With Tura’s surprise performance, we also want to thank all Flemish and Brussels residents for their resilience during this corona crisis. It isn’t done yet, so we need to keep hoping.”
Later this evening, Antwerp reggae/hip-hop artist Tourist LeMC will give a private concert in the Ancienne Belgique for an invited audience of 200 health-care workers.