The Flemish parliament will this year celebrate its annual Flemish Community Day on 11 July in person – but not in Brussels.
Traditionally, the ceremony takes place in the City Hall in Brussels, and is seen as highly significant to the claim of the Flemish to Brussels as the capital of Flanders (although the city is situated in what was the Duchy of Brabant).
The day celebrates the victory in 1302 of Flemish militia forces against the French troops near Kortrijk, also known as the Golden Spurs Day. According to the governing accords of the De Croo government installed in 2020, every Fleming on that day has the right to a paid day off work.
The ceremony was cancelled last year because of Covid restrictions, and replaced with a video message from Liesbeth Homans, the N-VA president of the Flemish parliament, which does have its seat in Brussels.
This year, to avoid a repeat of that low-key event, all of the stops have been pulled out to have a live event again, but that means leaving the traditional venue behind.
The Brussels city hall or Stadhuis is not roomy enough to receive hundreds of guests in the distancing conditions we must now consider normal, so another venue had to be sought.
The choice fell on Meise, and the national botanical garden there, best known for its huge collection of herbs (three million specimens) and the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), a giant plant otherwise known as the corpse plant that blooms once a year for several days, and reputedly smells like a rotting corpse.
Fortunately, the annual blooming period has already passed.
“There we have a large area where we can place the 450 guests in a corona-safe way,” said Ellen Van Orshaegen, spokesperson for Homans. “A large tent construction is provided should it rain.”
The parliament has stressed that the change out of Brussels is a one-time event, and that next 11 July will see the ceremony return to its usual location.
“We also looked at the possibilities in the Brussels parks, but we did not want to take over a large part of a public park on a Sunday,” said Van Orshaegen. “In Meise there is a site of 92 hectares and people anyway have to buy an entrance ticket.”