When Russian president Vladimir Putin made a state visit to Belgium in January, he came bearing a remarkable gift – a pack of letters written by King Albert I, the great-grandfather of the present king and namesake of his father. Albert reigned from 1909 to 1934, and was regarded by his subjects with admiration thanks to his resistance to the German invader, to the extent of fighting alongside his troops to defend the last strip of unoccupied Belgium. He died in 1934 in a climbing accident in the Ardennes, and was succeeded by his son Leopold III.
The letters – 17 autograph and 33 typed copies – were sent by Albert between 1920 and 1934 to Henri Jaspar, successively minister for foreign affairs, prime minister and finance minister. After 1924 Jaspar was a minister of state, the equivalent of a Privy Councillor in the UK.
The letters were collected in a bundle by Jaspar himself, the copies made by his secretaries. How they came into the possession of the Soviet Union and later the Russian state is not clear.
The letters, covering a range of subjects, were handed over by Putin to prime minister Charles Michel, who later passed them on to the state archives in October.
“The correspondence demonstrates the close bond between King Albert I and Henri Jaspar. They show clearly the influence of the monarch on political questions,” a spokesperson for the state archive said. “Albert I shows his concern for a number of symbolic dossiers which were even then high on the agenda, such as the worrying state of government finances and the struggle for independence for Catalonia.”
Other subjects about which he addresses “Mon cher ministre,” signing himself as “Votre très affectioné, Albert” include congratulations on the economic treaty with Luxembourg which would go on to become the Benelux. He also congratulates Jaspar on piloting the legislation creating the national rail authority SNCB though parliament.