European way of life

An unusual Bastille Day: in Liège, Belgium

This 14th of July, the Walloon city of Liège will have been fervently celebrating the French national holiday for more than seventy years. Yet, until now, nothing had changed since your last history lesson. Some primary-school geography reminders: Liège is a city in Belgium. And Belgium, until proven otherwise, is not France. Why then, every 14th of July, do 35.000 people gather in the “Ardent City” to celebrate the neighbors’ national holiday? A little close-up on a very European oddity.

Extrémité sud du parc de la Boverie, vue du pont de Fragnée, Liège, Belgique, photo de Jacques Renier (CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

South of the parc de la Boverie, from the pont de Fragnée, Liège, Belgium, photo by Jacques Renier (CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

Liège and France have a long history. The two Revolutions, the French one and the one in Liège, start at the same moment, in 1789. The former puts an end to the French monarchy and the latter to the principality of Liège, established more than 800 years before. Thrilled by the thought of separating from the Empire, the people of Liège voted by a large majority the unification of the city with the French Republic in 1793, a short respite before the region was taken over again by Austria in 1794.

Another regime falls in France when Napoleon loses the Waterloo battle in 1815, and Liège becomes part of the Netherlands, before it joins the independent state of Belgium in 1830.

But it is only in 1937 that Liège made its intention to celebrate the French national holiday clear and protests against Belgium’s neutral policy toward Hitler’s Germany. Belgium even revokes its 1920 military agreement with France in case of an “unprovoked” German attack. Liège rises up against the government’s diplomatic choices and makes its Francophile inclination public, an inclination that only grew stronger after the war and is still obvious nowadays.

Bastille Day in Liège is one of the most enthusiastic celebrations of the French national holiday in the world. The traditional festival dance of the French consul attracts an even bigger crowd than the one on July 21st, the Belgian national holiday, which, by the way, isn’t celebrated every year in Liège.

One hundred years after the beginning of World War One, the opportunity to celebrate the bonds between Liège and France is perfect: unofficial events all over town and a homage to the French and Belgian soldiers who died during the war in the military section of the Robermont cemetery. Bastille Day in Liège is festive, but still aware of a loaded past.

What about celebrating Bastille Day at the Boverie rather than under the same old Eiffel Tower?

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