By Pieter François

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Until 1839, when the final peace treaty with The Netherlands was signed, this ‘Unionism’ was believed to be an essential step in the political survival of Belgium. After 1839, Unionism was gradually abandoned and made room for party politics. The liberals, who were the ‘de facto’ opposition, were the first to establish a proper party system and network of supporting institutions. The Catholics followed soon afterwards and Belgian politics became even more polarised. Liberalism became more and more associated with anti-confessionalism, the industrial interest, the middle classes and the cities; Catholicism was associated with conservatism, the countryside, and the landed interest.

When the British traveller Seth William Stevenson left the Rhineland and changed carriage at the border with Belgium, he even claimed that he immediately knew that he was in a new and French speaking country, as the driver “cracks his whip à la mode de France, treats himself with brandy, and feeds his animals with bread”95. Again these remarks are possibly based upon some observations, but they reveal at the same time the expectation, and even anticipation, of distinctive and visible borders. This wish for a clear change can be partly explained by the fact that national identity was one of the strongest and most popular concepts travellers employed to make sense of what they saw.

He claimed that for commercial reasons the Belgians placed an English Common Prayerbook on each table, that the Queen gazed at you from drawings behind every window in the village, and: You will find English newspapers in the smallest taverns; time bills of the Dover and Calais route are stuck on every doorpost; others bear forged transcripts of the outstretched palm of Allsop, and the blood-red triangle of Bass, and you are invited to partake of apocryphal bitter beer, which is merely faro in extra fits of sourness59.

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