The Low Countries - 2013, № 21

9 april 2013

‘Borders' are the theme of the 21st edition of this yearbook.

The inspiration for this theme is the commemoration of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which was proclaimed exactly three hundred years ago. This European peace treaty put an end to a century of unremitting war on the old continent. It also laid the foundations for a new distribution of power. Spain lost its global power, to the benefit of England. France consolidated its victories on its northern border. While the Republic of the Netherlands stood by and watched. The de facto border between the Kingdom of France and the Southern Netherlands -  to become the Austrian Netherlands in 1713  - was established. A border that has barely changed since then. Today it is still the border between Belgium and France, between Flanders and France and between the Dutch and French languages.

Borders shut off, shut up and shut out. They limit and keep dull. According to the mantra of false cosmopolitanism, that is. But suppose all borders were contingent: they are where they are, but could have been drawn differently. Those who constantly want to discuss them and tinker with them open up a Pandora's box. Borders do indeed limit, but only in the sense that they determine what we are and are not. They make the ‘other' possible.  And isn't the paradox of borders that you must accept them if you want to transcend them? Recognised borders are the best conceivable vaccine against the epidemic of walls, said Régis Debray in Éloge des frontières (Gallimard, Paris, 2010).

Our subject then is borders: historic borders such as the limes once was. We follow the northern border of the Imperium Romanum from Katwijk at the Dutch coast to Xanten in Germany. We examine the language border in this book, too: a line that was drawn across Belgium fifty years ago, in 1963. It has ensured pacification and stability. We wonder whether there is a border in the Netherlands between the Randstad and the rest of the country, and between the Netherlands above and below the Great Rivers.  We also investigate the border in Ostend that people seeking asylum and happiness in the United Kingdom come up against. Who are these people? What drives them? We examine the new mental border, too, the fault line in Western democracies between the well and less well-educated. And, finally, we look at the border between the Latin (‘Romanitas') and Germanic (‘Germania') world in this book. Is it all in the mind, or not? Do the Southern Netherlands – or Belgium – constitute a transition between the two?

As well as the themed pieces this volume offers the usual choice of essays on writers and artists past and present, on history that survives to the present day and society that has evolved from its past.

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