Flemish Patriots and the Construction of the Nation: How the Flamish Nation Ceased to Be ‘Small’

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This essay applies the influential theory of Czech historian Miroslav Hroch related to the development of ‘small’ nations on the territory of dominant nation-states to the case of Flanders. How did the ‘small’ Flemish nation develop within the dominant Belgian nation-state? How did their roles switch, the Flemish nation gaining the upper hand over the Belgian nation? To understand this, it is useful to look at the social context in which the founders of the Flemish nation, or patriots’ (‘patriotten’) operated, and the social programme that they laid out for the Flemish nation. This essay defends the hypothesis that the Flemish Movement was for a long time unsuccessful in integrating the working-class movement and the ownership class into the Flemish nation, which at the time remained subordinate to the Belgian nation. For decades, the Flemish patriots failed to reach the masses. Essentially, their social base was limited to the middle classes. In addition, their programme did not have, or only had to a lesser extent, the aim of integrating the other social classes. It was not until the 1960s that the situation evolved, on the one hand because of socioeconomic changes which led to an expansion of the middle classes and on the other hand because of sociocultural upheavals which enlarged the social base of the Flemish project. The Flemish patriots were then able to get a process of state reform and devolution underway which brough the Flemish nation to the fore in everyday life. It was in this context that the ‘massification’ of the Flemish nation took shape and that it ceased to be ‘small’ in relation to the Belgian nation.

Keywords: Flanders, nationalism, patriotism, Flemish movement, nation, Belgium

How to Cite: De Wever, B. L. , Vrints, A. & Verdoodt, F. (2019) “Flemish Patriots and the Construction of the Nation: How the Flamish Nation Ceased to Be ‘Small’”, NISE Essays. 4(1). doi: