Flemish people

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Peoples

The term Flemings (Dutch: Vlamingen) is currently mostly used to refer to the ethnic group native to Flanders (the northern half of Belgium, historically part of the Southern Netherlands), which in total numbers about 6 million people in Belgium (the majority of all Belgians) . The term also designates, not only the native inhabitants of that Flemish region, but also those ethnic Flemings of French Flanders (Frans-Vlaanderen)(mainly in the département of Nord of present-day France), the southern part of the Dutch province of Zeeland known as Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and other Flemish communities around the world. French Flanders and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen are former parts of the countship of Flanders, which gave its name to the whole, although a small majority of Belgian Flanders was in other principalities, the major one being the Duchy of Brabant. The Flemish are often considered part of, or closely intertwined with, the Dutch people.

Total population c. 9 million (est.)
Regions with significant populations Belgium:
   6,100,000 (low est.)

United States:
   780,000 - 1,300,000
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
South Africa:

Language Dutch, French (minority)
Religion Predominantly Roman Catholic or Atheist/Non-religious; other.
Related ethnic groups Dutch, Afrikaners and other Germanic peoples.

Culture and identity

People and Language

It is generally believed, based of historical linguistics, that the Flemings mainly descend from the invading Germanic tribes, rather than from the Gaulish (mixed Celtic-Germanic) tribes who lived in the same region even before Roman times. At first sight, Flemish culture is defined via its West Germanic language, Dutch, shared with most people in the Netherlands, as opposed to the mostly Francophone compatriots within Belgium. Contrary to popular belief, a Flemish literature does exist, though Flemish literary schools are also present within the Dutch literature as a whole. Books written by Flemings and by Dutch people are read by Dutch-speakers worldwide. It does not make a difference that most readers are able to distinguish fine differences, mainly in vocabulary. In a wider sense, Flemings read many books written in other languages: not only English (dominating scientific and professional literature), but also French, and reasonable quantities of other literary production.

For students, the intellectual norm in Flanders means learning two or even three foreign languages (at least two are obligatory in most secondary school programs, generally French and English, sometimes also German and/or a languages chosen from a supplementary list) to a higher standard than in most countries. Cosmopolitanism is a historical constant in Flanders' very open economy, while the mainly Anglo-Saxon orientation is a rather recent phenomenon as, until the 1960s, Flanders was heavily dominated by French culture (as long imposed by the Belgian state), which now only is an honorable second. Proficiency in English has greatly improved during the last half century, whereas proficiency in French and German has decreased somewhat. Proficiency in other languages widened, and improved, although some companies complain about a seemingly eternal lack of sufficient German-speakers.

Looking more closely, one notes some other typical cultural characteristics: On average, Flemings have a greater respect for authority than most Dutch, Englishmen and Nordic peoples, although Belgians in general have little confidence in political authorities.

In terms of intellectual discourse, Flemings appear more Anglo-Saxon again, preferring a down-to-earth, factual style. One might say the Flemings prefer a Cartesian discourse more than contemporary France.

The somewhat more confrontational nature of Flemish politics is probably related to the fact that until the 1960s Belgium's Flemings were oppressively discriminated against by the official Belgian institutions dominated by the French-speaking Walloon minority. Walloons and the Francophone Flemings who had deliberately chosen to use French made the use of French mandatory in all aspects of public life: government, the courts, academia, and industry. Until the 1930s, for example, the Flemish majority was forcibly educated only in French; courts were conducted in French (with notorious examples of Flemish peasants tried and judged in a language they did not comprehend); Flemish soldiers were shot for not comprehending orders given in French by Walloon officers (which led to mutinies by the Flemish majority during the First World War).

Although most overt discrimination has since disappeared, Flemings still bristle at the remaining injustices - such as the widespread discrimination in service against Flemings by the medical emergency services in Brussels which has recently been acknowledged for the first time by a prominent French-speaking minister, Rudy Demotte. Even today, Walloons, less than one third of Belgium's population, are guaranteed half of all government positions and retain a veto on actions that govern the entire country. Wallonia, the French-speaking southern half of Belgium, is in fact subsidized by the more economically robust Flemish north, an issue that remains unresolved and feeds a sense of injustice for Flemings in Belgium.

Consequently, a movement for Flemish independence, has gathered steam over the post-war period. As more functions continue to devolve away from the Belgian state to the three regions, it is increasingly likely that a Flemish Republic may one day emerge from the current Belgian state.

The Vlaams Belang political party is the strongest advocate of a Flemish Republic. The party is considered far right by all other Flemish political parties and they refuse any political snow with it.


The official language of Flanders is Dutch (at the Belgian -federal- level at par with French, and to a lesser extent German; the linguistic legislation is complex and politically extremely sensitive). The local Dutch dialects are diverse. A common error is to exaggerate differences between dialects in Flanders and in the Netherlands, but in fact neither country has a consistent group of dialects, there are several, including cross-border ones; in this respect the term 'Holland' is not always a pars pro toto for the Dutch kingdom, as usual in foreign languages, but can refer to the dominant group of dialects in and around North- and South Holland provinces.

Dialects tended to be very strong, almost particular to every locality. Since World War II, the influence of radio, television, and with more people moving out of their region of birth, the use of the original dialects tends to decrease. Differences between the regional dialects erode and new types of intermediate dialects appear, including a non-standardized mix of standard Dutch with 'cleaned-up' dialect. This is often called 'tussentaal' ('language-in-between') or, derogatorily, 'verkavelingsvlaams' (speech as where Flemish people from diverse locations and dialects become neighbours in a newly built-up out of town quarter). In Brussels, the local dialect is heavily influenced by French, both in pronunciation, as in vocabulary. Only a small number (c. 150,000) of the inhabitants of French Flanders can speak or understand Dutch or the local Flemish dialect.

Read more about Flemish language.


Approximately 75% of Flemings are Roman Catholic, though a still growing majority of these rarely practice. The remainder is mostly Atheist; there are small groups of Protestant Flemings, as well as Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic and other minorities among other ethnic groups.


Flag of the Flemish Region
Flag of the Flemish Movement

The official flag of Flanders is yellow with a black lion outlined in white and with red claws and tongue. The flag with a completely black lion is unofficial, although very popular within groups of Flemish nationalists.

Origin of the Flemish lion

The motto Vlaenderen die Leu (Flanders the lion) was according to Eug. Sanders present on the arms of Pieter de Coninck at the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11, 1302. Some three hundred noble people shouted it too when they saw, having fought in the French rows, that chances were turning in favour of the Flemish. In Spiegel Historiael, Louis van Velthem also refers to the lion in a song describing the battle of Blangys-Guinegatte (which took place in August 1472). Later, Hendrik Conscience used the motto in his Lion of Flanders.

The Flemish diaspora

The Flemish diaspora consists of Flemish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as France, the United States, Britain, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and Latin America.

During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, when the territory of present-day Flanders formed the setting for an impressive economic and cultural boom as well as certain internal problems, many artists and craftsmen sought refuge elsewhere, particularly in southern Europe. Flemish settlers introduced the first printing presses into Spain and Portugal. The Flemish contribution to the exploitation as well as the population of the Azores was so conspicuous, that for a long time the archipelago was referred to as the Flemish islands.

Following in the wake of the explorers, Flemish missionaries such as Pieter van Gent in Mexico, Joos de Rijcke in Ecuador, Ferdinand Verbiest in China, Constant Lievens in India, Pierre-Jean DeSmet in the United States and Jozef de Veuster in Molokai built up a reputation in various overseas countries that continues even to this day.

A combination of a demographic explosion and inadequate economic growth resulted in an emigration from Flanders that continued up to the First World War. It was something that every family faced sooner or later. Not only did it involve the so-called lower classes of the population, but also members of the better classes who found a future overseas in teacher-training colleges and colleges of engineering and agriculture. Louis Cruis, for example, was a Flemish engineer who led expeditions to lay down the boundaries of Brazil and the city limits of the capital Brasilia.

About 400,000 Flemings settled in France. They often had to start afresh in poor villages, from where they breathed new life into agriculture. In the United States and Canada today, there are more than 1 million Americans who clearly have Flemish roots. In Detroit, the publishing of the Gazette van Detroit is still in the hands of Flemings.

The destination of the majority of Flemish emigrants was France. There are an estimated 1,250,000 people with a Flemish surname in France. The Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments however, were parts of historic Flanders before France annexed the region in 1656.

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