Music and national identity in Flanders

Researcher(s) (CIMS)

Hanne Van Haelter

Supervisors (CIMS)

Frederik Dhaenens

Sofie Van Bauwel


In 1977, the Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel provoked a polemic debate with the lyrics of his song ‘Les F’, by, among others, calling "les Flamingants” – an intentionally derogatory term for Flemish-nationalists – “Nazis during the war”. Brel nevertheless referred to himself as a ‘French-speaking Fleming’ and even emphasized “his sense of Belgian ethnicity” with the term “belgitude” (Tincker, 2002). With these practices, Brel alludes to the complex, multi-layered and inherently ambiguous nature of Belgian national identities and the historical, socio-political divide between the Dutch-speaking Flemish region in the north, and the French-speaking Walloon region in the south.

These lyrical representations of Belgium, Flanders and Wallonia by Jacques Brel, as well as the public controversy created by them, demonstrate the contentious role that media play in the construction of nation states and their corresponding national identities. Benedict Anderson (1991, p. 6) regards nations as “imagined political communities” that are discursively constructed through social and cultural practices. While much scholarly attention has been paid to how different forms of media such as written press, television and film have contributed to the phenomenon of nationalism, the role that music plays in the discursive construction of national “imagined communities” has been much less researched so far.

Drawing on the vast body of literature in the field of ‘media and nationalism studies’ and on the notion of music as a significant site of struggle where normative ideas about the nation state can be either re-established or subverted, this research projects aims to scrutinize the role of music in the prevailing conflict between Flemish and Walloon subnational identities in Belgium.