The Flemish Lions Singing: Community imagination and historical legitimisation of nationalism at the 76th Flemish National Song Festival


The purpose of this article is to examine how music is used as a tool to express political claims as well as to strengthen the collective consciousness of the Flemish nationalist movement in the context of the 76th Flemish National Song Festival (Vlaams Nationaal Zangfest, VNZ). The VNZ is a music festival focused on preserving and spreading the cultural heritage represented by vernacular, popular, and historical repertoires of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking community of Belgium. This festival, rather than being simply a cultural event, is a political meeting of Flemish nationalists, where music is used to gather people and to express this political embeddedness. The author's objective in this paper – drawing on a relational approach that sees music as a socially embedded practice whose political meaning is defined within the relations occurring in live performance – is to shed light on the way in which music participates in the collective imagination of the Flemish community in ethnic terms and contributes to the diffusion and legitimisation of the political issues of Flemish nationalists. To this end, the paper firstly outlines the conflict between the Dutch and French-speaking communities in Belgium, the modern Flemish movement and the potential role, in this context, of a social practice such as music. In this part the theoretical perspective and methodology are clarified. In the second part the show is analysed through an ethnographic approach based on direct observation, non-directive interviews and textual analysis of songs. The paper concludes by highlighting how music provides the Flemish movement with a framework through which political issues are articulated and people's commitment to the ideals of Flemish nationalism are displayed.