Monday, 3 November 2014

Daniel Laqua on Internationalism in Wartime at Belgian Embassy Event

On 23 October, our colleague Daniel Laqua, Senior Lecturer in European History, gave a talk at the Residence of the Ambassador of Belgium to the UK, located in Belgravia, London. Daniel discussed ‘Cooperation in an Age of Conflict: Belgium, the Great War and the Quest for Peace’, speaking in front of an audience comprised of diplomats, academics and members of the Anglo-Belgian Society.
Daniel Laqua presenting his lecture

The event started with opening remarks by the Ambassador of Belgium, H.E. Mr Guy Trouveroy. The ambassador drew attention to the special function of Brussels as host city to both NATO and the European institutions. As he noted, Daniel Laqua’s work explains the wider historical context of Belgium’s contemporary role as an international hub. Daniel picked up on this point at the start of his lecture, pointing out that even in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wide variety of ideas and activists met on Belgian soil. Such encounters reflected the extent to which the decades before 1914 were not only an age of mounting nationalism: they were also an era of large-scale international congresses, of transnational political movements and of wide-ranging intellectual and economic exchanges.

In his talk, Daniel traced the way in which the First World War affected these international contacts. As he put it: ‘how did groups and individuals act internationally at a time of intense nationalism?’ Daniel answered this question by focusing on three individuals who had been based in Belgium before World War One: the pacifist leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1913, Henri La Fontaine; the politician and secretary of the Second International (which brought together socialist parties from different countries), Camille Huysmans; and Lalla Vandervelde, a British-born woman who was actively involved in various political and artistic networks and who was married to the Belgian socialist Emile Vandervelde, chairman of the Second International.

Daniel examined how each of these individuals continued to promote internationalism during the four years of war: La Fontaine championed the creation of a world organisation and an international court of war, writing and lecturing on this subject in North America. Huysmans sought to foster contacts between socialists from the warring nations, launching various efforts in the Netherlands and Sweden to this end. Vandervelde, in her turn, engaged in humanitarian fundraising work in both Britain and the USA.
Laqua signing copies of his recent book, The Age
of Internationalism and Belgium, 1880–1930

However, the fate of these three individuals also revealed the national passions triggered by the war: because of his country’s experience of invasion by Germany, La Fontaine found it difficult to cooperate with pacifists from Germany and Austria. Huysmans, who did engage in such dialogue across enemy lines, met with criticism from his own country. Vandervelde – who had been critical about her life in Belgium – developed a closer attachment to the country in which she had spent several decades. As Laqua argued, these experiences highlighted the double-edged nature of the First World War: ‘the First World War increased national antagonisms, yet it also provided a spur for new forms of internationalism.’

The lecture was followed by an engaging Q&A session that encouraged further exploration of the themes addressed in the talk. Afterwards, members of the audience took the opportunity to purchase discounted copies of Daniel’s book, The Age of Internationalism and Belgium, 1880–1930: Peace, Progress and Prestige (Manchester University Press, 2013). The event ended with a food-and-drink reception hosted by the ambassador. Daniel was enthusiastic about this special experience: ‘It was great to lecture to such a distinguished audience. I was amazed by the ambassador’s hospitality and the embassy’s interest in a historical perspective.’ His colleague Nicole Robertson, who attended the event, shared Daniel’s enthusiasm: ‘This was a great evening, with a fantastic talk in a stunning setting! Daniel’s lecture was very well received and prompted a lively discussion.’

No comments:

Post a Comment