Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg


After the end of World War II, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg decided to cooperate economically, culturally, and politically under the collective name Benelux. They integrated themselves into the emerging Western security structures, giving up their traditional neutrality by joining NATO. The Benelux states were also founding members of the European Economic Community in 1957. Within this framework, all three countries rapidly recovered from the war and became prosperous and stable liberal democracies. The course of development of each state differed in some important respects, however.


The Benelux Idea

During the war, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were all occupied by the Nazis. Out of this common experience the Benelux Union was created. All three countries became respected bastions of liberal democracy and provided many leaders for international organizations.


Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were among the first victims of the Nazi war of conquest. These traumas left a particularly strong mark on Luxembourg, where in the postwar period French language and culture were privileged over German. In order to be able to demonstrate more strength in the future, the governments in exile of the three nations decided upon a customs and economic union in September 1944, introducing the collective name "Benelux"; the customs union came into force on January 1, 1948. In 1949 the three countries agreed on a "pre-union," which was meant to coordinate their economic structures and dismantle trade restrictions. In 1958, a full economic union was established in the Treaty of Benelux Economic Union. Internal borders were abolished in 1970. From then on, the three countries spoke with one voice, gaining added weight through their common actions, and this became a model for the process of European unification.

With a total population of 27 million at the beginning of the 21st century the Benelux states are jointly the fourth-largest economic player in the world.

Even if the 1 Benelux Union in recent times has been eclipsed by the steadily expanding 5 European Union, the continuing close cooperation ensures the three countries power to achieve their aims that is many times greater than other, solitary EU member states.

1 Street decoration marks the marriage of the Luxembourgian grand duke, 1953

5 The seat of the Council of Europe in Brussels,

Another political change took place in the postwar era. By taking part in the Marshall Plan, the Benelux states firmly aligned with the US the Cold War period, ending their traditional neutrality. They joined the United Nations as founding members in 1945, and in 1948 they signed the Brussels Treaty with Britian and France, seeking to establish collective defense arrangements.

They also became founding members of 2, 6 NATO in 1949.

Of the ten NATO secretaries-general, four have come from the Benelux countries: Paul-Henri Spaak and 3 Willy Claes from Belgium, and Dirk Stikker and 4 Joseph Luns from the Netherlands.

2 Flags of the member states in front of the NATO headquarters in Brussels

6 Meeting of the NATO Security Council in Mons, Belgium, 1949

3 NATO Secretary General Willy Claes

4 NATO Secretary General
Joseph Luns



Belgium from Centralized to Federal State

After the war, the center of Belgium's economy shifted to the Flemish part of the country. The conflict between the Flemish and the Walloons led to the establishment of a federal state.


7 Belgian heavy industry, which had emerged almost unscathed by World War II, provided the country with a strong economic base in the late 1940s.

7 The "Atomium", the main attraction at the 1958 world
exhibition in Brussels

Once the importance of industry diminished, however, Belgium fell into an economic crisis. This was offset by the positive effects of the Benelux Union and membership in the European Economic Community that was founded in 1957.

Whereas the Francophone Walloon part of the country had dominated the economy in the preceding decades, new investment flowed primarily into the Flemish areas, especially the 10 port of Antwerp.

The Flemish region now took over the lead role, which stirred up conflict between the two ethnic groups and repeatedly led to domestic crises.

Several constitutional reforms were made, and Belgium became a federally organized parliamentary democracy in 1993, composed of the regions of 8 Flanders, Wallonia, and the capital region of 9 Brussels.

10 Heavy cranes load ships on the docks of the Belgian port of Antwerp

8 Flemish coat of arms

9 Town hall in the gothic quarter of the
Belgian capital of Brussels

The economy and administration have been decentralized, and the regions were granted cultural autonomy.

The early postwar years were overshadowed by a dispute concerning King Leopold III, who stood accused of treason and collaboration with the Nazis. Leopold returned to the Belgian throne in 1950, but unrest forced him to abdicate in favor of his son Baudouin I in 1951. Baudouin was able to hold the country together through strict impartiality in the ethnic conflict. He was followed on the throne by his brother, Albert II, but Albert did not come into a trouble-free inheritance. A bribery scandal in which many ministers were involved led to the resignation of the government in 1994, and new elections brought a breakthrough for the right-wing parties.
Belgium was shaken between 1990 and 2000 by numerous corruption scandals and the botched investigation of child molester and murderer Marc Dutroux.

In October of 1996, 325,000 citizens gathered for the 11 "White March" in Brussels—a silent demonstration against political intrigue, moral decay, and the laxity of the justice system in the trial of the pedophile serial killer and his associates.

11 Mass demonstrations in the wake of a
pedophile scandal, 1996



Baudouin I

Baudouin (Boudewijn in Flemish), born in 1930, returned to Belgium in 1950 with his father Leopold III, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazis and transported to Germany.

Baudouin succeeded to the throne in 1951. In 1960 he declared the Belgian Congo's independence. King Baudouin died in 1993, after a popular 42-year reign.

The Belgian royal house serves as a unifying and stabilizing factor in a federal state threatened by cultural divisions.

Baudouin I, King of the Belgians from 1951


see also: United Nations member states -
Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg



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