In Brussels, a Tri-Mission Independence Day Is All About Partnership

July 2, 2010
Americans and Belgians Celebrate U.S. Independence Day During Bike Ride Through Brussels

About the Author: Tania Chomiak-Salvi serves as Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy Brussels.

Partnership was the main concept. As we honored our own country's Independence Day in Brussels yesterday, we celebrated the strong and very contemporary partnership with Belgium and indeed all of Europe.

The day began early, with Ambassador Gutman ringing the opening bell at the Belgian stock exchange.

Not one hour later, we were leading an enormous public bike ride through the avenues and winding streets of Brussels. I use “leading” loosely: the real leaders were Belgian cycling champ Stijn Devolder and cycling legend Eddy Merckx. Trailing behind were VIPs and members of the public, all of us surrounded by four firefighters from Charleroi, an industrial city in southern Belgium, who were riding Harleys and waving enormous Belgian and American flags. The Charleroi firefighters have been friends of the embassy since September 11, 2001, when they rallied in support of their fallen comrades in New York and began an annual tradition of events marking September 11. The friendly bike ride picked up riders along the way, as Belgians who were enjoying the fine weather took a detour from their daily business and rode with us. We ended at Belgium's historic center, the gilded Grand Place. We parked our bikes and met up with Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans and a band. This was getting better and better for the tourists who were already astonished to see Harleys and hundreds of bikes pulling into the Grand Place.

We were off again, this time on foot, collecting more members to our procession, off to the little statue that makes such a large statement for Belgians: the Manneken Pis. True, it's a nude boy relieving himself. But that very statue has survived centuries. Its origins in dispute, it remains a symbol for Belgians of their long history of continuing to thrive despite foreign occupations and endless shifts in government. Whatever happens at the top, the Belgians persevere, their traditions continue. One tradition includes granting the honor of dressing the little guy in a national costume or some other symbolic garb, and the U.S. Embassy had that honor for the first time ever yesterday. The red, white and blue of his outfit is unmistakably American, but he holds two flags -- Belgian and American -- and he's saying, “Yes, we can.” Yes, we can build the partnership; yes, we can tackle international challenges together; yes, we can build the economy; yes, we can secure international peace. The band played American tunes and the tourists gathered around the statue waved Belgian and American flags.

The next stop was Brussels -- central park, across the street from the U.S. Ambassador's Residence. There the public enjoyed a day of live American music -- bluegrass, New Orleans jazz, and rock (Elvis covers, no less!). As they enjoyed the “backyard party,” our official guests were not forgotten, hosted in the usual diplomatic style on the grounds of the Embassy surrounded by the symbols of the U.S., Belgium, the European Union, NATO and, most importantly, partnership.

American rock-jazz pianist ELEW brought the day to a rousing end with his dramatic and rocking piano performance in the Park.

As of yesterday, the downtown buildings of the Brussels Tri-Missions (USEU and Embassy Brussels -- USNATO is located in a different part of town) sport a new banner, clearly visible for blocks around: a photo of two flags together, Belgian and American, with one word: partnership.

You'll enjoy this TV report from Flemish Public Television, which is in English, and if you speak Dutch, here's one from the Flemish commercial broadcaster VTM.

Editor's Note: The Brussels Tri-Mission includes U.S. Embassy Belgium, the U.S. Mission to NATO, and the U.S. Mission to the European Union.Related Entry: Secretary Clinton Delivers U.S. Independence Day Message

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