Last weekend I went to Standford Gardens in Waterloo to buy the only “Polar Bear” I have found on sale in Belgium—a very special rhododendron which blossoms in August. There, I was told about the preparation of the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo which will take place next Thursday, Friday and Saturday on the original battlefield, 20 km. south of Brussels.
The event is divided between the official commemoration and the reenactment of the battle itself, where Napoleon’s troops fought their last battle against Great Britain’s and Prussia’s. There will be 5000 actors in period costumes, 360 horses and 100 cannons in a very realistic and unusual historical reproduction (the event takes place only every five or ten years). Its budget is also massive—the monumental reenactment of the most decisive European battle in the nineteenth century will cost around 10 million euros.
The battle proves that Brussels is at the crossroads of Europe, then during the Napoleonic wars and now at peace. It also shows that, despite the nineteenth century unquestionable belief, the world does not march irrevocably into progress. Whereas the casualties in the second battle of Ypres (in May 1915 during WWI) were of 34.933 Germans, 59.275 Britons, 21.973 Frenchmen and 5.975 Canadians, the toll of Waterloo was approximately of 45.000 people, with the difference that Waterloo lasted for two days and Ypres lasted for four years –with a total toll of Ypres of around 850.000 casualties in WWI.
It always surprises me the veneration that, not only in France but around the world, some people still profess to the cruel warrior Napoleon was. Nobody will keep a bust of Hitler at home, very few people of Mussolini or Franco, but the long shadow of Napoleon Bonaparte still occupies a privileged place in our history and in our museums.
Due to French pressures, Belgium has withdrawn the two euro coin project commemorating the bicentenary of Waterloo.