Published on June 5th, 2017 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM0
Interview of Jean-Marie Kreins, historian and lecturer in Luxembourg
French Quarter Magazine: What are the most important historical figures of the 20th century of your country, can you name a few?
J.M.K. : If I look at the figures of the 20th century, I would say that there is a personality that seems to have been important in politics. It was Joseph Bech. Bech was born in late 19th century and died in 1975. He was a minister (called president of the Government). Why he was an important person? He was probably the person who has the most internationalized the interwar in Luxembourg. Bech was important as a politician. He was close to Spaak, the Belgian minister during the war of 40. He was also a minister during and after the war, so this is an important figure that deserves a lot of interest as he had a great political sense. After, the last figurehead is Charlotte. As in all countries, there are “small ministers…” Werner was perhaps another important figure because he played an international role in the area of the European community currency snake. He was dynamic enough to initiate some economic initiative in the difficulties of the European Union. It was not really an iconic figure who represents the Grand Duchy. Luxembourg became a bit like all other states. There is more emblematic or originality.
French Quarter Magazine: What is the role of Luxembourg in the European Union?
J.M.K. : Luxembourg is a founding member. Again, there is a tradition of alliance. Luxembourg has a reconciliation of tradition (not necessarily because Luxembourgers wanted to). First, there is the story of integrations. The population has always been confronted with others.
As a founding member SECA (European Economic Community), the institutions that have settled here in Kirchberg. You have the Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, Eurostat, the publications office. You have also the translation center and the seat of the European parliament (October and April). All these institutions are naturally… there were about 9,800 people who have raised prices but at the same time consumption. SECA was not accepted by the population. We must not lose sight that Luxembourg is a Catholic country. There was very little Protestantism in Luxembourg. We had no major problems with the Protestants. There was Catholic tradition, rural tradition, few cities, a center, an isolation at the same time, confronting else did that. Little by little, things are made. There was some profit along with a loss. It is a country where there are many foreigners which created tension, but the Luxembourger is tolerant. As long as he has a quiet life with his television, his car, he is not subjected to aggression, things are more or less well. When communities are poor, things are less easy. On one side the rich, the other poor. It’s been conflicts between the same groups and with foreign groups, conflicts are increasing more. This does not really exist in Luxembourg.
French Quarter Magazine: You say that the European Union has brought little to Luxembourg?
J.M.K. : Not really, no. This brought on the one hand, visibility, some economic benefit, an opening to the outside, and sometimes journalists come to Luxembourg but not often because the events are rare. We had three Luxembourgers who were presidents of the European Commission: the first was Gaston Thorn, in the early 80s, the second was Santer who was more lapsed since the commission has resigned. And now we have Juncker who is the 3rd. These things make that there are visibility. Now, one could also say, “to live happy, live hidden.” Because this visibility also created a lot of international tensions to Luxembourg. Luxembourg is also a financial center and abroad is often considered a “gangster” country that profits, which benefits. It is the vision of the outsider. The French and the Germans do not always have a positive outlook on Luxembourg, Belgium is different.
J.M.K. : You have between 1840 and 1900, approximately 72,000 Luxembourg who immigrated to the United States in three waves of migration: the beginning, middle and end of the century. That’s still a lot out of a population of 250,000 inhabitants. This represents almost a third of the population who immigrated to the United States. There is something interesting culturally in my view, is that these people have kept relations with the country.
America is not just a fantasy. It is also a commercial reality, but economic, that one it is already present before the war.
After the war, there will be a significant economic return with the arrival of a number of companies like Goodyear, the Credit Bank, a Belgian bank that follows Goodyear. A variety of industries also came as Euro flora. The north of Luxembourg was very developed with many small and medium productions fridges, radios, leather etc… After the war, all this disappears. It is replaced at that time by American industries that settled favorably in Luxembourg: Balatum, Dupont de Nemours, Uniroyal etc… You also have the luxury industries that settle in the United States such as Wurtz that had a patent with the army for long distance rails for fast trains.
You will have the arrival of financial services companies such as major banks that go to settle for any sort of economic reasons: niches strategies and tax advantages. There was the recognition of Luxembourg by the United States around 1870 and the opening of an American embassy in 1956 in Luxembourg. All this is of great importance. This creates trade, diplomatic and economic. Do not forget the symbolic return of veterans who played an important role and, before the war, Charlotte who got a little experience in the United States and said that Luxembourg existed. It was not really the best known country in the United States.
Transcription: Pascale Nard. This article was proofread in English by Linda Quinet.