By Richard Giedroyc
The United States marked the 50th anniversary of the victory over Germany, Japan, and their allies in World War II with commemorative coins in 1993. The Soviet Union celebrated its victory over the same advisories in the same war with coins in 1965, 1975, 1985, and 1990. Poland recently celebrated the 600th anniversary of its victory over the German Teutonic Knights and their Western European allies at the Battle of Tannenberg/Grunwald.
In 1987 the Soviet Union celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino. So, why is France blocking Belgium from issuing a coin to mark the 200th anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo?
A source at the British Royal Mint told the British Broadcasting Corporation, “The Battle of Waterloo ended 200 years ago, but now they are starting it all over again!”
Poland holds an annual re-enactment of the Battle of Grunwald. Likewise, Belgium holds a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo annually. Why isn’t Germany objecting to Poland’s belligerence?
Belgium will be marking the Waterloo anniversary with a four-day celebration in June. The Belga news agency said the celebration has a budget of almost 5 million euros and is expected to draw 200,000 spectators. Napoleon’s two-horned hat will be on exhibit, loaned by a French museum.
So, what about the 180,000 Belgium £2 coins that have already been struck to mark the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo?
According to the Belgium Finance Ministry’s union NUOD spokesman Manuela Wintermans, “Once you’ve got rid of them there will be a loss of 1.5 million euros.”
Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said, “I am a bit surprised by all this agitation. Europe has plenty of other issues to deal with and challenges to overcome without wasting time and energy on this.”
The now doomed coin depicts the Lion Hill Memorial at the battlefield and is accompanied by a legend reading: “Waterloo 1815-2015” on the national side of the coin. The other side of the coin is required to depict the standard EU coin images.
In a March 13 broadcast National Public Radio reported, “Belgian authorities say France complained to the European Union about plans to circulate a commemorative £2 coin depicting the battlefield where Napoleon was defeated in 1815 by Britain and its allies, including the countries that are now Belgium and the Netherlands. The French wrote a letter saying such an image could hurt the coherence of the eurozone by offending French citizens. The National Union of Public Services, which is responsible for the coin, is angry. In a statement, it says it would be irresponsible to cancel the project when the Belgian Royal Mint has already manufactured 180,000 of the coins, with the project costing more than $2.5 million. And, the union says, France is selling its own coins commemorating Waterloo — so it doesn’t want Belgium to admit defeat.”
A March 12 Expatica blog reads, “The coin row has underscored that beneath all the talk of unity in the 28-member European Union, set up in the wake of World War Two, national sensitivities still run deep and countries have long memories.”
The countries involved in the EU currency union use uniform bank notes. The country for which these notes have been issued can only be identified through the serial numbers. Euro coins can depict whatever the country of issue wants on the so-called national side of the coin.
If a country decides to change the design, such as when a commemorative is to be issued, the European Commission must be notified of this change. This is where France was able to find a way to prevent the coin from being issued. Belgium had chosen to issue the coins as commemoratives rather than force a vote of the European Council of Ministers.
France has previously issued coins marking the D-day landing of Allied troops during World War Two. Germany did not protest.
This time the French government sent a letter in which it protested that the coins would cause an “unfavorable reaction in France…the Battle of Waterloo has a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict. The circulation of these coins carrying a negative symbol for a section of the European population seems detrimental at a time when eurozone governments are trying to build unity and cooperation under the single currency.”
NPR quoted a British tourist as saying, “It’s 200 years ago. They need to move on.”
A Dutch tourist added, “As far as I’m concerned, they can issue 10 coins. But I can imagine that that will not be beneficial for mutual understanding in Europe.”