A Belgian Farmer Did What Some Military Leaders Couldn’t—He Moved the Border

May 5, 2021 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: BordersBorderFranceBelgiumMilitary History

A Belgian Farmer Did What Some Military Leaders Couldn’t—He Moved the Border

It is not every day that an annoyed farmer moves a stone that actually marks the historic border between two countries.

Throughout history, many military leaders have engaged in costly and often deadly campaigns to gain territory. Likewise, wars big and small alike have begun over “border disputes,” and for nearly a year China and India have faced off on the poorly demarcated “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) near the Ladakh Valley.

Halfway around the world, there has been an issue of the French-Belgian border—but this wasn't actually a territorial dispute or an attempt by one side to gain more land. Rather a Belgian farmer accidentally moved a historic stone border marker that was in the way of his tractor.

The stone marker had been positioned between the Belgian border village of Erequelinnes and Bousignies-sur-Roc, a commune in the Nord department of northern France. After becoming annoyed that the stone was in the path of his tractor, the farmer moved it some 2.29 meters—or roughly seven and a half feet.

It was only after a local history enthusiast was walking near the forest that he noticed the stone marking the boundary between the two nations had moved. However, instead of causing an international uproar or even a resulting in a border crisis, the incident has been met with humor by both mayors.

“He made Belgium bigger and France smaller, it’s not a good idea,” David Lavaux, mayor of the Belgian village of Erquelinnes, told French TV channel TF1 as reported by the BBC. “I was happy, my town was bigger. But the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn't agree.”

Despite the fact his village “lost” territory, Aurélie Welonek, mayor of the neighboring French village, also saw the humor of the situation and told the La Voix du Nord news outlet, “We should be able to avoid a new border war.”

The farmer will reportedly be contacted by Belgian authorities who will ask him to move the stone back to its original position. If the farmer refuses, either because he doesn’t want to drive his tractor around the border marker or other reasons, the issue will have to be taken to the Belgian foreign ministry.

It could even require that the Franco-Belgian border commission would need to be summoned, and it has been dormant since 1930. However, the threat of criminal charges would likely be enough to resolve the matter.

“If he shows good will, he won’t have a problem, we will settle this issue amicably,” Welonek also told Belgian news website Sudinfo.

The Franco-Belgian border stretches some 390 miles. It was formally established under the Treaty of Kortrijk, which was signed in 1820—five years after France’s Emperor Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. The stone, which had been so casually moved, actually dated back to 1819 when the proposed border was laid out. As both countries have been part of the Schengen Zone since 1995, there are no permanent border controls.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters.