Anne Morelli, an insightful historian
Anne Morelli has various history specialisms in her arsenal, but she has mainly been featured in the media in her capacity as a specialist on immigration. In 2016, she published a book entitled 'Recherches nouvelles sur l'immigration italienne en Belgique' (New research on Italian immigration to Belgium) which discussed the 'manpower for coal' agreement, under which Italy sent tens of thousands of Italian workers to Belgium in exchange for coal.
In 2016, to mark the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of this event, she put this immigration agreement into perspective. "There's a lot of rhetoric about the collective memory, but it is clearly not a glorious or light-hearted story. They said 'let's celebrate', but there is nothing to celebrate. This immigration was an uprooting, a tearing apart, an obligation, a deportation. It is an emotive word, but in its original sense, deportation means living far from home, for all those people who, in 1946, had to move away due to poverty."
Anne Morelli was born on 14 February 1948 in Ixelles, a municipality of Brussels. Of Italian origin, she has family in Naples and in the Abruzzo. A doctor of contemporary history, she first taught in secondary school before becoming a lecturer at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). She was Director of the Interdisciplinary centre for the study of religions and secularism (CIERL in French) of the ULB, where she taught historical criticism, cultural contacts, the history of religions and historical didactics. She specialised in the history of minorities, contemporary Christianity and social movements; her most recent works address the history of strikes, Italian immigration, revolutionary movements, and propaganda, among others.
Another one of her works did not pull any punches: 'Les grands mythes de l'histoire de Belgique, de Flandre et de Wallonie Bruxelles' (The great historical myths of Belgium, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels). For example, readers learn that "Of all these [peoples of Gaul], the Belgians are the bravest" is a truncated section from Caesar's prose, who adds, in De Bello Gallico (The Gallic Wars): "because they have remained the closest to barbarity". It is difficult to imagine this sentence being taught in its entirety to our little darlings! It is essential that a myth brings a positive aspect to a young nation and a new regime in search of identity. Clovis, Charlemagne, Godefroi de Bouillon, Peter the Hermit, all became Belgians.
Henri Pirenne, the great Belgian historian, looked for, and believed he had found, in the most distant past of what in 1830 became Belgium, "a veritable national life". This assertion, writes Anne Morelli, immediately took on the value of a kind of national philosophy in Belgium. And the Belgians have given themselves symbols to cement their national union: a national flag, a national anthem and a national holiday. Each of these three symbols has its own history, and with the linguistic and institutional quarrels, each of the three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) has in turn acquired its own particular symbols.
Photo: © Wikipedia / Paul Van Welden