US to celebrate a big Belgian birthday

Late in the evening of April 20, the skies over Washington will erupt with a showering cascade of fireworks. Clusters of multicolored rockets will soar and explode in the nighttime breeze for an estimated half-million or so people huddled on the Mall below, the Washington Monument silhouetted in the background.

Accompanying what is expected to be a dazzling pyrotechnic display will be music by Belgian composers and performers -- adding up to what Belgian government officials believe will be the first musically choreographed fireworks program ever held in this capital.

The fireworks program is but the first in what promises to be the most comprehensive cultural and technological program on Belgium ever held in the United States. Even while the keynote program is opened here by King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium, similar cultural programs will be preparing to open in major cities across the US.

The technological program alone, which will extend well into 1981 in a number of US cities, will "acquaint" Americans with many aspects of Belgium economic development, says Guido Courtois, commercial counselor at the Belgian Embassy.

The extensive program on Belgium held throughout the US marks the Belgian sesquicentennial -- the 150th year of Belgian national independence.

The program also marks the culture, history, and economic development of an important nation in Europe -- yet a society often overlooked by many Americans assessing the so-called "balance of power."

As State Department officials here are keenly aware, however, Belgium is geographically, politically, militarily, and economically of considerable significance to the Western world. As the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community (EC), Belgium is at the political heart of Europe. More than 1,200 US companies have offices or plants here.

Highly industrialized, Belgium is among the "top 10" nations in overall world trade.

The initial Belgian programs opening throughout the US will be called "Belgium Today." They are cosponsored by the US National Endowment for the Arts, along with additional organizations and the Belgian government.

The main programs will take place in Washington, New York, and San Francisco. A separate program on technology will be held in such cities as Chicago, Atlanta , Houston, and Los Angeles.

"The scope of what's being undertaken is really incredible," says one US official helping to handle arrangements for the program.

Just to give some examples:

The Washington-based Phillips Collection, a museum, will hold a display on "Leon Spilliaert: Symbol and Expression in 20th Century Belgian Art."

The Library of Congress will hold a major showing on "Founding of the Belgian Nation in 1830."

The Brooklyn Museum, in New York, will hold a showing on Belgian art from 1880 to 1914.

The Hoover Institute, at Stanford University, will hold a seminar on Belgian-US relations during World Wars I and II.Up the coast a few miles, the Presidio Art Museum in San Francisco will have a display on the Battle of the Bulge.

The technology exhibit will be of particular interest to business leaders. Belgium's remarkable economic and technological climate, analysts here note, has come about despite the fact that the nation has little in the way of indigenous natural resources, as does the US, the Soviet Union, Canada, and other major industrial nations.

The industrial program -- called "technology for tomorrow" -- will look at a number of specific industries, including textiles, steel, electronics, and transportation.

In all, US officials here say, Americans will have ample opportunity during the months ahead to learn more about Belgium's economy and its Dutch and French cultural heritage.

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