“We want to remain what we are”, or “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn,” is the motto of the Great Duchy of Luxembourg. Often forgotten in History books; it has always remained prevalent, maybe not as a country nor even a nation, but there has always been a common spirit which only seems to exist in the heart of the Greater Region.
To most people who have never been there, Luxembourg may look like a remote country; stuck between its big brothers France, Germany and Belgium, the little Great Duchy still manages to sustain an identity of its own surprisingly well. Invasions, humiliations, or long wars, you name it; it has been through everything and somehow always came out stronger and more deferential.
I moved to Luxembourg many years ago, and before I arrived my head was full of stereotypes (as you would expect from an upper-middle class Frenchman I guess). The generic Luxembourgian stereotype is a grumpy old farmer mumbling a harsh dialect, enjoying local moonshine and occasionally shooting a Belgian on account of him being “too nice”. And even though I’m sure such person may be found lost in some dark woods, this generic description is undeniably false. But firstly I should explain something about the Great Duchy – there are actually not many Luxembourgers. The overall population of the country is more or less 500, 000 and is mostly composed foreigners, equating to barely 50% of the population being Luxembourgian nationals (Britain being populated by 90% of British citizens!) So as you can see, being Luxembourgian is not about being born in Luxembourg, it’s a state of mind.
Being Luxembourgian is a cosmopolite concept. One can count several principal nationalities constituting the population: First there are the Luxembourgers (about 50% of the population), the Portuguese (15%), the French (5%), the Italians and the Belgians (both about 4%) and the German (about 3%). They all play a major role in Luxembourg’s identity and economic strength; a bit like America, Luxembourg wouldn’t be as strong as it is today without immigration (with the exception that they love the people who live behind the South border).
Thus multiple waves of immigrations brought workers from all around Europe and strongly stimulated the economy; initially as simple construction workers, progressing to coal miners and finally, bankers and investors. It is understandable that, after the collapsing of the coal industries in the late 1970’s, Luxembourg initiated its final transformation into one of the strongest financial places around the world with authorities altering the country’s main activity sector. There wouldn’t be any industrial reconversion (like in France (which was a tremendous failure by the way)) but a development of banking activities. A strong economy and a company friendly government became great assets for entrepreneurs; who still are the main source of immigration in the country.
Although it is now a world leading economical location, the Great Duchy remains proud of his unique historical background and secular traditions (all more typical than the other). Among those long celebrated events that one can appreciate is the Schueberfouer; a Pagan tradition that was created by king John of Bohemia, (also known as John the Blind) in 1340. It consists of a great German styled fair where merchants and bear tamers have long been replaced by many (and I mean a lot) of traditional take-away restaurants and attractions. I am personally always amazed how after 672 years the fair is still one of the most popular events in the country with an average of 2 million visitors per year (yes – that’s four times the population). And this is not the only one, there are also Christian traditions (as the Christian Church is still part of the government, though it has no power neither de jure nor de facto) like the Oktav pilgrimage (Octave in English) or Willibrord’s hopping procession, where thousands of pilgrims held by handkerchiefs hop through the streets of Echternach.
Another particularity of the Luxembourgian people is humour. Rather similar to the so-called “British Humour” it is witty, sarcastic and rather absurd. Its origin is clear, the wonderful blend of cultures created a taste for self-derision and play on stereotypes. George Erasmus’s “How to Remain what You are” is great example of Luxembourgian humour which guarantees hours of amusement, if you’re into it.
So in conclusion, what is a Luxembourger and why are they so keen on remaining what they are? Well a Luxembourger is person who adopts the Luxembourgian way of thinking, based on two values tradition and progress. It is important for them to maintain their identities because of culture threats. If somebody comes to live in Luxembourg, he may disregard its history and yet he shan’t ignore the people’s sprit. Luxembourg is an incredibly colourful land which has much to offer. It kept its unique state of mind throughout wars, invasions and industrial revolutions. A steady immigration from all around Europe gave strength to its economy and contributed to make it what is now the second richest country in the world (GDP per inhabitans) behind Quatar. And though “We want to remain what we are” may sound like an oath against progress, on the contrary, it is rather an invitation to change without forgetting where we come from.