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Hannut (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)


Last modified: 2005-02-26 by
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Free Republic of Blehen

[Flag of the Republic of Blehen]by Ivan Sache

The village of Blehen (c. 300 inhabitants, 198 hectares, 143 m a.s.l.) is one of the eighteen components of the municipality of Hannut.

Blehen was called Blocheym (1169) and Blochem (XIVth century). The Germanic root blok means in Middle Dutch trunk, beam, or entranched camp. Remains of ancient ditches have been found in the marshes of Blehen.
Remains of a Neolithic settlement have been found near Blehen, as well as the remains of a Gallo-Roman villa and a tumulus. In the Merovingian and Carolingian times, Blehen was probably a royal domain (fiscus) including the neighbouring villages of Lens-Saint-Rémy, Abolens and Lens-Saint-Servais. Blehen was part of the County of Avernas and was later incorporated into the principality of Liège.
Blehen was a Liége enclave into Brabant and was trashed several times, for instance in 1645 by the garrison of Jodoigne. From 1672 to 1711, the troops of Louis XIV, of his allies and of his opponents altogether trashed the area.
In 1822, the Dutch administration merged Blehen with Lens-Saint-Rémy. On 20 June 1896, the municipal status of Blehen was restored.

The law voted on 17 July 1970 suppressed the municipality of Blehen, which was incorporated into the new municipality of Hannut. During the village festival, celebrated during the first week-end of July, the inhabitants proclaimed by referendum the Free Republic of Blehen (République Libre de Blehen).
The village festival lasts three days. The celebration starts with the hoisting of the colours to the Republic Tree. Then, sportive games take place, involving the other villages of the municipality of Hannut. Saturday evening is the time of the elections: a new President of the Republic shall be elected every three year and the Buse shall be elected every year. The inhabitant of the village who has received the least number of votes is proclaimed Buse. His/her consolation prize are free drinks during the rest of the festival.
Like any respectable village festival in Belgium, the Blehen festival ends with a cyclist race. The runners must be dressed up in fancy dress and the inhabitants of the village must encourage them with drinks offered ad libitum. Very few competitors are able to complete the three laps of the race.

In order to honour their former city hall, the citizens of Blehen have transformed it into a brewery, where the local beer Cuvée de Saint-Antoine shall be produced very soon. The old recipe of the beer was recently found by the members of the St. Anton's brotherhood, whose main goals are the promotion of local pork products and brown beer. The brotherhood is the recreation of a brotherhood which existed in the XIXth century, when there was a famous pilgrimage to St. Anton and St. Peter in Blehen on 17 January. At the end of the great mass, there was a big auction of pig's heads on the square in front of the church.

The flag of the Free Republic of Blehen is horizontally divided red-yellow. It is based on the colours of the coat of arms of the ancient Blehen family, which are, by pure chance, also the colours of Liège and Wallonia.

More details on the Republic, the festival and the brotherhood can be read on the official website of the Republic.

Ivan Sache, 11 July 2004

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