THE STRUGGLE FOR REPARATIONS
Aside from territorial expansion and treaty revision, Belgium's chief concern at the peace conference was financial. Reparation for damage done, including immediate payments to make possible the reconstruction of a totally devastated economy, was so vital to Belgium that this issue nearly caused her to reject the Versailles treaty. From start to finish, the entire country and all three political parties were united in their insistence upon the urgency of their nation's needs. The battle over Belgian reparations claims was long and bitter and, as with so many other Belgian issues, her gains at Paris remained a bone of contention for many years thereafter.
The Belgian reparations claims were extraordinarily diverse, arising from her special legal position under the 1839 treaties, the extent and duration of the German occupation, and the total destruction of her economy. There were even claims against Austria, which, although a signatory of the 1839 treaties, had participated with Germany in the fighting in Belgium in mid-August of 1914 without declaring war until 28 August. Thus, Belgium claimed a variety of historic coins, armor, archives, and works of art removed by the Austrians during the wars of the French Revolution. Though Belgium was awarded these items by the Treaty of Saint-Germain, Austria succeeded on appeal in 1921 in retaining the two chief items, the treasure of the Order of the Golden Fleece and a Rubens triptych, on the argument that their removal had been a normal exercise of her eighteenth-century sovereignty over the area.1
There was no such complication about Belgian claims against Ger____________________