Belgium



Total population: 9,233,238
Jewish population: 30,000-35,000 (mainly in
Brussels and Antwerp)


General background

In 1993, Belgium became a federal state of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. It comprises ten provinces and three linguistic communities: French, Flemish and German. The linguistic, historical and cultural differences between Wallonia and Flanders continue to be a contentious issue. Many Flemish people contest the notion of a Belgian state and want independence.

The present federal government comprises the Flemish Christelijke Volkspartij (CVP, Christian People's Party) and the Socialistiche Partij (SP, Socialist Party), and the French-speaking Parti social chrétien (PSC, Christian Social Party) and Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party). The government of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene (CVP), reconstituted after the May 1995 elections, has been reshuffled several times in the wake of political and financial scandals, and even charges of associations with the Mafia. The other main parties are: the Vlaamse Liberalen en Demokraten (VLD, Flemish Liberals and Democrats); the Parti réformateur libéral (PRL, Liberal Reform Party); the far-right Vlaams Blok (VB, Flemish Bloc); the left-wing nationalist Volksunie (People's Union); the Flemish and Walloon ecology parties Anders gaan leven (AGALEV, Live Differently) and ECOLO; the French-speaking far-right Front National (FN, National Front, previously known as Front national belge, FNB); and the Front démocratique des francophones (FDF, Democratic Front of French Speakers). The elections for the federal government are normally held every four years. The next election is scheduled for July 1999.

The Mouvement wallon pour le retour à la France (MWRF, Walloon Movement for the Return to France) was established in 1991. Presi-ded over by Maurice Lebeau, the group argues that Wallonia should return to France, its separation having been a historical aberration. The aim of the MWRF is to highlight the inherent French identity in Walloons and to present a political alternative to Belgian unity. The movement has about 1,200 members and produces a publication called Wallonie française (French Wallonia). Attachment to the MWRF is largely based on a linguistic affinity; its influence is minimal.

In 1996 the Belgian economic situation continued to worsen, with an increase in the number of unemployed (30 per cent of young people in some areas), the failure of small businesses and a rising population of homeless. The pervading crises hit political and moral spheres as well as the economy. Popular unrest, which began with metalworkers, teachers and students, is expected to spread, and some political commentators have even gone so far as to refer to a "pre-revolutionary" situation. The radical left, rather than the far right, is at the centre of the protest movement.

The French-speaking PS and Flemish-speaking SP, who in recent years have shifted to centre ground, are increasingly criticized by the electorate. A majority of those who vote for the far-right FN and VB come from a socialist background.

In February, Bert Anciaux, the president of Volksunie, condemned what he perceived as government apathy towards far-right groupings such as Excalibur, Wehrwolf-Verbond, Pure Impact and the NJSV (see PARTIES, ORGA-NIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS) and called for more repressive measures against them. Anciaux stated that these groups and their publications, which often express nostalgia for Hitler and deny or trivialize the Holocaust, defy the 1981 and 1995 anti-racist laws (see LEGAL MATTERS).

In 1996, the country was shaken by the revelations surrounding the "Dutroux affair"-the kidnapping and murder of children by paedophiles-and the ensuing negligence and complicity by officials in the police and judiciary. The investigations into the affair continue to plague Belgium's judicial and political class, and have led to large-scale demonstrations in Brussels.

Historical legacy

Antisemitism in Belgium was most virulent in the 1930s. At that time, the Jewish population was largely made up of immigrants, exiles and political refugees. The fascist parliamentary parties, the French-speaking Rex party and the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV, Flemish National Union), attacked Jews in their election campaigns. The VNV campaigned in Antwerp with the slogan "Antwerp is Ours! Jews Out!" During the Nazi occupation, these parties supported the Nazi regime. Of 25,257 Belgian Jews deported, almost all of them to Auschwitz, only 1,205 returned.

In 1952 the first French work denying the Holocaust, by Maurice Bardèche, was transla-ted into Flemish by Karel Dillen, who became the leader of the anti-immigrant VB (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS). Articles denouncing an alleged Judeo-communist con- spiracy were published in the Flemish Catholic daily De Standaard during the Cold War.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, antisemitism appeared in the form of left-wing anti-Zionism. The Belgian "Euro-revolutionary" left condoned terrorist activities carried out in the name of Palestinian nationalism. Between 1963 and 1969 Jeune Europe (Young Europe), a Belgian-based international organization, maintained contacts with Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Yassir Arafat's Fatah movement.

There was a marked increase in Holocaust-denial activities between 1976 and 1991, with the establishment of a publishing house and foundations dedicated to this purpose.

Recent years have seen the development of a Belgian far right, ranging from anti-immigrant parties such as the VB and the FN-which have had increasing electoral success since the 1991 parliamentary elections-to neo-Nazi groupings (see GENERAL BACKGROUND and PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS).

Racism and xenophobia

Belgium has over 900,000 foreign residents, who constitute about 9 per cent of the population. This figure includes around 377,000 non-Europeans (3.7 per cent), of whom 145,000 are Moroccan (1.4 per cent) and 88,300 Turkish (0.9 per cent).

Increasingly in Belgium the far right dictates the terms of discussion about immigration, so much so that debate on the "immigrant problem" has permeated traditional political movements. Although leaders of mainstream parties have to some degree aped the xenophobic rhetoric developed by the VB and the FN (see GENERAL BACKGROUND) to the advantage of these parties, there has also been a movement in mainstream parties to propose "tough policies" to counter the aggression with which the far right makes its demands.

In a leaked document that came into the public domain in the autumn, the high command of the Belgian armed forces claimed that the country's immigrant population is a "new potential enemy". The document accused immigrants of being a clandestine threat through their abilities to carry out acts of sabotage and terrorism. In line with this view, 1,200 reserve officers were asked to gather information about migrants, thereby breaching laws on privacy and data protection.

In July 1996 the Flemish minister for home affairs, Johan Vanden Lanotte of the SP, introduced a law on the right of asylum that adopts twelve of the VB's points on immigration policy. With the exception of four deputies from the CVP and the PSC, all the social democrats (including left-wing PS and SP deputies and senators) voted for this law.

Police monitoring of immigrants and foreigners in Belgium has become common-place and is approved of by the minister of the interior.

Parties, organizations, movements

The VB, which was founded in 1978 as an alliance of Flemish nationalist and anti-communist groups and is led by Filip Dewinter and Karel Dillen (see below), has become established on the Belgian political scene and is now present at all institutional levels. There are eleven VB federal deputies; five senators; seventeen members of the Flemish regional parliament; two deputies in the Brussels regional parliament; 203 local councillors; forty-two councillors in the social security bureau; two deputies in the European Parliament; and one VB representative on the controlling body of the BRTN (Flemish radio and television company).

The party is the ideological heir to the pre-war right-wing movement that collaborated with Nazi Germany. The VB is a populist party, advocating an independent Flemish state with Brussels as its capital, and it campaigns for a total amnesty for Nazi collaborators. Elements within the party express open admiration for the Nazi regime and a number of formal Belgian Waffen-SS members and known anti-semitic activists belong to its militant wing.

The party's leaders have established an efficient internal organization, allowing for the formation of a strong militant base (with an estimated 1,000 activists). The VB offers its 9,000 members a real "party life" (training, induction, invitation to meetings, information days). It comprises more than 180 local sections and produces a monthly propaganda sheet, specialized publications (for young people, managers and party workers), and a dozen or so local papers.

The following are the most important organizations within the VB. Vlaams-Blok Jongeren (VBJ) is the party's youth organization, and was founded in 1987 by Dewinter. The VBJ did not hold a congress during 1996. Studiedienst (Study Service) develops and disseminates the ideological material within the party. While the Vereniging van Vlaams-Blok Mandatarissen (VVDM, Association of Elected Members) shapes party ideology, the Nationalistisch Vormingsinstituut (NVI, Insitute for National Training) provides training through lectures and seminars. Dienst Propaganda (Propaganda Service), led by the member of parliament Xavier Buissert, deals with the dissemination of propaganda material, including a variety of literature, stickers and CDs. The fact that VB receives funding of almost BFr. 50 million from the state means that the party has few financial worries.

In August, Karel Dillen, president of the VB since 1978, retired and nominated Frank Vanhecke to succeed him, ending months of in-fighting among aspiring successors. Vanhecke, a one-time member of the VBJ, went on to serve as secretary-general of the then Technical Group of the European Right in the European Parliament from 1989 to 1994. His political views are in line with those of Dewinter, the party's chairman.

In the most recent legislative elections (May 1995) 12 per cent of Flemish-speaking voters supported the VB. In Brussels, the party received 3 per cent of the vote, making it the largest Flemish party in the capital. The party's electoral success is to some extent regionally defined; it polled 28 per cent in the 1994 local elections in Antwerp.

During 1996, conflict broke out between the different tendencies within the VB, above all between the old guard (ultra-nationalist, traditionally Christian Flemish-speakers) and the new generation of European nationalists influenced by the French FN (see France) and the Nouvelle Droite (New Right), founded by Alain de Benoist (see below). These tensions could well lead to the collapse of the party, particularly now that Dillen has retired. Dillen had often acted as the arbiter between the different political currents within the VB.

Nationalistisch Studenten Vereniging (NSV, Union of Nationalist Students) is a neo-Nazi student group. It was founded in 1976 and has links to the VB. Its emblems are the Flanders Lion and the Celtic Cross. In 1982, the NSV started a section for school students, the Nationalistisch Jongstudentenverbond (NJSV). The group, which consists of young people from the VB, skinheads and neo-Nazis, has links with the British C18 (see United Kingdom) and in the past was involved in the organization of several violent commando operations against left-wing groups, particularly in the town of Bruges. In 1996 the NJSV enjoyed a high public profile (see HOLOCAUST DENIAL).

Other neo-Nazi Flemish organizations include: the Volksnationalistische Partij (VNP), founded in 1994 by VB dissidents; the skinhead groups Adler, Awake and Autonome Nationalisten; and Excalibur/Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH).

In 1996 a new, small group of neo-Nazis appeared in Antwerp: the Wehrwolf-Verbond (Werewolf Alliance). This group publishes the antisemitic journal Weerstand (Resistance).

All these organizations have close links with the neo-Nazi movements in Europe, North America and South Africa, as well as with the international network of skinheads.

Following the January judicial review of the execution of the Nazi collaborator Irma Laplasse (see LEGAL MATTERS), a group of VB sympathizers founded Stichting Irma Laplasse (Irma Laplasse Foundation) in May. The group, based in Turnhout (near Antwerp), hopes to defend the memory of former collaborators under the Nazi occupation.

The formerly most active of ex-SS associations, the Hertoog Jan van Brabant (HJVB, Duke John of Brabant), was virtually inactive in 1996. Many of its members are ageing, while members of its one-time youth group (the Vlaamse Jeugd) have matured to become politically active within the VB. In July 1996 Jef François, a former SS commander on the eastern front, a nationalist ideologue and a key figure of the HJVB, died.

Founded in 1971-2, the Taal Aktie Komite (TAK, Committee for the Defence of Languages) has agitated against the presence of French-speakers in Flanders. The activities of the TAK are often violent. In common with all far-right Flemish movements, it campaigns for amnesty for former collaborators. Several elected representatives from the ranks of the VB are, or have been, members of the TAK. The party is also linked with the Vlaamse Volkspartij (VVP, Flemish People's Party), a VB splinter group formed in 1993.

Kring voor het Onderzoek naar de Socialistische en Multi-culturele Ondermijning van onze Samenleving (KOSMOS, Circle Investig-ating the Community's Destruction by Socialism and Multiculturalism) is a clandestine outfit that maintains records on its opponents. KOSMOS has a column in the VB's monthly publication in which it denounces left-wing organizations.

Vlaamse Jongeren Mechelen (VJM, Flemish Youth of Malines), created in 1994, is named after a small town between Brussels and Antwerp. Its membership numbers some thirty militants, who have close links with Voorpost and the scouts of VNJ (see below), as well as with the French-speaking neo-Nazi groups BIS and l'Assaut (see below). The VMJ publishes the newsletter Nationalistische Agenda (Nationalist Agenda) and holds lectures on ultra-nationalist movements in Europe.

Vlaams Nationaal Jeugdverbond (VNJ, National Flemish Youth Movement), founded in 1961 by a veteran from a pre-war Nazi organ-ization, is closely allied with the VB. There are annual VNJ summer camps: trained by some 300 "counsellors", VNJ boys are taught to march in military fashion, wearing uniforms of brown shirts and black trousers and boots.

Vlaams Volksbeweging (VVB, Flemish People's Movement) is the oldest populist organization in Flanders and is a principal organizer of the annual August Diksmuide pilgrimage (see MANIFESTATIONS).

Voorpost (Outpost) was founded in 1979 as a Flemish nationalist grouping around a magazine. Led by the VB member of parliament Francis Van den Inde, it disseminates nationalist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denial propaganda.

The divisions in the French-speaking far right continued during 1996. While in the early 1990s Daniel Féret's FN had succeeded in eliminating most of the rival nationalist parties, its monopoly was short lived. By 1995 Féret's group was to lose more than half of its seventy-two local council representatives to dissident groups such as Alliance radicale, Droite nationale and the FN splinter formed by Marguerite Bastien (see below). In 1996 Féret's FN was still active with two parliamentary representatives.

From September 1995 to February 1996 Marguerite Bastien, a member of the federal parliament, rallied the support of several militants, elected councillors, one vice-president and the secretary general of the FN, to create the Front nouveau de Belgique (FNB, New Belgian Front). The offshoot FNB is made up of a number of groups and individuals, including: FNB dissident groups Alliance radicale, Droite nationale and Front régional wallon; several groups hostile to Féret (Club de Beffroi, a splinter of Agir and Unie-see below); defectors from the PSC and the PRL; and Robert Steuckers (formerly of the French-based Groupement de recherche et d'etudes pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE, Research and Study Group for European Civilization) and leader of the Nouvelle Droite in Belgium since 1981). The new faction enjoys the support of the far-right PSC and for some time the support of the French FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Despite the fact that the FNB follows Le Pen's party line more closely than Féret's party, and is considered by Le Pen to be more respectable without Féret, Le Pen withdrew his support early in 1996 under pressure from the VB (which has been closely associated with the French FN for several years).

Like the VB, the FNB has a tight party structure, and is subdivided into several sections. There is a very small Nationaal Front (NF) for the Flemish, the director of which is a former departmental head of the VB. Front nouveau des jeunes (FNJ, the youth section of the FNB), has attracted members from neo-Nazi skinheads l'Assaut (see below). École des cadres, a "leadership training school", is intended to provide the party with future leaders, and was established through an initiative of Gérard Prévort, the former chief of the movement Ordre nouveau Belgique (New Belgian Order). Département-Accueil-Organisation (DAO, Department for Welcome and Organization), also supported by l'Assaut, has responsibility for security at meetings and for the party's leading figures. Service de documentation monitors the activities of left-wing organizations, trade unions and anti-fascist activists. The new FNB planned to hold a congress in February 1997.

L'Assaut is led by Hervé Van Laethen. Van Laethen has become not only the leader of the FNJ, but also head of security and political propaganda in the FNB. In 1996 the Charleroi branch of l'Assaut, grouped around a gang of bikers (known as "Wall's Boys") and skinheads, was reformed. It had been rendered defunct when most of its adherents had been found guilty in 1995 of violence towards Belgian and foreign youths. The Charleroi l'Assaut is the mainstay of the FNB in this area.

Several Christian fundamentalist groups support the FNB: the association Belgique et chrétienté, the Ligue chrétienne belge, the Rassemblement patriotique, led by Princess Rosalie de Mérode, and a more clandestine association, the Milice de Jésus-Christ (see RELIGION).

Like Féret's FN, the FNB also suffers from party divisions, and several town councillors are set to leave the party. In December 1996, the head of the Liège area, Hubert Defourny, was expelled from the leadership. Since then he has relaunched Référendum, a movement he founded in 1995.

In October it was revealed that Herbert Egoldt, the notorious distributor of neo-Nazi skinhead music, was operating from the Brussels-based far-right mail order company Pure Impact. Egoldt formerly operated Rock o Rama in Cologne, once the world's largest supplier of racist material, until police invaded his office and confiscated 30,000 records in 1992. The entrepreneur is now linked with Belgian extremists Peter Swillen, Ludo Henri Crol and Luc Taymans, who have launched Pure Impact in an attempt to revive the neo-Nazi record empire, which in recent years has been taken over by Resistance Records and Nordland (see Canada, Sweden).

French-speaking extra-parliamentary far-right organizations include the Bruxelles-Identité-Securité (BIS) movement, founded in 1994, which operates as little more than a propa-ganda committee for the VB. Its leaders are Robert Steuckers and Pieter Kerstens (former leader of the Parti des forces nouvelles (PFN, Party of the New Forces) active from 1974-91). The BIS campaigns for "a society of the future which will be nationalist, populist and united". Its rhetoric is marked by anti-US sentiment.

The Parti communautaire national-euro-péen (PCN, Party of the National European Community) is a nationalist-revolutionary party that has sworn "to stop the liberal far right", personified by the FNB. It was founded in 1984 from a federation of neo-Nazis and far-left ex-militants. Its programme is centred on the liberation of Europe from its "Yankee and Zionist enemies".

Agir, the "party of popular opposition", disintegrated after the May 1995 elections. It now comprises Agir-Fréson, Agir Destordeur, the Referendum Movement and the Front d'action populaire (Front for Popular Action). Founded in 1989 by defectors from the Liège branch of the PFN, Agir was active between 1989 and 1994. Today its leaders have joined Féret's FN, Bastien's FNB or the PCN. One exception is former president Robert Destordeur, who purports to represent Agir and edits the small nationalist magazine Li vrège Gazète (Truth Gazette).

Belgique-Europe-België is a bilingual monarchist party that emerged in 1989. Following electoral disaster and a split between the "old guard" and younger members, the party has divided into factions: Unie (Unity Party), Ligue des patriotes (League of Patriots) and Parti de l'entente des belges (Party for Belgian Entente).

Manifestations

As in previous years, in 1996 posters were stuck to the windows of Jewish shops in Antwerp with the Dutch inscription"Koopt niet bij Joden" ("Don't buy from the Jews").

On the anniversary of Hitler's birthday in April the Wehrwolf-Verbond (see PARTIES, OR-GANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS) organized a rally with Bert Eriksson (former leader of the banned neo-Nazi Vlaamse Militante Orde (VMO, Flemish Militant Order), repres-entatives of the South African AWB and the US NSDAP/AO (see South Africa, United States of America).

On 17 August Belgian neo-Nazis attending the Rudolf Hess commemorative rally (see Sweden) were arrested. Among them were members of l'Assaut and associates of the VB (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS).

In August the 69th annual Iron Pilgrimage in Diksmuide turned into a battlefield. The Iron Pilgrimage officially commemorates Belgian losses during the First World War, but since the 1970s it has become an international neo-Nazi rallying point. Six thousand neo-Nazis ventured to Diksmuide, where police were on alert following the interception of a message on the Internet from Eriksson that called for a "European fraternization night" at the event. Police arrested 131 people for possession of weapons and illegal neo-Nazi literature. The opening keynote speech by Lionel Vandenberghe, the event's president, was drowned by drums and whistles from members of the VNJ, who then joined leaders of the VB, members of Voorpost and Were Di in clashes with politicians from moderate groups. The violence during the rally caused dissension among the VB, leading to the resignation of some of its members, including the MP Jan Caubergs.

Cultural and sporting life

In 1996 Cassandre, a historical and cultural association active since the 1980s, continued to hold its lectures and conferences. The élitist club is frequented by the leaders of the FN. Its meetings continued to cover old themes of antisemitism, such as denunciation of the Judeo-Masonic plot, international Jewish finance and Jewish responsibility for the world wars.

In Flanders, Deltapers-TEKOS (associated with GRECE, see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS and France) published texts with revisionist versions of the history of European nationalist movements and of Judeo-Christian civilization. Among its collaborators there is a former Waffen-SS Vlanderen.

Publications and media

All of the main Flemish neo-Nazi groups publish neo-Nazi antisemitic and Holocaust-denial texts, although the far-right press has a restric-ted circulation and makes little impact on the country at large. The VB is seeking to develop publications for the wider public along with its own internal publications. Some of its titles are: Vlaams Blok (a monthly propaganda magazine sold in bookshops); Kaderblad (an internal publication for party members, published by the Institute of Nationalist Formations); VVBM-Nieuwsbrief (for elected members); and the bulletin of the youth section, VBJ-Nieuwsbrief . Local news-sheets include Antwerps Nieuws (Antwerp News), Barrikade (Barricade, Brussels), Bloknagel (Brabant), Blokschrift (Bloc's Letter, Brussels North) and De eerste linie Fractie (The First Line Division, Turnhout).

VB-produced literature includes Europa barst (Europe on its Knees) by Senator Wim Verreyken, Eigen volk eerst (Our People First) by Dewinter, Europese gedichten (European Poems), a collection of poetry by Nazi collaborators such as Robert Brasillach and Robert Poulet and edited by Dillen, and leaflets on AIDS and racist themes. All continued to be available in 1996.

VB also produces a theoretical review, Dietsland Europa , the party's "laboratory of ideas", which was edited by Dillen between 1962 and 1975. The party receives editorial support from 't Pallieterke, a Flemish satirical weekly founded after the Second World War by collaborators, which is still widely available.

Since September 1995, the French-speaking far right has published the weekly magazine Polémique-Hebdo (Weekly Debate). It was founded by Alain Escada, a young former leader of the National Catholic movement, and is linked to the FNB, although it provides a forum for other political currents in the nationalist movement (including neo-Nazis) to express their views. The literary section of Polémique-Hebdo is edited by the director of BC (see below), Marc Laudelout, and Robert Steuckers (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS).

In November 1996 Escada opened a bookshop in Schaerbeek (Brussels) selling antisemitic and Holocaust-denying books and journals. Escada is also the Belgian correspondent of Écrits de Paris , the ideological review of the French far-right weekly Rivarol (see France). Escada also has links with the French review Faits et Documents, run by Emmanuel Ratier (the successor of the antisemite Henry Coston) (see Italy).

The monthly Le Cri du citoyen (Cry of the Citizen), which re-emerged in 1995 after several years of non-production, led a crusade in 1996 against "international finance". Managed by an Italian, Francesco Catania, this periodical republishes articles that have appeared in French antisemitic journals such as Rivarol and Jeune Nation. It has also publicized the Swiss-based Nouvel Ordre Européen network (see Switzerland) and is influenced by the ideology of Charles Maurras.

Ket, the pro-VB francophone periodical produced by BIS (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS), following the "Dutroux affair" (see GENERAL BACKGROUND) wrote of the "horrors perpetrated by Bernard Weinstein and Dutroux". Weinstein, suspected of being an accessory in the Dutroux case, was found murdered. Dutroux is the prime suspect, as he believed Weinstein to be a police informer. Ket higlights Weinstein's involvement in the case on the grounds that he is Jewish. The affair is still under investigation and Dutroux is in custody.

The monthly Europe nouvelles, run by Rolf van den Haute (a VB councillor), was only printed four times in 1996. Since then this neo-Nazi paper has ceased to appear-principally due to financial problems with its Parisian partners l'Æncre (see France).

The monthly devoted to the antisemitic writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Le Bulletin célinien (BC), continued to appear during the year. It is also supported in Paris by l'Æncre. In January 1996, the BC received support from the national Catholic weekly Père Ubu. In September 1996, the BC was represented at the annual red-white-blue festival of the French Front national (see France).

Several far-right French journals (Minutes, Rivarol, L'Action française and Eléments ) are on sale in bookshops in Belgium. Other publications are distributed through subscription.

Antisemitic and anti-Masonic literature available in the bookshop of Pro Vita, Belgium's most influential anti-abortion lobby, includes Les Secrets des franc-maçons (Secrets of the Freemasons) by Jacques Ploncard d'Assac, who in 1928 was a journalist on the French newspaper L'Anti-Juif (The Anti-Jew). Since its creation in 1972, Pro Vita has been strongly influenced by a range of antisemitic theories, although was seen to be been less active in 1996 (see RELIGION).

The VB, the VBJ and KOSMOS have all had sites on the Internet for several years.

Religion

Le Cri du citoyen and Polémique-Hebdo (see PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA) are the main Catholic fundamentalist papers linked with the anti-semitic political and religious spheres.

In 1996 the association Belgique et chrétienté was revived. Founded in 1989 in order to "promote the western and Christian identity of Belgium" this association is now presided over by Alain Escada (see PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA). Its leading light is G. Dubois, a young lawyer and member of the PSC (see GENERAL BACKGROUND). He has regularly visited Lebanon and Croatia to support "his brothers in religion".

Since 1992 a group of fundamentalists from Charleroi have joined with the Ligue chrétienne belge (LCB). The LCB is linked with Le Cri du citoyen (see PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA). Charleroi is also the seat of the Milice de Jésus-Christ, a Catholic order of chivalry led by an ex-collaborator and former defence minister of the PSC, Paul Vanden Boeynants. This neo-crusad-ing militia is the Belgian branch of the Chevaliers de Notre-Dame, the French fundament- alist organization that helped in the escape of the former Nazi Paul Touvier (see France).

All of these groups have lent their support to Bastien's FNB (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS) and are characterized by their hostility to the Judeo-Christian conception of the western world.

Another movement of the same ilk is the late Monseigneur Léfèbvre's Fraternité sacerdotale St Pie X. Installed in Brussels, Antwerp and Namur, this Catholic sect claims to be the ideological heir of Charles Maurras and the France of Pétain. One of the leaders of this fraternity, the magistrate G. Walliez, has been supporting Féret's FN since 1987. Walliez is one of the minds behind ultra-Catholic clandestine outfits such as L'Ordre du Rouvre.

During 1996 the francophone branch of the anti-abortion lobby, Pro Vita, reduced its activities. It is controlled by, among others, the Fraternité sacerdotale St Pie X. In August 1996 the Flemish branch of Pro Vita, based in Malines, took part in the nationalist pilgrimage at Diksmuide along with VB (see MANIFESTATIONS). Several representatives of the VB, such as the regional deputy Felix Strackx, are militant members of Pro Vita. Others are well known for their membership of Catholic fundamentalist groups. A key figure is the Antwerp deputy Alexandra Colen.

Holocaust denial

Vrij Historisch Onderzoek (VHO, Free Historical Research) is the principal organization for the distribution of Holocaust-denying propaganda in Belgium and in Europe. It was founded as a semi-clandestine group in 1985 by VB militants and young neo-Nazis, and belongs to the International Revisionist network. Although in recent years the VHO was beset with financial problems, it continued in 1996 to publish and distribute Holocaust-denying works in French, Dutch and German.

In 1996 VHO expressed its support for Roger Garaudy and Abbé Pierre (see France). Operating out of Antwerp VHO also promoted North American Holocaust-denial sites on the Internet. On the francophone side VHO receives support from the l'Assaut, Le Cri du citoyen and the neo-Nazi publication Bec et Ongles (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS and PUBLICATIONS AND MEDIA).

Other far-right movements are also sympathetic to Holocaust denial. In 1996 the NJSV (see PARTIES, MOVEMENTS, ORGANIZATIONS) used stickers with the slogan "Revisionnisme is geen misdaad" (Revisionism is not a Crime). The French-speaking historical association Cassandre (see CULTURAL AND SPORTING LIFE) also tolerates denial of the Holocaust in the course of its cultural activities.

It was reported in July that stickers listing the sites where Holocaust-denial material could be accessed on the Internet were plastered on lamp-posts in and around Brussels. The group responsible has not been identified.

Legal matters

In Belgium two laws exist that are intended to combat antisemitism. The July 1981 law is aimed at persons and organizations discriminating on the basis of race, religion and cultural or ethnic origins. Another law, passed in March 1995, makes Holocaust denial illegal. These laws are seldom invoked.

In January, the judicial review of the execution of Irma Laplasse took place at a military court in the palace of justice in Brussels. The hearing examined whether her execution by a firing squad in Bruges in 1945, for betrayal of Resistance members to the Germans, was justified. The 1996 verdict upheld that Laplasse was guilty of treason. There were charges that the hearing had taken place only as a result of pressure from far-right groups calling for a total amnesty for Nazi collaborators (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS).

In July, two Brussels FN city councillors were convicted of inciting racial hatred. Nadine Lemmens was sentenced to 200 hours' community service for giving the Nazi salute and making a racist comment during her swearing-in ceremony. Patrick Sessler received a four-month suspended sentence for his part in writing the racist speech.

Countering antisemitism

In recent years anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations have gained in strength. In September 1996 the anti-fascists of French-speaking Belgium and those in the Brussels area joined together to form the Coordination anti-fasciste de Belgique francophone (CAF). The CAF works in harmony with the anti-fascist movements in Flanders. Its aim is to organize the struggle against the far right and to fight against the dissemination of neo-fascist ideas within the traditional parties. The CAF is part of INTERNAF (Anti-Fascist International) and it represents the French Ras l'Front in Belgium. Several members of the group also work on a new anti-fascist review, RésistanceS.

Assessment

At the present time antisemitic and racist views are, in general, held only by a small proportion of Belgium's population. Nevertheless, a "protest" vote in favour of the neo-nationalist parties is fast becoming a vote of faithful, loyal members. Furthermore, the political tendencies of neo-Nazi groups have now infiltrated the leadership of the main parties of the far right, and it is these parties that influence decisions taken by government.

Neo-Nazi, anti-immigration and anti-semitic tendencies are a cause of concern at a time when the country is experiencing serious social unrest and a breakdown of trust in the political system.

© JPR 1997