Although no violent anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Belgium in 1999, Holocaust denial propaganda of marginal far right groups continued to circulate. The first trial of a person for distributing a Holocaust denial text opened in early 2000.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Some 35,000 Jewish citizens live in Belgium out of a total population of 10 million. The two main centers of Belgian Jewry are Antwerp (15,000) and Brussels (15,000). The origins of the present Jewish communities can be traced back to Sephardim from the Iberian peninsula who settled in the trading center of Antwerp. Immigrants from central and eastern Europe, from the nineteenth century onwards, bolstered the community. Of almost 100,000 Jews in pre-war Belgium, over 25,000 perished in the Holocaust.
The Comité de Coordination des Organizations Juives de Belgique (Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium -- CCOJB), operating out of Brussels, is the community’s umbrella organization. The community in Brussels has a diverse cultural and religious life and is an important center for secular Jewish activities. Antwerp is a thriving European center of ultra-orthodox Jewish life, with about 30 synagogues and shtiebels (family synagogues), in addition to schools, yeshivot and other religious institutions. Because of the location of many European Union institutions in Brussels, the community plays an important role in hosting European Jewish events and in advocating the interests of communities across Europe.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS
Although Belgium does not have any purely anti-Semitic organizations, in the 1980s and early 1990s waging war on the “Jewish International” was the priority of small neo-Nazi groups which were close to far right parties, such as the National Front or the Vlaams Blok. However, since the emergence of extreme right parties with electoral strength, these small anti-Semitic groups have largely disappeared. Their members and leaders have either given up all political activity, or have joined far right political parties with representation in the country’s various parliaments. Only a minority has continued the “struggle against the Jews” and has very quickly become marginalized. Nevertheless, the influence of anti-Semitic arguments provides, in part, the basis of the current anti-immigrant programs of far right groupings.
The largest nationalist party in Belgium, the Vlaams Blok (VB - Flemish Bloc) came into being in 1978. Its founding members included former World War II collaborators (such as ex-members of the Flemish SS) and leaders of the neo-fascist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial movements of the period. A radical Flemish nationalist, republican and separatist movement, the VB demanded the abolition of the Belgian state and the creation of “Greater Netherlands” (to consist of the Flemish region of Belgium, French Flanders and Holland).
Today, the VB represents some 15 percent of Flemish voters. In the last parliamentary elections (June 1999), it passed the 20 percent mark in most large towns and cities in the north of the country, reaching almost 30 percent in Antwerp, historically the stronghold of the Flemish far right.
Like all the far right movements, the VB’s main theme is the fight against immigration. In November 1992 its anti-foreigner program was officially condemned by all the democratic parties of the Flemish Parliament as being directly influenced by the former South African apartheid regime and the racist laws of the Third Reich. On several occasions, the party has indirectly admitted its historical links with the anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s. Its leaflets, for example, display caricatures of North Africans reminiscent of the anti-Jewish caricatures of the Nazi regime’s propaganda. One of its pamphlets from the early 1990s even referred openly to the “Jewish plot against Europe.” Some elements continue to propagate anti-Semitic slogans.
The VB maintains contacts with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s FN and Bruno Mégret’s MNR. Its youth section (the VB Jongeren) is an observer to Euronat, which brings together most of the major far right parties in both West and East Europe. Links also exist with Terre et Peuple (see France), which enjoys great popularity among Belgian rightist groups.
In French-speaking Belgium, the far right is marginalized and splintered. Nevertheless, from 1991 to 1995 when it was united around the Front National belge (see below), its performance in the polls improved significantly, even surpassing 15 percent in some Brussels and Walloon communes in the 1995 parliamentary elections. Despite its current disorganization and poor performance in the June 1999 elections (for example, the Front national belge obtained 1.5 percent in the national election, compared with 2.3 percent in 1995, and 2.6 percent in the regional election in the Brussels area, compared with 4.7 percent in 1995), the French-speaking far right still has electoral potential.
The far right is represented by the Front National Belge (FN, founded in 1985), the Front Nouveau de Belgique (FNB, founded in 1996 by FN dissidents and renegades from the Liberal Party and the Social Christian Party) and a variety of other marginal groups, such as Référendum (REF), Nation and Bloc Wallon, as well as several fringe publications including Le Cri du Citoyen, Polemique-Info, Devenir and Altair.
In the early 1990s, the FN journal Le National regularly carried unequivocal anti-Semitic references. Since then, it has focused solely on denouncing the “hordes of invading immigrants,” but retains its links with publications which have for their part remained anti-Semitic. Thus, the FN’s official partners include Le Cri du Citoyen, Polemique-Info and Altair. These three low-circulation magazines often cite the French far right ideologue and anti-Semite Henry Coston and the leader of the French monarchist and anti-Semitic movement l’Action française, Charles Maurras. FNB members are encouraged to read the openly anti-Semitic Paris weekly Rivarol.
Fundamentalist Catholic, Pagan and Skinhead Groups
Fundamentalist nationalist Catholics make up one of the most active movements on the far right. In Belgium, as in most European countries, it embraces supporters of the late Monseigneur Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the 1965 Vatican Council II reforms. The above-mentioned Charles Maurras and Henry Coston are the two main ideological references of the movement. The followers of a church which is hostile to both Judaism and Islam are in most cases active in radical nationalist parties and religious groups, such as the Fraternité Saint-Pie X (St. Pius X Fraternity), founded by Monseigneur Lefebvre, the Ligue Chrétienne Belge/Belgisch Christelijk Verbond (a small group from the Charleroi region) and Pro Vita (a pressure group engaged mainly in combating abortions).
National European paganism rejects the Judeo-Christian heritage and seeks to revive the “religions of the forest” as opposed to the “religions of the desert.” A number of far right pagan (or quasi-pagan) groups exist in Belgium, in particular, Voorpost, the Vlaamse Jongeren Mechelen, Yggdrasil, the Keltisch Verbond, the Vlaams Heidens Front, Thule Sodalitas, the Amis de la Renaissance européenne, the Belgian branch of the Ordre fraternel européen des Druides et Chevaliers du Tribann, and the magazines Megin and Ghallarhorn. Several leaders of the VB, the FN, the FNB, and the Nouvelle Droite Belge are known to belong to this type of group, as evidenced in a report of De Morgen of May 1999. Some of these same groups refer openly to the Société Thule, which was the basis of the creation of the German NSDAP. Several have ties with international organizations: Vlaams Heidens Front, for example, is affiliated with the PanRomanic Heathen Front (PRHF), which seeks to create an “empire for the White Race” that supplants “Christianity’s sickly and degenerate Jewish values.”
Today, the skinhead movement has become entirely marginalized. However, a few isolated groups remain in a number of towns and cities. In general, they are connected with radical nationaorganizations (Odal Aktiekomitee, Vlaamse Jongeren Mechelen, Nation and REF).
In April 2000, a Flemish skinhead site -- the Aryan Nightmare -- was discovered on the Internet. Openly National Socialist, racist and anti-Semitic, it provided direct links to Holocaust denial as well as to KKK sites, and also those of European far right parties, and the Vlaams Blok.
Most far right organizations and parties have an Internet site. In April 2000, there were 35 Belgian sites, some with links to pages circulating Holocaust denial, neo-Nazi, and/or anti-Semitic propaganda (such as Aryan Nightmare, Devenir, and the Vlaamse Jongeren Mechelen).
ANTI-SEMITIC ACTIVITY AND HOLOCAUST DENIAL
There were no violent anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Belgium in 1999. The only incident of note was graffiti daubed on the outer wall of the Memorial to Martyred Jews in Anderlecht, Brussels, in February 1999.
In the 1980s and the early 1990s, propaganda denying the Holocaust was widely circulated in Belgium. Now defunct organizations and publications, such as the Flemish magazine Taboe and the Association pour l’indivisible liberté d’expression (supported by deceased Belgian SS member Léon Degrelle), were set up solely for this purpose.
A considerable portion of the Belgian far right (both Dutch and French-speaking) subscribed to Holocaust denial arguments. However, they gradually gave up this form of anti-Semitism in the face of public indifference. Moreover, in March 1995, the federal parliament passed a law forbidding Holocaust denial. Out of a desire for respectability and in order to break out of its political isolation, the Vlaams Blok voted for this law, even though its membership included Holocaust deniers.
However, several pamphlets put out by associations of former Flemish Nazis during World War II, continued to circulate Holocaust denial propaganda, for example, “Perriodiek Contact” of the Hertog Jan van Brabant (HjvB) association. Led by a former Vlaams Blok militant, this group of former Flemish SS members set itself the goal of continuing the National Socialist struggle. The Nationalistisch Jongstudenten Verbond (NJSV), a nationalist action group which operated in schools and had ties with the Vlaams Blok, was still distributing a sticker calling for freedom of expression for “revisionists” in the mid-1990s.
The organization most active in promoting Holocaust denial is still the Vrij Historisch Onderzoek (VHO). Established in 1985 in the city of Antwerp by a former VB leader, Siegfried Verbeke, VHO circulates thousands of brochures, primarily in Belgium and the Netherlands, in several languages. Its activities are reportedly supported by patrons of German and American origin. The Holocaust denial law and the various complaints lodged against VHO (particularly by the Centre pour l’égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme) have not prevented it from continuing to circulate its literature.
In April 2000, the website which it had been running for several years was offering for sale 14 Holocaust denial publications in German (including Criticon, National Journal, Nation Europa, Recht+Freiheit), three in French (Annales d’histoire révisionniste, Revue d’histoire révisionniste and Akribeia), and four in English (including The Revisionist and JHR). Pamphlets of Holocaust deniers such as the Swiss Jürgen Graf and the Frenchmen Henri Roques and Robert Faurisson were also available on the VHO site.
The site was linked to 44 Holocaust denial and/or neo-Nazi pages, including the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust and the Institute for Historical Review (US), David Irving/Focal Point Publications (UK), the Zündelsite (Canada), AAARGH (France), the Adelaide Institute (Australia), Radio Islam (Sweden), the Associazione per il revisionismo storico (Italy), as well as Portuguese, Ukrainian, Danish, Austrian and other sites. The site of Carlos Whitlock Porter, a US citizen now living in Belgium, also disseminates similar texts.
The Holocaust denial first trial opened in early 2000, following a complaint lodged by the Centre pour l’égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme. David Vercruysse, the Belgian distributor of the British neo-fascist Final Conflict, was sued because one of the 1997 issues of this paper had an article denying the genocide of the Jews. In 1995, Vercruysse was a militant member of the VB and the graphic designer of Nouvelle Droite belge, run by Robert Steuckers and his network Synergies Européennes. As of mid-2000, the trial had not been resumed. It should be noted that before he was sentenced in April 2000, the Swiss Holocaust denier Gaston-Armand Amaudruz was supported in Belgium by the monthly Le Cri du Citoyen.