Belgium Explained To Slovenes (And Whoever Else) In Ten Easy Lessons

Naturally, br dr. Arf


WWII veterans memorial in Brussels. Photo by Guilliaume Dubé (source)

I briefly touched on this in the first two guest posts to explain how a portion of the Flemings looked to Germany to ?liberate’ them from Wallonian/French occupation. This week, we’ll get a bit deeper into the matter, keeping in line with P’s post earlier this week about this subject…


The gripes of the Flemings, as noted, lay in the fact they were rated as second class citizens in Belgium. This was especially evidenced in World War I, when Flemish men served as cannon fodder – as many as 80% of the Belgian casualties were Flemish – and were subject of derision of the francophone officer corps. The phrase ?Et pour les Flamands la meme chose’ still exists in our language culture as a reminder of this. Of course, it didn’t take long before a reaction to oppose to this treatment took shape, when the Flemish intellectuals founded the ?Frontbeweging’ (Front Movement). After the WW I, they would take the lead in ensuring a monument was erected to remember the fallen. It was called the ?IJzertoren’, after the fierce battle along the banks of the IJzer river during WW I. One of those aligned with the movement was catholic priest Cyriel Verschaeve. A romantic Flemish nationalist for most part, he would come to play a dubious part in the coming world war…


Meanwhile, the Flemish hadn’t sat still on the political side of things. The first party to come to prominence was VERDINASO. The acronym stands for Verbond van Dietsche Nationaal Solidaristen (Union of Diets National Solidarists). They were led by Joris Van Severen, a charismatic dandy- like figure who evolved the party’s ideology from fervent anti- belgicist to ?whole Dutch’, which means a unification of Belgium, Luxemburg, French Flanders (the north- western region of France, including Lille and Roubaix, which were, historically speaking, part of County Flanders) and the Netherlands, supported on the Netherlands’ geographical situation under Emperor Charles V. This party was fascist in structure, and Van Severen put together a militia of what he called ?the best and brightest’, which were named ?Brown Shirts’ and later, during German occupation, ?Black Shirts’ after their uniform colours. Interestingly, they were financially supported by both The Vatican as well as dear old Adolf Hitler himself. The first had high hopes for VERDINASO, because they were rabiate anti- communist in nature and the latter, well, it doesn’t take a lot of guesswork to find what Adolf was after, right?

A word of explanation on ?Diets’. It is a name to describe the language spoken in Holland and Belgium in around the 16th and 17th century, but for all Flemish movements, like VERDINASO that strove for reunification with Holland and become a separate entity within the Pan- Germanic Ideology of Nazi Germany. It’s also the basis for the English word Dutch, often confused with Duits (German).

Another pro- German and anti Belgian party, was Staf de Clerq’s VNV (I’m wondering whether the guys of VNV Nation are aware of this :mrgreen:). VNV in this case stands for Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (Flemish National Alliance). They were a force to be reckoned with and even got 16 parliamentary seats in the national election of 1936. De Lerq had a warped sense of humor when it came to dealing with Uncle Adolf’s invasion hunger. In 1939 he wrote in a pamphlet that VNV would be the first line of defense if Hitler ?get it into his head to invade’ and they would kick damn good arse, but that tone was slightly altered into ?Let’s cooperate with our Germanic brethren! They’re cool!’ after Hitler secured Belgium’s addition to Gross Deutschland. They, too, had a military bridage, called the Grey Shirts (guess why :P) and when they were merged with VERDINASO in 1941, the both of them became the feared Black Shirt Brigade.

So, did the Walloons sit still when it came to fascism? No way, Jose! They had REX and its El Maximo Lidér Léon Degrelle. The party, born out of Degrelle’s frustration with catholic politicians and clergy and a pro- fascist and anti- Marxist ideology rose to prominence in the years before WW II and even managed to get 21 seats in parliament as well as 14 in the Senate. They even had a Flemish pendant in REX Vlaanderen. They got their financial support from Benito Mussolini himself.

If you read this, you must conclude we had a great bunch of collaborators over here, didn’t we?


So Adolf invades and it all comes together. VNV had the most clout, as Van Severen turned against the anti- Belgian sentiments and chose the government’s side when Hitler invaded. Still, he was arrested, sent to a prison camp in France, bur murdered by French soldiers on the way there.
VERDINASO, in the mean time, was usurped by VNV, and REX was marginalized, but still in (puppet) power in Wallonia. REX Vlaanderen was usurped by VNV, just as VERDINASO was. Both were forced to do this under German pressure. This didn’t bode well wit the REXists, who massively left the party. Several VERDINASO and VNV prominents who felt betrayed by the Germans, also chose to go underground and fight on the secret resistance’s side during the war.

Cyriel Verschaeve actively started to draft people to fight with the Germans on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, still under the romantic notion that Flanders would be free under Germand reign.
VNV officially drafted people into service and actively helped to round up Jews for deportation. They, like VERDINASO and REX, had always had an anti- semitic sentiment, so it’s no surprise they willingly cooperated in the Jewish deportations in Belgium.
Their dreams of Flemish or even Diets/Dutch independence were squashed by the German occupiers, though.


Suffice it to say that these parties became outlawed after the war and were subject to what is called ?The Repression’ in collaboration circles. Party members were incarcerated, stripped of their citizenship rights and generally harassed, just like non- denominational economic collaborators and women who had ?fraternized’ with the enemy.
Staf De Clerq died in 1942, while his successor had already died on the Eastern Front. The more moderate Hendrik Elias then succeeded De Clerq and was sentenced to jail until he was released early due to deteriorating health issues.
Cyriel Verschaeve, given an honorary doctorate at the University of Köln, was evacuated by the SS to Austria, where he stayed until he died in 1949 in Solbad Hall. His body was exhumed by a ?commando unit’ of the extreme right paramilitary organization VMO (Flemish Militant Order) under leadership of Bert Eriksson, to be reburied in Flemish soil. Eriksson claims to have done the same with the remains of Staf de Clerq, whose grave was defaced and ransacked by former resistance fighters.
Léon Degrelle escaped to Spain and was never extradited because he was close to Spain’s dictator Franco. He died in Malaga in 1994 from cardiac arrest. In the 80’s, he got into the news again, after having given a remarkable TV interview, which displayed his revisionist, fascist and anti semitic nature for all to see.
But the real victims here, are the people who actually followed these men and, of course, their multitude of victims. Through both their and REX’s efforts, a Flemish and Wallonian SS legion fought on the Eastern Front. Suffice it to say, they were looked down upon by their ?true’ German counterparts, which would count for a lot of frustration after the war and result in minds twisted into negating the whole episode and glorifying it, since they were ousted by their own people as traitors when they came home. Some of the most die hard pro Hitler SS veterans today still hang on to their service in the SS on the Eastern Front as their only remaining measure of pride and self esteem. Having read interviews with these people, I am always baffled by their twisted line of reasoning so as to justify themselves and their deeds, while at the same time recognizing that these men are just as well the victims as the deported Jews, intellectuals, gays, resistance fighters and other undesirables under the Nazi regime. It accounts to a lot of hurt, anger and unresolved issues on both sides of the fence. One has to recognize that, especially in the case of some economic collaborators and women who fell in love with German soldiers, these people had no choice than to collaborate. You can’t choose who you fall in love with, right? And what would YOU do if your family’s well being was at stake? Not everyone is brave enough to stand up against troops with the overwhelming convincing arguments that are machine guns, deportation, plunder and rape.
An organization of Eastern Front veterans still gathers together every year, to sing old songs they sang together, recount old war stories and remember fallen comrades while flying the flag of their SS legion. It’s all they have left after a life of service for the wrong side and to be honest, I myself don’t begrudge these octogenarians their annual get- together. It’s all they have left in a life that’s not left them with much after they made the wrong choice for whatever reason. The general public didn’t even remember them until a moderate Flemish Nationalist politician was seen in their midst, after which old issues came to a head again. Belgium hasn’t finished its World War II yet, that much is certain. Only when the last survivor is dead, then might we attempt to start to come to terms with what happened. Might, because as long as extreme right Flemish Nationalist parties like Front Nationale and Vlaams Belang (who used to be named Vlaams Blok, after VNV’s moniker ?Vlaams Nationaal Blok’ when they won their parliamentary seats in 1936) keep using VERDINASO’s and VNV’s political ideologies and strategies – not to mention the latter’s fascist party structure – to keep raising hate and racism and instill fear into the hearts and minds of the Wallonian and Flemish citizens.

And it’s not just Belgium that still reels from the after effects of this war. On route to visit Slovenia for the second time, in 2002, I encountered a friendly Bavarian man on his way to a friend’s birthday. He started talking to me, noticed I wasn’t German and we got to talking. When the subject turns to politics the man suddenly tells me : “You know, I still feel so ashamed for what we did to your country and others in the war”. Tears welled up in his eyes and I was quick to console him and say ?Sir, this was a long time ago and we should be able to forgive and look to the future.” His answer was : “Yes, you’re right. But still…” We sat there in silence for a moment, pondering how a war that started sixty plus years ago still had such an effect on the both of us, talking in 2002. “Bury your dead and move on”? It’ll be a while yet, I fear…


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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

4 thoughts on “Belgium Explained To Slovenes (And Whoever Else) In Ten Easy Lessons”

  1. Dr. ARF, thanks again for educating us on the matters of Belgian history and politics. Your closing lines make me think about the prospects of peace in the Balkans with new generations having to deal with issues that seem terribly difficult to resolve in even three generations’ time.

    It doesn’t help that politicians lusting for power and control play the card of emotions so wilingly and recklessly. What they find useful is that homo sapiens is not only zoon politikon, but seeks comfort in being a herd animal as well, which produces a rather schizophrenic effect.

    Don’t forget, but do forgive.

  2. I entirely agree with that conclusion. And if I am interested in politics, it is exactly because of this reason. One needs to keep close watch over those who think they’re god’s political gift to mankind and/or drunk with power and control over the herd. I once heard a christian democrat politician over here say that he was convinced that referenda were useless, because direct democracy doesn’t work. In his opinion, those elected knew better than those who elected them and who they were supposed to represent. A rather honest outing for a politician, and a perfect and cynical illustration of your point, Dr. F…

  3. Dr. ARF, the real question here is what the driving force behind said politician’s involvement in politics is. There is something inherently true about his honestly stated position. When it comes to the nitty gritty of things, representative democracy is the model that allows decisions to be made relatively quickly and effectively, much more so than direct democracy ever could in any society larger than an Amazon tribe. (Tyranny being the most effective form of decision-making 😈 )

    We supposedly elect our representatives not because we agree with every single point they make, but because we trust them to make decisions based on sound knowledge, research into consequences and a sincere desire to secure the society’s best interests. None of us (except JJ, that is) is knowledgeable about every area of decision-making, so we delegate.

    That said, I would like to also point out that the politician you refer to comes from a culture that promotes the idea of hierarchy. And it is, indeed, so much easier to have someone else making your decisions. You can be still be pissed off at him/her. Here is a rather interesting illustration of this point, do watch: People are sheep. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it.

    Yikes, I’ve really rambled on this time.

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