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Nazi collaborators honoured for role in forming today’s Flemish parliament
A special edition of the Belgian edition of Newsweek commissioned by the Flemish parliament has included two Nazi sympathisers on a list of 14 Flemings who played a significant role in “the rise and formation of Flemish independence, identity and language”.
The government had already gotten criticism for spending €90,000 for a special edition of Newsweek magazine in honour of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Flemish parliament. The special edition was published by the Belgian version of Newsweek.
A section in the edition is dedicated to 14 people considered crucial to the forming of an independent region. They includes well-known Nazi collaborators August Borms and Staf De Clercq.
Borms was a nationalist who used his position in the Council of Flanders to collaborate with the occupier in the First World War. He spent 10 years in prison, but that didn’t stop him from playing a similar role in the Second World War. He received the death penalty and was shot by a firing squad in 1946.
‘A shameful legacy’
De Clercq founded the VNV party in the 1930s, which went on to be the driving force behind collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War. De Clercq’s goal was to destroy the Belgian state and form a ‘Greater Netherlands’ with Flanders’ Dutch-speaking neighbours. He died of natural causes in 1942.
“Belgium should shed light on the role of the collaborators and accomplices of the Nazi regime during the Second World War,” said Yohan Benizri, chair of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations (CCOJB). “There are crucial lessons to be learned from this horrific story, which resonates all the more today during this difficult period as many citizens are looking for simple answers and scapegoats for the health crisis.”
He goes on to say that Flanders should educate its young people about zealotry and war crimes. “Many young Belgians do not know the history of their country. You can’t fight hate speech effectively when you celebrate a shameful legacy.”
De Standaard columnist and historian Marc Reynebeau is equally perplexed by Newsweek’s decision to include these names on the list, apparently with the blessing of parliament. “There is a rather bitter irony here,” he wrote. “In the development of this special, Newsweek suggests that the growth of this parliament is a direct extension of more than two centuries of Flemish nationalism … Certainly, if Borms and De Clercq had had their way, there would be no Flemish parliament, let alone democracy in general.”