Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, July 2008
The speaker strode casually to the podium in front of the silent crowd. In a conversational tone, as if he had done it a thousand times, he said quietly, “Eigen volk . . .” “Eerst!” thundered back the one thousand strong gathered in Hendrik Conscience Plaza.
It is May Day in Antwerp, Belgium. To this crowd of Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) supporters, it is the heart of the Occupied Republic of Flanders. Along with two other Americans, I am listening to speaker after speaker denounce the tyranny of the Belgian state, of all things. Of course, each fiery sermon against the perfidy of Brussels is given in Dutch, and I rely on the patience of nearby translators. I find myself wondering why a small separatist party dedicated to breaking up an already small European country has become the hope of Western patriots the world over and the driving force beyond a European-wide movement for racial and cultural survival.
Belgium, as each speaker points out, is the bastard child of anachronistic Great Power politics. French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings were clumsily shoved together under a freshly created monarchy in 1830 to create a neutral buffer-state to the north of post-Napoleonic France. Two world wars have shown that this project did not ensure peace, but Belgium endured and became the centerpiece of another misbegotten scheme, the European Union. Belgium is the headquarters of the continent-wide bureaucracies that are strangling the once proud nations of the Old World. In the new Europe of mass immigration, “hate speech” laws, and a continent-wide currency, Belgium is the original post-national, post-European nation.
And yet, in the heart of the new leftist empire there is fierce resistance. The bureaucrats of Brussels did not count on the stubborn Flemish nation, whose history can be summarized as the refusal to accept decisions others make for it. One of the formative events of Flemish history, the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs, was the defeat of an army of mounted French nobility by Flemish peasants and townspeople armed with pikes. Today, the Flemish people’s army is the Vlaams Belang, a party feared by the European political class, repressed by the Belgian government, and condemned by the media, but that continues from triumph to triumph.
The Vlaams Belang fights for the secession of Dutch-speaking Flanders from Beligum to form an independent nation. The party is socially conservative, perhaps the only serious party in Western Europe that campaigns against abortion, homosexual marriage, and drugs. It is pro-capitalist, and opposes the transfer of wealth from the largely lasseiz-faire Flemings to the more socialist, French-speaking Walloons in the south. Most explosively, it condemns immigration as a biological and cultural threat to the Flemish people, and opposes the Islamization of Europe.
That is why the party — then known as the Vlaams Blok — was banned by the government and forced to reorganize under a new name. All other parties in Belgium have imposed a cordon sanitaire, refusing to give it the coalition entrée to power to which its electoral results would ordinarily entitle it. The federal government of Belgium continues to think of ways to cut off the party’s funding, arrest its members, or again ban it outright
The VB is nevertheless the largest party in the Flemish parliament and works actively with other European nationalist movements, especially the National Front in France. It was the youth wing of the party that organized the May Day conference we are attending. It is called the Day of the Right-Wing Youth, and activists from all over Europe have been invited to form a united front against the eradication of their cultures. Though we were not officially invited, we Americans were welcomed warmly. We spent several days studying and learning from a movement that has no parallel in the United States. The European Right has many lessons for those trying to build resistance in America.
The first lesson is professionalism. The May Day rally had no problem with leftists, thanks in large part to VB security, which guarded all entrances. Party activists also made sure everything ran smoothly, monitoring microphones and sound equipment, and arranging transportation. After the last speech, we all took buses to a huge hall where we celebrated with food, drinks, and music. The rally was more carefully planned and better attended than a typical Republican campaign rally.
Despite this, it never felt scripted. Men, women, and young people laughed, drank, and sang historical songs without the kind of political jockeying and maneuvering that characterizes most partisan gatherings. Famous party leaders such as Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke moved through the crowd, listening to the stories of the old and drinking beer with the young, not working the room, but simply spending time with people who clearly knew them and respected them, but were not awed by them.
The atmosphere was that of a Fourth of July party in a small Midwestern town. Everyone was comfortable celebrating a common heritage with friends and comrades. Party members ensure family-friendly events like this while a polished, professional, and savvy organization builds a movement that can capture political power one step at a time by appealing to everyday people.
The hall was filled with a wide assortment of different groups hawking shirts, posters, mugs, and books, which added to a kind of carnival atmosphere. Not for the first time, we cursed the weak dollar, since we wanted to buy everything.
Impressed by the rally (and none the worse for Flemish beer), we staggered into the street and met some college-aged party members. We learned that members of the Nationalistische Studenten Vereniging (or NSV — Nationalist Student Organization) would be having their initiation that night at a local bar. What followed taught us another lesson: the importance of a nationalist subculture that opposes the dominant anti-white mass culture.
We expected to laugh at casual hazing while drunk kids made fools of themselves, but what we saw was far more interesting. In a catacomb-like room under a pub hung a flag with black, white, and red horizontal stripes, emblazoned with the Flemish Lion and the letters “NSV.” About 50 young men and women in caps and sashes over casual clothes solemnly sang the Dutch national anthem, followed by the “Lion of Flanders,” the presumptive Flemish national anthem. Every initiate had a book filled with nationalist symbols and stickers, containing dozens of patriotic songs from Flanders, the Netherlands, and around the world. Each would rise on signal and sing a selection, to the boisterous approval of their seniors. The songs, the customs, and slogans of this fraternity speak of the battles of the past and glories to be won in the future.
As the beer flows, the music gets rowdier; ceremony and hierarchy break down. This is not a political meeting, but a coed political fraternity: college kids rejoicing in their heritage and comradeship, singing the songs of their fathers and grandfathers. They drink staggering amounts, but the atmosphere is joyful, never vulgar or cheap.
The NSV is not an ancient or secret organization. It was started in 1976, in the modern era of fanatical anti-racism and anti-white prejudice, and grew from the ground up. Many modern leaders of the Vlaams Belang started their careers in the Flemish movement as members of the group. The evening we were there, NSV alums — some are now elected officials — sat in the back drinking and singing, like graduates back on campus for homecoming.
The NSV is not just a social club. It is a political force, which participates in demonstrations, marches, and direct actions. A casual search for “NSV” on YouTube reveals an organization that is far more committed, active, and courageous than any comparable conservative group in America. From ripping apart Belgian flags in front of horrified bureaucrats, to waving Flemish flags in the face of the Belgian king (and being arrested for their trouble), marching, putting up signs, facing down hundreds of screaming lefties, or even just slapping “Rechts Vlaams Studentikoos” (Rightist Flemish Students) stickers all over Antwerp, the NSV has created a cadre of young people with a healthy sense of national identity.
NSV members are fighting for their people, not for an impressive resume or a lame job on Capitol Hill. Nor are they out to shock. Their magazines cover a wide range of Indo-European history, philosophy, theology, and even biology. They are students who can discourse on Julius Evola one minute and go back to heavy metal or soccer the next. They are normal kids doing things that, to American eyes, seem extraordinary.
The NSV is a kind seedbed for the VB, though the two organizations are not formally connected, and some members of the NSV are not members of the VB (some think it is too moderate). A background in street activism and even a stint in a Belgian jail for defending free speech are credits, a ticket towards the top of the party, rather than indiscretions to be denied and apologized for, as they would be in the American conservative establishment. A VB leader once said that “the youth movement is not radical enough . . . it should be driving the party to the right and keeping it true to its principles.” In America, conservative youth organizations often try to tame strong activists, turning campus radicals into poorly-paid Hill staffers or party hacks who, in turn, explain the latest betrayal to the grassroots.
The drunken kids we saw that night were the same people manning tables, collecting forms, serving food, and doing the grunt work at the Day of the Right Wing Youth. Within a few years, they will be running conferences and winning public office. No youth political organization in America comes close to their dedication, activism, or enthusiasm. No organization even exists in America that can channel young people with good instincts into productive and healthy political and social action. What the NSV represents is an entire subculture capable of continuously generating new recruits.
The VB keenly understands the importance of the subculture. Political movements are built on volunteer politics: Every minute spent for the cause is a minute taken away from work, family, or friends. It is therefore extremely important that political work be combined as much as possible with fun and friendship. As one party member confided to me, “The movement would not be where it is if it were not for drinking.” This was not entirely a joke. The VB understands that well-organized social events accomplish a great deal on their own.
Something else we learned was the importance of a physical base. In the heart of Antwerp is an unimposing little pub called the Leeuw van Vlaanderen (the Lion of Flanders) and known as “the beast.” Inside this Flemish nationalist pub, surrounded by other bars and tourist traps, is an extraordinary collection of posters, stickers, framed pictures, and patriotic music that create an atmosphere that does not exist anywhere in America. At any hour, students, politicians, and patriotic Flemings can be found drinking, reading, or discussing the issues of the day. The Lion of Flanders and other nationalist pubs are places to network and meet new potential activists, to build solidarity and comradeship.
Even on our short trip we made use of “the beast.” A group of leftists was to hold a pro-marijuana rally in the center of the city, and we had heard that the Vlaams Belang Youth was going to counter-demonstrate. Our small group of foreigners had no idea where to meet the protesters or what route the protest would take. But we did know about the Lion of Flanders. Sure enough, we found the VB continent there and were able to offer reinforcements. We had a good time taunting the hippies, who were eventually dragged away and arrested for trying to plant marijuana on public property. It was a small triumph, but we could take part simply because we knew about a central location.
After professionalism and the importance of a subculture, the third lesson of our trip was the need for serious political education. During the conference, we hammered out consensus on subtle political issues such as “subsidiarity” and what constitutes “cultural relativism.” This was a challenge for groups that spoke at least six different languages and various regional dialects. The result was a spirited and extremely erudite, multi-lingual discussion that led to resolutions on larger issues (such as what European identity means) and specific policy (such as opposition to Turkey joining the EU).
Creating an intellectual tradition is just as important as creating an activist tradition. It keeps efforts grounded, priorities clear, and keeps policy statements from falling into clichés or sloppy thinking. Political education also prevents the movement from becoming co-opted or distracted from its original goals in the way the American conservative movement has been co-opted. A typical Vlaams Belang activist is far more educated and historically conscious than a typical Republican activist. Ideological dedication tends to correlate with increased activism.
The last important lesson we learned from the Day of the Right Wing Youth also raised the most questions in my mind: It was the issue of localism. The Vlaams Belang, it should be said, is not an explicit race consciousness movement, and would be uncomfortable to be associated directly with American Renaissance. It defends Europe and Western Civilization and opposes immigration, but it is essentially a Flemish nationalist movement. It is a secessionist party fighting for independence, not a pan-racial movement.
Many of the parties at the conference were also localist and secessionist. There were Brittany separatists, Alsace separatists, and the Lega Nord of Italy. Some have argued that localism may hold the key to saving Europe, and it is true that with the decline of the French National Front, the strongest pro-Western (if not explicitly pro-white) movements in Europe are the Vlaams Belang and the Lega Nord.
Many separatists describe themselves as “identity” activists. As a Breton separatist said, “French is no longer a real identity. National identity is bound to the French state and the French state gives passports and citizenship to anyone who moves into the country, whether they have a connection with the preexisting people and culture or not. Anyone, at this point, can be French, or Belgian, or British, which means that it doesn’t mean anything. With our movement, identity is not nearly so fluid, and it is easier to build a system that will preserve our culture.”
This is a plausible approach to the key problem white activists face, namely, that the traditional institutions many of us defend — our nation states — are now biased in favor of non-whites. Separatism is a blow against these corrupt institutions. At the same time, while organizing as “whites” draws suspicion and criticism, it is far more “acceptable” to organize as Flemish or Basque. Separatist cultures and regional traditions also make it much easier to create the subculture necessary for a strong movement.
Of course, this approach is not without drawbacks. The late Sam Francis once called Neo-Confederate movements “infantile.” He said we should organize as whites to reclaim the whole country, not defend small sections of it. Other groups at the conference took the same position. A lone BNP activist argued that breaking up the United Kingdom would make it easier for the EU to take more control. A Spanish activist was adamantly opposed to Basque independence, which other localists supported. He said Spain was the product of several independent kingdoms joining together to achieve Reconquista from the Moors, and that unity, not division, was what the West needed today.
Indeed, there is nothing inherent in separatist movements that guarantees they will be pro-white. Basque separatists are extremely left wing, as is the Scottish National Party. At the same time, the so-called identity movements encourage division among whites. Brittany separatists and National Front activists fight each other rather than work together against common foes. The Hungarian nationalists who attended the conference are working to restore lost territory populated by ethnic Hungarians. They would be weaker if they were also trying to split the country apart. And yet it is undeniable that the Lega Nord and the VB are among the most promising movements on the continent.
Separatism should be understood as a tactic rather than as an ideology. Flemish independence makes sense because the Flemings are clearly a distinct people with their own language, culture, and customs. On a more practical level, they are also economically exploited by the Belgian state, so ordinary people may favor Flemish independence if only for economic reasons.
The Brittany separatists have a case for independence, but Breton identity is not nearly so strong or widespread as Flemish identity. The Breton language has an artificial, hot-house existence while the Flemish dialect of Dutch is the living language of Flanders. Still, Breton identity may prove a useful tactic for winning local elections and getting whites to think about their heritage.
Strong local identification has other benefits. As a Vlaams Belang city councilor said to me, “I know everyone in my community and respond to their concerns. As a result, even non-nationalists will say to me, well, I think Dewinter is a fascist but you are a good guy and I’ll vote for you. The ironic thing is Dewinter is a leftist compared to me!” Western patriots need to build power from the ground up at the smallest level possible and grow gradually. People will respond to movements that serve their local interests, and power will follow.
I left the conference filled with hope. We can win these struggles, and parties like the Vlaams Belang are showing the way. But the hard truth is that it takes slow, painful, grassroots organizing to succeed. To adopt a cliché, white activists must think globally but act locally. We need to build institutions that can appeal to normal people who do not think all the time about politics or race. We need to develop a subculture that produces educated and dedicated activists who will donate their time and talents both out of ideological commitment and because what they are doing is fun.
Finally, we need to recognize that where we can do the most good is right where we live: We should run for school board, become local party delegates, start a campus newspaper or a school parents’ organization. There are conservative organizations that will train beginning activists in the science of organizing.
I came home fully intending to go back to Flanders, but I also recognize that we can’t look to exciting movements overseas to save us. We are all part of the great white Western racial family, but we need to work where we can do the most good with people whom we know, understand, and love. In this sense, we can understand the double meaning of the Vlaams Belang’s slogan: Eigen Volk Eerst. “Our Own People First.”