Location: Steenstrate near Ieper (Ypres), Belgium
Date: Last weekend of August
Context, themes, slogans
The Iron Wake (IJzerwake) is an offshoot of the Iron Pilgrimage (IJzerbedevaart), the latter being a more moderate gathering paying homage to fallen Flemish soldiers of World War I, which since the 1920s has been a focal point for the Flemish Movement for greater political autonomy. By the 1980s, the Iron Pilgrimage had become associated with the far-right. In 1995, a riot took place on the eve of the pilgrimage, in which hundreds of foreign fascists attempted to storm the barracks of a gendarmerie to free Bert Eriksson, the leader of the neo-Nazi Vlaamse Militanten Orde (VMO). Following years of disputes, these far-right elements were excluded from the pilgrimage. They in turn coalesced around the newly established Iron Wake in 2003.
The Iron Wake takes place every year in Steenstrate, in the province of West Flanders. Since its inception, it has been a focal point for far-right activity in Flanders and in the Low Countries more broadly. In 2022, seeking to “reach out to a younger audience,” the organizers of the wake announced a two-day music festival alongside the main event, entitled Front Night, which was ultimately banned by the authorities.
The event, which is not a march, but a static gathering, is organized by an officially non-partisan NGO, IJzerwake vzw, which is closely associated with the far-right Vlaams Belang (formerly Vlaams Blok) party. Several board members hold or have held office or positions at the party. The operation of the event also relies on close ties with radical nationalist organizations, such as the far-right irredentist action group
Voorpost, the Flemish National Youth Association (VNJ), the Nationalist Student Association (NSV), and the youth group Schild & Vrienden.
Number of participants:
Between 2,000 and 6,000 people take part each year in the Iron Wake, with numbers peaking around
2009. Since the event is listed as family-friendly, a lot of children and young people take part.
Spectrum and topics of participants
The manifesto of the Iron Wake officially focuses on Flemish political autonomy and pacifism and is as such not explicitly far-right. In the same manner, participants may not necessarily identify with far-right ideology.
Nevertheless, the event is widely regarded as the largest gathering of extremist elements within the Flemish Movement. According to Christophe Busch, Director of the Hanna Arendt institute for Totalitarianism studies, “Extremists have been going to the Iron Wake for years. Whoever is looking for
SS-propaganda or Nazi symbols knows that they should go there.”
In 2004, the event specifically paid tribute to Nazi collaborator and leader of the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV), Staf Declercq. Materials published by the organizers regularly contain far-right elements. For example, an editorial published in 2020 in the Iron Wake magazine blamed immigrants for carrying disease, warned against the “ongoing Muslim invasion” and the “Great Replacement” as a consequence of “globalist illusions of a world without borders.” Nostalgia for “real Flemish leaders”, such as Nazi collaborators August Borms and Cyriel Verschaeve, as well as nostalgia for apartheid South Africa, are often expressed at the gathering.
The organizers of the Iron Wake have sought to create international links with the far-right or identitarians
abroad. Politicians such as far-right Dutch MP Thierry Baudet have been among the keynote speakers. In 2021, far-right activist Marcel Vink, a speaker at demonstrations of the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), in the Netherlands, as well as members of the Dutch neo-Nazi group Volksverzet, took part in the Iron Wake. Organizers claimed at the time not to be allowed to exclude the latter “by law.”
Having remained broadly confined to Dutch-speaking Belgium and the Netherlands for most of its history, the establishment of the Front Night was a clear attempt to reach out to broader European far-right networks. The bands composing the line-up of the concert are well connected in the European neo-Nazi rock scene. For instance, the Italian band Bronson was interviewed by Der III. Weg. Another headliner of
the Front Night, Harm-Jan Smit, has previously covered a song by a notorious British neo-Nazi band at the Day of Honor in Budapest. Reportedly, German neo-Nazis had been planning on Telegram to attend the
Front Night en masse.
Potential for violence/violent incidents
Project Thule, a far-right group led by Tomas Boutens, an extremist convicted twice for terrorism and weapons charges who has established links to the Blood and Honour network, has been allegedly put in charge of organizing security for both events since at least 2021.
Antisemitism and Holocaust denial
The gathering generally holds revisionist views with regard to Flemish Nazi collaborators. In previous editions of the Iron Wake, flags of the Flemish Waffen-SS and the Nazi-era Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, have been flown at the event. According to Vincent Scheltiens, Professor at the University of Antwerp, Holocaust denial and distortion are common occurrence at the event.Particularly common is the glorification of Flemish Waffen-SS volunteers who fought on the Eastern Front. In addition, the lyrics of many of the bands announced for the concert are overtly antisemitic. Songs by Philip Neumann and Flak include explicit references to antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as ZOG (“Zionist-Occupied Government”) or AJAB (“All Jews are bastards”).
Civil society response
The announcement of the Front Night provoked a wave of outrage and condemnation in Belgium and abroad. A coalition of local civil society organizations led by Vredescollectief Ieper (Peace Collective Ieper) published an open letter, documenting the extremist background of the line-up of the festival and calling for its permit to be annulled.
Reaction by the authorities/bans
The City Council of Ieper, which initially had granted the Front Night a permit, subsequently withdrew it on 16 August 2022. The permit had been initially granted following a recommendation from the Coordination Unit for Threat analysis (OCAD), the independent federal instance in charge of assessing terrorist and extremist threats in Belgium. Once the lineup of the festival was announced, Ieper City Council again sought advice from OCAD, which flagged the presence of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist elements
performing there. While the Front Night was banned, the Iron Wake itself was allowed to take place unhindered.
The report is available to download (in English):
Klicken Sie auf den unteren Button, um den Inhalt von www.amadeu-antonio-stiftung.de zu laden.
Excerpts from the report on Belltower.News:
Part 1: The Marches
1. Day of Honor, Hungary
2. Memorial March for the Bombing of Dresden, Germany
3. Lukov March, Bulgaria
4. Blue Division March, Spain
5. Remembrance Day of the Latvian Legionnaires
6. Bleiburg Meeting, Austria
7. Rudolf Hess Memorial March, Germany
8. Iron Wake, Belgium
9. March on Rome, Italy
10. Independence March, Poland
11. Kohti vapautta and 612-march, Finland
12. Imia March, Greece
Conclusion to Part I: The danger of the marches (available also in German)
Part 2- Legal Analysis