Vlaams Nationaal Verbond
|Leader||Staf de Clerq (1933–1942)
Hendrik Elias (1942–1944)
|Newspaper||Volk en Staat|
|French-speaking counterpart||Rexist Party|
|Colours||Orange, White, Blue|
|Slogan||Authority, discipline, and Dietsland|
The Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV; Dutch for "Flemish National Union" or "Flemish National League") was a nationalist Flemish political party in Belgium, active between 1933 and 1944. It was founded by Staf de Clercq who became known as den Leider ("the Leader"). The party strove for an authoritarian rule and included some fascist elements, but was not a genuinely fascist organisation per se. Its aim was to separate Flanders from Belgium and to unite it with the Netherlands to form a Greater Netherlands which they termed Dietsland ("Dutch land"). It collaborated with Nazi German occupation authorities during World War II. VNV activists willingly contributed to the persecution of Jews and the Holocaust in Belgium.
The party was founded on October 8, 1933. It initially grew out of the long-established Frontpartij, a moderate exponent of the Flemish Movement that de Clerq had taken control of and moved to the right in 1932. The VNV, as the Frontpartij became known the following year, was tied to the idea of uniting the many Flemish parties in post-1920s Belgium into a single movement, an objective finally attained with the party's creation, and it moved on to advocate the creation of a pan-Dutch state, called Dietsland, to include both Flanders and the Netherlands. It opposed both communism and liberalism. Its slogan was: Authority, discipline and Dietsland.
It shared many ideological elements with the Verdinaso ("Union of Pan-Dutch National Solidarists"), which had been founded two years earlier, but was slightly less radical. Unlike Verdinaso, the VNV took part in elections and also included a relatively moderate wing. Initially, it also differed from Verdinaso in not being an anti-Semitic movement, but increasingly embraced anti-Semitic elements after 1935, rather out of political calculation than of ideological conviction. In the 1936 Belgian general election they won 13.6% of the Flemish votes, corresponding to 7.1% nationwide. After the election, in which the right-wing pro-Belgian Catholic Rexist Party had performed very strongly (particularly in Wallonia), the two parties concluded an accord, intending to create a corporatist Belgian state with strong autonomy rights for the Flemish part. The VNV recalled this alliance after just one year. In 1939, the VNV moderately increased its share of votes to 15% of the Flemish votes (8.4% in the whole of Belgium).
Despite cooperating with the Flemish section of the mainstream Catholic Party on the local level, de Clercq realised that his movement would not be able to take power and realise the separation from Belgium by democratic means. Instead, he initiated contacts with Nazi Germany, hoping that his project could be realised with German help during the upcoming war. He contacted the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence service, informing them that a part of the Belgian military supported his movement and could be controlled by him in case of Germany declaring war. The Belgian state security gained knowledge of these contacts and arrested some VNV supporters.
When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, de Clercq immediately chose its side, disregarding his own previous declarations that he would not collaborate should such a situation occur. Adolf Hitler chose not to install a civilian government (such as he had done in the Netherlands) but instead installed a military administration headed by General Alexander von Falkenhausen of the Wehrmacht. This, along with the departure of Ward Hermans and René Lagrou to form the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen, led the VNV out of focus, forcing it to intensify its collaboration in order to gain influence. Hitler and SS-leader Heinrich Himmler made profit from the situation, and increased competition between various groups by founding some more extreme collaborationist groups like the 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck and DeVlag ("German-Flemish Working Group"). Nevertheless, VNV politicians were given the mayor's office in several Flemish towns. VNV-led local administrations participated in the organisation of the deportation of Jews, contributing to the Holocaust in Belgium. They willingly implemented Nazi policies like the obligation of Jews to wear the yellow badge. VNV activists played a leading role in the anti-Jewish Antwerp pogrom of April 1941.
De Clercq died suddenly in October 1942, and was succeeded by Hendrik Elias, a member of the more moderate side. Elias continued the collaboration but tried to come to terms with the military government to prevent the installation of a civilian government, which would be composed of Nazis. Elias failed, as Hitler installed the new body and declared the annexation of Flanders by Germany in 1944; seven weeks later, Belgium was liberated by the Allies. The VNV was outlawed after the liberation of Belgium. Elias fled to Germany, but was tried after the war and imprisoned until 1959.
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