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The IJzertoren (Dutch; Yser Towers) is a memorial along the Belgian Yser river in Diksmuide. It commemorates the Belgian, and particularly Flemish, soldiers killed on the Yser Front during World War I and is an important place within the Flemish Movement.
History and ideology
From the start of Belgium until the first World War, the official language in the Belgian army was French and most officers were monolingual French-speaking. During World War I, a lot of soldiers were recruited to fight in the trenches. The majority of those soldiers were Flemish. The estimates of the number of Flemish soldiers who fought in the trenches range between 65% and 80% of the number of Belgian soldiers. During the war, this resulted in the Flemish Movement, and the demand for more Flemish rights.
After the war, in 1930, the first IJzertoren was built in Kaaskerke, near Diksmuide, where a lot of Flemish soldiers died. It was built by an organisation of former Flemish soldiers. The tower also is decorated with the abbreviations AVV-VVK (Alles Voor Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen voor Kristus; All for Flanders-Flanders for Christ).
The IJzertoren site is also the burial place of some Flemish soldiers killed during the fighting on the Yser Front. It is also the place where the Brothers Van Raemdonck are buried. According to popular memory, both brothers were soldiers in the Belgian army both of whom were killed. The story gained considerable importance in the Flemish Movement after the war.
Up till World War II, the main language in Belgian politics and the army was still French. And the Flemish movement wasn't able to change a lot.
Nazi Germany conquered Belgium quickly, doing very little damage. Due to the Germanic origin of Dutch, Flanders fitted in the Anschluss politics, and many Flemish gained sympathy for the Germans. The language was easier to understand than French, and they hoped that Dutch would finally be recognised. This resulted in a split between Flemish families still supporting the Belgian state and its King Leopold III and Flemish families who collaborated with the Germans.
After World War II, many Flemish were accused of German collaboration. Either by the state (242 people were convicted and executed), or by former members of the resistance (which happen uncontrolled). Other results of the repression include the demolition of monuments, such as the IJzertoren. On the night of 15 and 16 March 1946, the first IJzertoren was blown up. The perpetrators were never caught, but there are theories of the Belgian state approving the demolition, or even helping the saboteurs.
Several years later, a new and larger tower was built on the same site. With the remains of the old tower, the Paxpoort or Pax gate (Gate of Peace) was built.
Today, the tower is still a symbol of Flemish nationalism, but also a symbol to remember the cruelties that happen during wars, thus a symbol of peace.
Monument and museum
The IJzertoren symbolizes the demand for Nooit meer Oorlog (No more War), which is written on the tower in the four languages of the fighting forces in the area during the First World War (Dutch, French, English and German). The rebuilt tower (84 metres (276 ft)) is the highest peace monument in Europe.
The tower also is decorated with the abbreviations AVV-VVK (Alles Voor Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen voor Kristus; All for Flanders-Flanders for Christ). It is a symbol of Flemish nationalism. Every year at the end of August a political meeting, the IJzerbedevaart, is organised next to the IJzertoren.
The IJzertoren houses a museum on Oorlog, vrede en Vlaamse ontvoogding (War, Peace, and Flemish Emancipation), that belongs to the United Nations network of peace museums. The museum houses the large painting, The Golden Canvass of Flanders (Het Gulden Doek van Vlaanderen) by Dutch-born Belgian painter Henry Luyten. The painting depicts a fictional meeting of the one hundred people who in Luyten's opinion played the most important roles in Flemish history.
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