About 20 members of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA)’s youth wing are involved “in one way or another” in the ultra-right Flemish youth movement Schild & Vrienden, according to the president of the Young N-VA, Thomas Roggeman. The party will discuss the issue with them and then look at the initiatives it can take, “but it’s clear that being a member of Schild & Vrienden (S&V) is not compatible with being a member of the N-VA,” Roggeman said, adding: “We are also shocked by the report.”
The involvement of the twenty-odd young N-VA members in the 3,800-strong organization, mentioned in a reportage on Schild & Vrienden aired by the VRT, ranges from a like on Facebook to participation in neo-Nazi actions or conversations. Based on the discussions with those involved, the party can decide whether or not to expel them.
The airing of the report had the effect of a bomb in the Flemish political landscape and cast the spotlight on the N-VA. Photos have been circulating on social media networks, showing young people from S&V posing next to Secretary of State for Migration and Asylum Theo Francken (N-VA). One of them was taken during activities organised by the circle of Flemish Catholic students, KVHV, breeding ground for the conservative and nationalist Flemish right.
S&V members are also on the N-VA’s lists for the 14 October elections. Nick Peeters, a candidate on the N-VA’s list for Lubbeek, led by Francken, admitted that he “had ties” to the organization up to last year, but said that since then his “involvement has greatly diminished”. Among other things, the 21-year-old had been involved in providing security at a lecture delivered by Francken. He said he had never noticed the racist and sexist remarks made in the S&V’s closed inner groups, of which he was not a member. There is also talk of a candidate in the town of Aalst who is close to the S&V.
Francken expressed his indignation on Thursday following the report, saying that it reflected neither his Flanders nor its values. Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois said he was “deeply shocked”. “Racism, antisemitism … disgusting, contrary to the fundamental values of our society,” he tweeted.
Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities Zuhal Demir (N-VA) also waded in on the issue, stressing that S&V members had no place in the N-VA. “They keep talking about Enlightenment and Western values, but what we saw in the report is just the opposite, so we must condemn this very strongly,” she said.