IJzerwake welcomes radical Flemish nationalists

In Steenstraete, in West Flanders, the annual IJzerwake has been held. According to the organisers, the event attracted some 5,000 people, the same number as last year. The IJzerwake is an organisation that split off from the IJzerbedevaart, uniting the more radical Flemish nationalists.

The ultimate goal for the IJzerwake nationalists is the independence of Flanders. IJzerwake president Wim De Wit said that in order to reach this goal, they are prepared to work in different steps.

"Our main goal is an independent Flanders. If we can reach this goal at once, that would be perfect, but if we have to take different steps, we are prepared to accept that. I realise that we will have to take it one step at a time, but if enough progress can be made each time, and no additional obstacles are created, we can live with that", Wim De Wit told the VRT.

Before the IJzerwake, police detained ten persons. They came from the Liège region and carried illegal weapons like knuckle-dusters and truncheons.

About the IJzerwake and IJzerbedevaart

The annual event gets its name from the IJzer or Yser River. Around the river is where some of the fiercest and most deadly battles of the First World War were fought.

The IJzerwake takes place in a field which has a monument commemorating the Van Raemdonck Brothers. The Flemish soldiers were killed there during enemy fire. As the story goes, the bodies of the two brothers were not buried because, according to the French-speaking general, they were "only Flemings". The story highlights an underlying tension, which still exists today in the minds of a small group of Flemish, between the French and Dutch-speaking Belgians.

The IJzerbedevaart, which takes place next Sunday, literally means the Pilgrimage of the IJzer or Yser. It is a yearly gathering of Flemings to remember the Flemish soldiers who died during the First World War. It was first organised in 1920 and has been an important symbol of Flemish political autonomy.

During the Second World War the pilgrimages were organised by the German occupying forces. Because of the venue of the IJzerbedevaart, Diksmuide has become a gathering place of neo-Nazi groups from all over Europe. The IJzerbedevaart did not want to be associated with the extreme right-wing movement and has tried to make its message more up to date.

The 82nd IJzerbedevaart takes place in Diksmuide next Sunday.