An “identitarian” music festival for radical Flemish nationalists was cancelled by local authorities in the Belgian city of Ypres on Tuesday, after warnings that the event would feature neo-Nazi acts and attract right-wing extremists.
The Frontnacht music festival was due to be held the weekend of August 27-28, with attendees camping in a field in Steenstraete, near Ypres, to listen to a lineup of far-right musical acts. The festival was being held for the first time in a bid to rejuvenate and increase the youth appeal of the IJzerwake, an annual gathering of radical Flemish nationalists organised by a group of the same name.
Ypres city council initially granted the organisers a licence to hold the event, but were forced to rethink their stance after critics pointed out the clear right-wing extremist affiliations of the acts on the bill. A petition was launched calling on the authorities to ban the festival, while European security services also expressed their concern.
Headlining the festival was an Italian band called Bronson, whose members belong to Italy’s neo-fascist CasaPound movement, and who frequently express their adulation for dictator Benito Mussolini. Other acts have links to the neo-Nazi movement Blood and Honour and the violent white supremacist Hammerskins gang.
"We notice here in Germany that young neo-Nazis in Telegram channels are planning to go to Frontnacht," Thorsten Hindrichs, a musicologist at the University of Mainz who specialises in the right-wing extremist music scene, told Belgium’s De Standaard newspaper.
"I advise people of colour or LGBTQ+ people not to come near Ypres on that weekend.”
Despite the insistence of IJzerwake’s chairman Wim De Wit that “we are radically Flemish nationalist, we are not neo-Nazi,” crisis talks held by the Ypres city council on Tuesday concluded that the event could not go ahead.
“A permit was… granted subject to conditions, namely that there should be no link with neo-Nazis/neo-fascism,” said a statement from the council.
It said that advice from Belgian intelligence services and police pointed to “a neo-Nazi and neo-fascist signature of music groups that will be performing there.”
“This is of course unacceptable.”
The decision was welcomed by anti-racist groups, say such festivals – which are often held clandestinely, and in legal grey areas, due to their extremist ideology – play important networking and recruiting functions for Europe’s right-wing extremist fringe.
Nicholas Potter, an expert on right-wing extremism at Germany’s Amadeu Antonio Foundation, told VICE World News that the event would have given a platform “to some well-known figures on the far right and normalis[e] their hateful ideology in the process.”
“These acts often have to perform in secrecy at underground events, but here they are trying to break out of their bubble and reach a wider audience. That’s dangerous,” he said.
“Far-right festivals function as ideological spaces which serve both recruitment and radicalisation, but they are also important financial streams for the movement. They also empower the scene, providing a sense of cohesion and unity.”
Een Andere Joodse Stem (Another Jewish Voice), an anti-racist Jewish group in Belgium, said it welcomed the decision, although it was “unacceptable” that permission was granted in the first place.
The group said the ideology of the Flemish nationalist event tallied with “the collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War 2 in Belgium,” and the honouring of various Nazi collaborators at IJzerwake events over the years.
“Alongside this context, we notice the rise of the extreme-right across Europe and beyond, including the strengthening of nationalist movements and deadly anti-migrant politics,” said spokesperson Fenya Fischler.
“As Jews in Belgium, we call on others concerned by this to not underestimate the threat of the extreme-right, and to push back against fascism and the normalisation of extreme-right ideologies.”
IJzerwake did not respond to a VICE World News request for comment by time of publication, but De Wit had previously said it would hold the Ypres city council accountable for any costs incurred in the cancellation of the event.