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Belgian magistrate to hear Holocaust libel complaint

Published on 23/05/2011

A Belgian magistrate will hear a libel complaint Tuesday from Flemish independence leader Bart De Wever over a 2007 newspaper article accusing him of glossing over Flemish WWII Nazi collaboration.

Belgian prosecutors say the complaint, lodged in January 2008 and which stems from an article published in French daily Le Monde in December 2007, is too old to be taken up.

But the N-VA political leader wants it heard before a judge and jury while the writer, a Belgian French-speaker Pierre Mertens, is contesting the libel charge.

Such penal libel cases are rare in Belgium, and would re-open a painful wartime wound between Flemish and French-speaking parts at a time when the language-divided country is lurching through a near one-year political crisis.

The hearing also comes on the back of a call last week by Jewish rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for Belgium’s justice minister Stefan De Clerck to be sacked for comments made in a row about whether amnesty should be granted to Belgian wartime Nazi sympathisers.

The De Wever row goes back to an October 2007 apology by the still-serving mayor of Antwerp, the biggest city in Flanders, for the role played by Flemish authorities during the forced deportation of thousands of Jews and others under Nazi German rule.

De Wever, who wants radical further decentralisation of the Belgian state if not outright independence for Flanders, described the mayor’s comments at the time as “easy” to make some 65 years after the events.

Mertens leapt on that remark and further comments to the effect that Antwerp officials had little option but to go along with Nazi orders. He wrote that the Flemish leader was “resolutely negationist,” which under Belgian law is taken to mean both denying and minimising the Holocaust.

In September last year, De Wever hit back by accusing Belgium’s French-speaking parts of historical amnesia over collaboration with Nazis.

He charged then in a Flemish newspaper column that Walloons were “judging by virtue of a moral superiority that is out of place and based on collective ignorance.”