Figure 1.--VNJ members wear gray shirts, dark shorts, and kneesocks which they wear rolled down. They are important participants in the annual National day parades.
Note: Information available on VNJ is mostly in Dutch. Unlike information on the French speaking groups where I can make out some of the text, I can understand virtually none of the Dutch text. I am uploading some of the information, hoping someone will eventually help me with the Dutch or a computer translator will become available. I have, however, been able to piece together some information.
The Flemish National Youth Movement (Vlaams Nationaal Jeugdverbond--VNJ) is today the most active nationalist youth group in Flanders. Flanders is a part of Belgium and the population is largely Dutch speaking. (Flemish is a dialect of Dutch.) Belgian history has seen a conflict between the French speaking Waloons, supported by their powerful French neighbor to the south and the Flemish Dutch-speaking population in Flanders. The VNJ was organized in 1961, replacing a diversity of small, traditional Flemish, scoutlike movements. The VNJ continues to be active in Flanders and the VNJ is today the largest and most traditional nationalist youth group in Europe. While the boys and girls who belong to the VNJ look like Scouts, the program has important differences from the Scout movement. The VNJ provides this introduction to their group: "Dit is de stek van het Vlaams Nationaal Jeugdverbond, de Vlaams-nationale Jeugdbeweging. Het VNJ brengt voor U een gevarieerd programma van sport, spel, vorming, natuur en cultuur en openluchtleven.
Samen met een hoop leeftijdsgenootjes ben je actief binnen één van de vele scharen (afdelingen in de verschillende steden en dorpen). Zowel binnen sport en spel als tijdens de vorming wordt steeds de nadruk gelegd op ons rijk Vlaams verleden. Als toekomstgerichte jeugdbeweging volgen wij van zelfsprekend de evolutie(s) naar een eigen Vlaamse Staat. Maar bovenal blijft het VNJ een jeugdbeweging voor jong en iets ouder." This translates as, "This is the root of the VNJ, the Flemish- national youth movement. The VNJ offers you a varied program of sports, games, education, nature, culture and the outdoors. Together with many same-age (children) you are active within one of the many groups (branches in various cities and villages). In sports and play as well as during training the emphasis is put on our rich Flemish history. As a youth movement directed at the future, we follow, of course, the development towards our own Flemish state. But above all the VNJ remains a youth movement for the young and somewhat older".
Figure 2.--The VJR uniform is a very traditional one. It is one of the few European youth groups that continue to give great attention to uniforms.
The VNJ youth movement is one of the five national youth movements, officially recognized and financially supported by the Flemish Government, which is as a region state government, beyond other legal matters like education, health, regional economy, environmental and agricultural affairs ..., responsible for youth policy. The VNJ differs from the other youth movements in Flanders/belgium (Chiro, VVKSM, ...) by its ideology which is explicitly Flemish-nationalist. For the rest the VNJ does in fact the same kind of activities as other youth movements for kids
from 6 year old and onwards. [De Greef]
The VNJ was organized in 1961, replacing a diversity of small, traditional Flemish, scoutlike movements. HBU has no information on the Flemish youth groups from which the VJR was organized. We also have little information on the early years of the VJR.
A VNJ member explains the name of the organization and the spirit of the organization. "VNJ is the official abbreviation of "Vlaams Nationaal Jeugdverbond" (Flemish National Youth Union). As "Jeugd" is just an ordinary word for "youth", we insist on the Union (verbond) in our name, because what you can do together makes you more 'powerful'. Probably this is the secret of our succes. With about 2,000 members in the whole region of Flanders we are however a modest movement compared
to other youth movements (for e.g. Chiro with about 90,000 members is the largest in Flanders). The whole 'Union' concept inspires our way of working. We for e.g. insist on the same uniform for all VNJ-members in Flanders, as it is the best way to show our connection to each other. Whereas in other movements, the local groups are quite independent from each other so that for e.g. leaders of neighbouring
groups often even don't know each other, in the VNJ there is a common hierarchy. Roughly we can identify three levels: the local level, the regional/provincial level and the national level. The whole idea behind the hierarchical structure is the "subsidiarity principle": what can be decided on a lower level, must be decided there, but when an advantage can be created, decisions and responsabilities go higher up. Some examples: the local planning/activities/fests are a matter concerning the local group leaders with their leader teams, organisation of
youth camps in summer is something which is for a great part done or supported by the regional leaders, annual (pedagogic) courses for leadership formation or support of outdoor acitivities by specialised people are just some examples of tasks concerning the national level." [De Greef]
The uniforms the VNJ wears gives it the appearance of a Scout group. It is not a Scouting organization, but rather a Flemish youth organization. It is rather a traditiinal group as witnessed by the uniforms. It is based in Flanders, the Dutch speaking portion of Belgium. As in most of Europe, the Belgian Scout and other youth movements are divided along ethnic and cultural lines. (Unlike many countries, however, there is no major religious division as both French and Dutch speakers in Belgium are mostly Catholic. The division in Belgium is mostly a linguistic division between French and Dutch speakers. Thus the Scout and other youth groups often are symbols of the two nationalities that comprise Belgium. The overwhelming majority (over 95 percent) of both language groups in Belgium are Roman Catholic. This indeed was arguably the whole point of dividing Belgium off as a separate state from the rest of the Netherlands with its Protestant majority. In so far as there is any significant religious minority here it is not Protestant but Muslim (immigrants from North Africa and Turkey). The major divide over religion in Belgium is all *within* Roman Catholicism and concerns the role of the church
in education and culture. This is why there are Catholic and non-Catholic schools, Catholic and non-Catholic scout organisations, etc. Thus, the kids attending the non-Catholic schools are all Catholics but their parents don't think that the church should control education.
Figure 4.--Music is a very important part of the VJR program..
The nation of Belgium is a 19th century creation. Domination of the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemborg threatened their powerful neighbors (England, France, and Germany). The Low Countries themselves found it difficult maintaing their independence against incursions from such powerful neighbors. But each powerful neighbor was willing to fight wars to ensure that the others would not dominate the Low Countries. England in particular would intervene in continental wars when it looked like one country would dominate Europe--especially the Low Countries. This happened throughout the 17th-18 century and again with Napoleon in the 19th century. The battle of Waterloo, for example was fought in Belgium. The independence of the Lowlands was a principle of British policy that would dominate Britain's foreign policy for several centuries. Britain entered Word War I, for example, obstensibly because the Germans offensive against France was launched through neutral Belgium and Germany would thus have dominated the Low Countries. British war propaganda focused on the invasion of neutral Belgium and often imagined accounts of attrocities by occupation forces. (The Germans were to live up to the charges during their World War II occupation.) Belgium after the Napoleonic Wars was part of the new Dutch monarchy. Belgium achieved its independence from the Duch and chose a German aristocrat (King Leopold) as the new monarch. The Flemish were a majority in Belgium, but the government was dominated by a French-spealing minority. Domestic politics since independence has revoled around this linguistic split.
Observers provide conflicting view of the VNJ. Some see the black shorts and the highly nationalist orientation of the movement and charge tjat the group is a neo-Fascist organization in the mold of the Hitler Youth. Others acknowledge that the VNJ is highly nationalistic and perhaps on the fringe of Belgian political life, but insist that the VNJ does not have a Fascist orientation. Often terms like NAZI and Fascist as a way of labeling groups without really understanding what the terms mean. An esential aspect of Fascism is nationalism, but not all nationalists are Fascists.
HBU thought that some basic information about Flanders was needed better understand the VNJ.
Flanders is an important County in northwestern Belgium, located along the North Sea coast. Until the Burgundian inheritence passed to the House of Habsburg
(1482), Flanders was a province of France, rather than the Holy Roman Empire, but is largely Dutch speaking. It remained Catholic during the Reformation. Belgium
In the 19th century was governed as a centralized unitarian state with French as the only language of government, education and the administration of justice, even in the Dutch-speaking provinces like Flanders. This mean that Dutch speaking boys had to go to schools thast were taught in French. This of course caused consideral
resentment. Native French speakers had an advantage in the schools and in competition for many jobs. A movement started around 1860 to obtain equal rights for Dutch speaking Belgians, but was slow to achieve success--especially under the rule of Leopold II. The Council of Flanders during World War I, believing that the
German occupation authorities would encourage secession, proclaimed independence from Belgium on December 22, 1917. This was, however, terminated by
German occupation authorities July 25, 1918. The Flemish civil rights movement achieved its first real successes after the World War I (1914-18). The NAZIs on
July 29, 1940 during their World War II occupation of Belgium annexed Eupen, Malmedy (site of the SS masacre of American prisoners in the Battlke of the
Buldge), and Moresnet to the Reich. I am not sure how the local population reacted. The Flemish civil rights movement gained momentum only after World War II.
If the greviances had not been addressed--Belgian probably could not have survived as a united country. The Flemish acquired the right to be taught and judged in
Dutch. But even then public life leaned heavily on the use of French. In most schools, French was the "first foreign language" which one was supposed to speak
fluently after finishing the sixth form. English was "second foreign language" and considered far less important, being taught only 1-2 hours a week. Under these
circumstances, Flanders was, well into the 20th century, some kind of a backwater of the French cultural sphere and out of touch with the world at large. Gradually
Flemish schools were able to offer more options. One Dutch reader has provided us information about his Antwerp school. Today the Dutch speaking northern half
of Belgium comprises five provinces: from West to East: West-Vlaanderen, Oost-Vlaanderen, Antwerpen, Vlaams Brabant and Limburg. However, the historic
medieval county of Flanders was bilingual with both French-speaking and Dutch-speaking areas that are now spread over the provinces of Oost-Vlaanderen,
West-Vlaanderen and parts of Northern France, Wallonia, and the Dutch province of Zeeland.
Figure 6.--The VNJ youth band participates in a variety of patriotic parades and events.
The Flemish Movement originally developed as a protest against the cultural and linguistic discrimination of the Flemish majority in what some Flemish see as the "artificial" kingdom of Belgium in the early days after its foundation in 1830. A VNJ member writes us, "As a youth movement in the year 2004, being part of this
Movement and working with children who are the future, we start from a rather positive motivation. As a Flemish nationalist youth movement we indeed pursue the independency of Flanders as a modern state with 6 million inhabitants in the heart of Europe. Whereas, for our younger children we often play and go on summer camps in themes taken from glorious periods out of the history of Flanders and
The Netherlands, for our older kids and youngsters we regularly focus on more modern, contemporary issues concerning Flanders and its future. In contrast with what is believed by some, this is not just a romantic 'dream'. Nowadays, the independency of Flanders is a subject in the general public debate. Ever more, firm political and economical arguments, supporting the idea of splitting up the Belgian state, appear year after year. Arguments, originating from research and reports of Flemish universities, banks, industrial organisations, but also from international and European institutions, who see that Belgium is in fact culturally, economically and politically divided. Legal matters are the longer the more being federalised so that the regional state governments get the longer the more responsabilities. On the other hand, a lot of matters (foreign affairs, defence, economics, financial and monetary policy, environment, ...) are becoming the subject of EU-policy.
The combination of the two processes leads to the evaporation of the federal state of Belgium. During the last regional elections in Belgium (June 2004) it is striking to note that nearly 30 percent of the Flemish people vote for parties who promote an independent state of Flanders, and another 25 percent for a party who promotes far more autonomy for the Flanders region State. One cannot omit that the item of regionalism/independency is in the public debate nowadays."
The National Day of Flanders is July 11. On that day, the Flemish people commemorate the "Slag van de gulden sporen": the battle of the golden spurs. In the Year 1302 a huge French army of Knights came came to Flanders to subdue our country. City militians from Gent, Brugge, Ieper and Kortrijk withstood the French army and defeated them near the city gates of Kortrijk. Among the the booty they found a great quantity of gold spurs from the slain french knights. VNJ bands and units are an important element of the national day parades throughout Flanders.
Some have labeled the VNJ as a fascist or neo-NAZI group. A HBC contrbutor reports from Belgium, "One thing I've learnt by reading their instruction manuals and attending some meetings is that they are not fascist or NAZI, quite contrary to the prevailing opinion in Holland. They may be fiercely nationalistic but so far it all remains well within the limits of democracy and I have not noticed any of the xenophobia that is frequently ascribed to Fascist groups. I even saw a group that has some mulatto boys and one that obviously was of partly Asian extraction."
Figure 8.--These younger VNJ members wear plain grey jumpers rather than grey shirts and kerchiefs.
Most VNJ members, like most of the Flemish people, are Catholic. The VNJ is one of the most traditional youth movements in Europe, but it has no religious afiliation. Many many members are Roman Catholic themselves other have no reliigious affiliation.
VNJ members are conservative, but not officially linked to any political party.
A VNJ leader has helped us with this section of HBU and provided some information about the VNJ's organization. "I am a member of VNJ since I was a little kid of 6 years. This is now 21 years ago. In the mean time I made
my "career" in the VNJ subsequently as a member (kid), ordinary leader, group leader, regional leader and now as "gouwleider", which corresponds with a responsability for one of the five Flemish provinces (official geographical divisions). As such, I am a member of the national VNJ-council. For the moment I am preparing for the next step, which will bring me from 2005 onwards into the national top executive council ("verbondsleiding") of the VNJ. I have a MSc-degree in chemical and bioprocess engineering and for the moment I am rounding off a PhD-study in (Bio-)Chemical Engineering." [De Greef]
The VNJ-structures are piramidal, resulting in an intern policy that is centralistic to a certain degree. Although standards are set for all VNJ-groups in Flanders (for e.g concerning uniforms, certain ceremonies/habits, ... but even so local accountancy rules). "Space" is left for the local and regional levels to do things in a way that seems most suitable for them. Within the local groups, there does exist a differentiation between the ages. On their uniforms the children have a particular color on their sholders indicating their age group. Depending on their habits, in the local groups boys and girls are separated or mixed. The leaders
(male or female) can be recognized by their colors and stripes on their uniforms, depending on their responsability. So there does exist a rank structure. As we are not that big as a youth movement, our local groups often recrute children in different neighbouring villages and towns. The uniformns of the boys and girlsare virtually identical, except that the girls wear skirts rather than short pants. They even wear the same rolled down white kneesocks and black boots.
Figure 9.--Notice how the members of this VNJ band wear short pants of similar length and their knee socks rolled down similarly. This attests to the great attention given to how the uniform is worn.
The VJR continues to have a very traditional uniform. Unlike other European youth groups, the VJR has not given up or change the traditional uniform first adopted in 1961 when the VNJ was adopted. The VNJ does not appear to wear a uniform cap. The boys wear grey shirts and rather short black short pants. The VNJ wears a standard grey shirt with various patches and emblems, giving the group a rather Scout-like look. the boys wear their short cut black short pants with rolled down white hiking socks and black boots.
The VNJ does not have the structured uniforms worn by Scouts of different ages, rather the boys of all ages wear a similar uniform. One exception to this is that the younger boys appear to wear plain grey jumpers. The VNJ is one of the few modern youth groupd to give considerable attention to uniform. Modern European boys, especially older boys don't seem to want to wear uniforms, especially traditional short pants uniforms. The VNJ groups, however, insist on a very traditional uniform. In addition there is considerable attention to how the uniform is worn. Notice that for the most part the boys wear shorts of similar length anf kneesocks similarly rolled down.
we had thought the colors of the VNJ uniform represent earth, sky and sun.
VNJ sources, however, tell us, "The colors of our movement do represent the earth (black), but not the sun and the air. The orange color indeed indicates our common
roots with the Netherlands. The gray color, originates from the time that the king of Spain Philip II ruled the Low Countries around 1600 in a tirannic way: as a protest the authentic nobles in the Netherlands weared a gray color. So the gray uniform color symbolizes for us a protest against any occupation or artificial state structure that prohibits a people to rule itself as a free community. The blue in our flags points out that we are a part of the Low Countries, who's history is strongly marked by the struggle for land against the North Sea. The
blue also remembers us the glorious times that The Netherlands ruled the waves military and economically. Nowadays, this can be interpreted as: if we want to, we can again play an important role in Europe and the World if we work together between the Low Countries." [De Greef] The orange neckerchief stresses the links of the Flemish to the Netherlands (a democratic kingdom under the House of Orange). Many Flemish believe that Flanders should be part of the Netherlands. Flanders (6 million people) a explained above is part of Belgium (together with 4 million French-speaking Walloon people). Flemish people speak Dutch, like the 16 million people living north of them, in the Netherlands. Before 1830, Belgium and the Netherlands formed one state.
The VNJ continues to be popular in Flanders. Many European youth groups have given up or down played the uniforms that were once so popular. The VNJ is one of the few European youth groups that maintain a traditional uniform. The VNJ in fact wears the same uniform as in the first years. HBU is unsure what the boys think of their dstinctive uniform. The organization continiues to be a popular Flemish institution.
Figure 10.--Notice the formal white gloves that the band bembers wear.
A reader reports that on another page HBU mentions that "I feel sure their (i.e.VNJ) uniforms must be centrally supplied - rather
than obtained by the boys' mothers locally according to a general guideline, as would normally be the case for mainstream scouts." Our reader confirms that centrally supplied they certainly are (there is a
‘shop-page’ on their website) but then this is true for mainstream VVKSM-scouts and Chiro too. The main VNJ shop is located in a suburb of Antwerp but boys in other provinces obtain their uniforms through local
outlets, usually at the home of one of their leaders.
The VNJ uniform does not appear to differ much in the different activities pursued by the group. VNJ boys march and sing and do other things traditional boyscouts like to do. Groups meet every sunday, and come together in big masses on some very special days during the year, like the Flemish National Singing Festival (Vlaams Nationaal Zangfeest) on a sunday every April in Antwerp, and in a commemoration called the IJzerbedevaart, in which they remember the soldiers who died in World War I. Some of thed major activities noted include the following:
De Greef, Johan. E-mail message, June 25, 2004.
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