Joris Van Severen

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Joris Van Severen.

Joris Van Severen (born July 19th 1894 - born May 20th 1940) was a Flemish-born Dutch politician, ideologist and leader of the national-solidarist Verdinaso

Early Years

Joris Van Severen was born in the Flemish town of Wakke as Georges Van Severen. He would change his (French) first name to the Flemish-sounging Joris later in his life. Although born in Flanders he was raised in French. His father was a notary and would become the mayor of Wakke. It was under the influence of priest Hugo Verriest that Joris Van Severen became a Flemish-nationalist, despite his French upbringing.

He studied at the Sint-Barbaracollege in Ghent (Rhetoric) and became a member of the General Catholic Flemish Student Union where he met, among others, Joris Lannoo. He later joined the organisation Rodenbach's Vrienden (Friends of Rodenbach). His studies were interrupted by World War I.

In the trenches of World War I

He left for the army that was being mobilised on September 24th and joined the 9th Regiment of the Line in Lier. He got his field training in St-Lo and is promoted to corporal in December. In January 1915 he is stationed in the CISLAI (Centre Instruction Sous-Lieutenant auxiliaire Infanterie) in Gaillon and is send to the front on March 23rd. By then he had been promoted to sergeant. Joris Van Severen undergoes his baptism of fire in April 1915 during a German attack on Vicogne. On August 8th he is send to a training camp near Avours after which he is send back to the front, promoted to Adjutant. Despite not being one of them yet he is already allowed to the officer's mess, where he is well-liked for his verbal skills. He refuses any promotion to sub-lieutenant however because he refuses to bind himself too much to the Belgian army and their abuses towards the Flemish. .

Promotion

General Jaques however insists that Van Severen becomes an officer, despite Van Severen's Flemish-nationalist views. Van Severen talks about this with other Flemish-nationalist officers who persuade him to become an officer: 'We need officers on our side'. Van Severen is promoted to sub-lieutenant on January 4th 1917 in the 4th Company of the 9th Regiment of the Line. He commands a section of machinegunners and takes proud in the fact that during his command none of his men were killed or seriously wounded.

During his time at the front he reads alot. Political literature such as Criticism of the Flemish Movement by August Vermeylen and religious literature. Joris Van Severen always carried the Bible with him and never went to sleep without reading a few pages in it.

Joining the Front Movement

During World War I the Belgian army was commanded in French, although the great majority of Flemish soldiers (who were in turn the great majority of Belgian soldiers) didn't understand it. This led to a large amount of unnecessairy casualties. The French-speaking officers and politicans also looked down on the Flemish and any form of protest against the use of Flemish in the commands was harshly suppressed. This situation radicalised Van Severen in his Flemish-nationalist views and he would join the Frontbeweging (Front Movement)which protested the discrimination of the Flemish by the Belgian state.

The Front Movement was an underground protest movement that stirred Flemish-nationalist sentiment among Flemish soldiers and fought the injustice against Flemish soldiers. The head of the Front Movement was corporal Adiel Debeuckelaere, before the war professor at the Ghent University. Van Severen wold become the official headman of the Front Movement in his company. On July 11th thousands of Flemish soldiers found a copy of the Open letter to the king of Belgium, Albert I. In this letter the Front Movement asked for equal rights for the Flemish people, language and culture. This led to a large increase in intelligence service activities, looking for anyone that might be involved in the Front Movement. Van Severen was interrogated by the Sûreté Militaire about his Flemish-nationalistactivities:

  • How did you receive the letter?
  • From a soldier who gave it to me to read and later demanded it back
  • Who was this soldier?
  • That is none of your bussines
  • Do you know who wrote this letter?
  • No
  • Why did you not hand this letter over to the government?
  • Because I promised to give back the letter to the soldier and I saw no evil in it.
  • So you agree with the things said in this letter?
  • Yes, completely!

These bold answers gave him 8 days of room arrest. On September 22th 1917 Van Severen is send to a training camp at Parigné-l'Evêque. When he enters his train the soldiers of his company arrive and salute him while the train leaves the station. He is sent back to the front on November 9th 1917 with a clear warning that his Flemish-nationalist activities must be stopped, which he boldly refuses.

Demotion

In June 1918 an incident with fifty of his men and a French commander whose orders they refused to obey. When interrogated about this, Van Severen takes the full blame. He is given fourteen days of arrest and is demoted to adjutant. When the war ends, no promises that were made by the Belgian government towards the Flemish were kept and Van Severen is disappointed in the unorganised Flemish Movement. If the Flemish Movement had been more organised, the Flemish soldiers could have risen up in revolt and could have either destroyed or taken over the Belgian state.

Entry into politics

After World War I Joris Van Severen became a member of the newly established Frontpartij (Front Party) and was elected to parlement in 1921. During this period he wrote an extensive essay on Flemish-nationalism and became one of the leading figures. While in his first years in politics Van Severen could be described as a moderate left-wing democrat, he soon began developing more right-wing ideas combined with a growing revulsion of parlementary democracy. When in 1919 the Belgian government approved universal suffrage (for men only) the young Flemish Movement had great hopes. The results were disappointing however and, together with Joris Van Severen, some other politicians of the Frontpartij became disillusioned in parlementary democracy.

Joris Van Severen was a rather silent member of parlement but provoked an incident in the parlement during one of his speeches. On November 29th he held a radical anti-belgian speech in which he set out his ideas for more autonomy of the Flemish and in which he attacked the Belgian system. When a French-speaking member of parlement asked what his idea of the future of Belgium was Van Severen replied with the famous words: La Belgique? Qu'elle crêve!" (Belgium? Let it rot!)

Founding the Verdinaso

Flag of the Verdinaso

At the same time tensions were building in the Frontpartij. Joris Van Severen refused any cooperation with moderate Flemish-nationalists and his political views were evolving towards national-solidarism in which he sought to reunite the Netherlands and Flanders into the state of Dietsland and defended the benefits of militia's. His economical views began leaning towards corporatism and he soon began making enemies among the moderate and democratic members of the Flemish Movement.

Joris Van Severen was not re-elected in 1929 and founded his own organisation based on corporatism, national-solidarism, catholicism, anti-belgian ideas and the Great-Netherlands ideal in 1931. It was named the Verdinaso (Verbond van Dietse Nationaal-Solidaristen/Union of Diets National-Solidarists). The militia of the Verdinaso would be given the name DMO (Dietse Militanten Orde/Diets Militant Order).

The Verdinaso held several National Days in which the movement would gather in one place and where the leader Van Severen would speak to his assembled movement. Contrary to Italian fascism the Verdinaso promoted a decentralised form of government, keeping in line with the historical demand for decentralisation in the Low Countries, and a Verdinaso was also set up in the Netherlands, although it never had as much succes there as it hand in Flanders. The Verdinaso also began forming it's own syndical organisation which soon grew in size.

The New Marching Direction

The Belgian state saw the treath in the Verdinaso and began taking measures against it. Repression, arrests and the law against militia's and the Verdinaso syndical organisation soon began taking its toll. Van Severen's idea's about gaining power also began changing and he replaced the idea of destroying the state by conquering the state. The anti-belgian ideas would be removed from the Verdinaso and now not only sought to reunite Flanders and the Netherlands but now promoted the Burgundian Netherlands. This included the union of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and French-Flanders.

This change in Verdinaso-ideology was called the Nieuwe Marsrichting (New Marching Direction). This change bought him the support of several members of the political class and even of radical belgian-nationalists who saw Van Severen as an ally. The Flemish Movement however lashed out at Van Severen for this betrayal and several high-ranking members, including the ideologist Wies Moens, left the Verdinaso for the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (Flemish National Union). They blamed Van Severe for exchanging popular nationalism in favor of state nationalism.

Execution

When Germany began executing Fall Gelb (the invasion of the Low Countries by Germany) in 1940 the Belgian government began mobilising. Van Severen called upon his men to join the Belgian army and fight bravely despite the overwhelming odds. He was arrested by the Belgian government however, together with many other high-ranking Flemish-nationalist, communist and even jewish politicians, and put on a closed train towards France. Together with the others he was imprisoned in Abbeville. The drunk French guards began dragging out prisoners in groups of four and executed them outside. Van Severen refused to accept this behaviour of the drunk French guards and left the room where they were held to negotiate with them to prevent any further bloodshed. He was shot in the neck by a French officer and died together with Jan Rijckoort, both shot dead by the bullets of the French soldiers.

The death of it's leader left the Verdinaso without a leader and it soon began falling apart. Some Verdinaso-members joined forces with the Germans, others joined the (now almost completely unknown) resistance group Dietse Eenheid and others just stopped involving themselves in politics.

Legacy

Nowadays only a few organisations still follow the national-solidarist ideal.

  • Delta: magazine with Vik Eggermont as chief editor which promotes the Burgundian View and promotes the idea of a united Benelux.
  • Voorpost: radical right-wing Flemish-nationalist organisation active in Flanders and the Netherlands has national-solidarism as official ideology but rejects the New Marching Direction. They however still seek to reunite Flanders and the Netherlands.
  • NSV!: radical right-wing Flemish-nationalist student organisation active in Flanders promotes national-solidarism and Flemish-nationalism among students in Kortrijk, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, Brussels and Hasselt. Like Voorpost they reject the New Marching Direction.
  • Studiecentrum Joris Van Severen: studies the life and ideas of Joris Van Severen.

Further reading

Literature

Dutch

  • Arthur De Bruyn, Joris Van Severen: Droom & Daad, Oranje Uitgaven, Zulte, 1961

Internet

Dutch