Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Ypres cancels music festival with ‘neo-Nazi’ line-up

Music festival in Ypres cancelled due to extremist threat
18:00 16/08/2022

A music festival associated with right wing extremists has been cancelled by the city of Ypres following heavy criticism from residents and political parties. 

'Frontnacht', as the music festival is called, was scheduled to take place on 27 August. Ypres granted a permit for the festival but debated withdrawing it after complaints about the line-up, reports De Standaard. 

One of the musical acts includes Dutchman Harm-Jan Smit (Flatlander), who played at a festival in Budapest in 2020 that commemorated the 'heroic deeds' of Nazi soliders in Hungary. Other bands are being monitored by foreign governments for extremism. 

The first edition of the music festival was an initiative of the nonprofit IJzerwake, a radical breakaway group from the IJzer Pilgrimage. It hoped to appeal to a younger audience with “identical performances from home and abroad”.

Ypres’ city council first rejected the permit, but then approved it under the condition that no groups with neo-Nazi connections would perform. 

“This is now being re-examined by OCAD [note: Belgium’s department responsible for assessing terroristic threats] and will be discussed this afternoon,” Ypres alderman Diego Desmadryl (Open Ypres) told Radio 1 on Tuesday morning.

“There has indeed been a lot of commotion, but we want to get the right information.”

Desmadryl defended the late decision and hinted that the permit might be withdrawn before the final decision was taken late Tuesday afternoon. “Ypres is of course known as a city of peace and does not wish to be linked to such groups,” Desmadryl said. 

“If the organisation behind the festival does not want to comply with the conditions, that is its choice.”

Heavy criticism across the board

But some called Desmadryl’s defence a weak one, pointing out that the list of bands performing had been known since May, and it was clear from the start that it included artists associated with the far right.

Previous incidents in Switzerland and Germany involving some of the bands also placed the musical acts on the radar of foreign authorities. Some bands appeared in reports by NGOs investigating extremism.

The OCAD had earlier given 'non-conclusive negative advice', but Het Nieuwsblad reported today that European intelligence services were looking with concern at the upcoming festival. 

According to the newspaper, police were worried about a lack of manpower needed to manage the festival.

But many of the calls to cancel the festival came from Ypres residents themselves. The Vredescollectief Ieper (Ypres Peace Collective) highlighted how many of the bands set to perform prompted racial hatred and neo-Nazism. 

“This does not belong in the City of Peace Ypres, or anywhere else for that matter,” the group said in an open letter to the Ypres town council, the West Flemish governor and the minister of the interior. 

Ypres opposition parties CD&V, Groen and PVDA, along with non-profit organisations such as Hart boven Hard and the Käthe Kollwitz Collectief, also voiced support for cancelling the festival.

Following the heavy criticism, the Ypres city council decided to have a new investigation carried out with the involvement of OCAD. 

“I hope that they will rectify this mistake, but the damage has been done,” said Katrien Desomer of CD&V.

“A festival like this simply doesn't belong in a town like Ypres that has been calling itself a city of peace since the 80’s and saying they want to promote peace to the rest of the world.”

Vooruit president Conner Rousseau is also putting pressure on the council. “Should the city council decide to give neo-Nazis a platform, then it will be without Vooruit. Our aldermen will resign,” Rousseau told VRT News.

Written by Helen Lyons