Leftist activists had been agitating for a Thursday, October 27th, lecture by Filip Dewinter (of the right-wing party Vlaams Belang) to be banned. They threatened violence should their online petition not bring about a cancellation of the evening event.
At the request of the Flemish right-wing student club NSV, Dewinter was due to speak at Antwerp University (UA) to discuss his book Replacement—the work consists of an interview with Renaud Camus, originator of the term ‘Great Replacement.’
Renaud, a French writer formerly considered a darling of the ‘gay’ literature scene, outlined the great replacement theory in his 2011 book, Le Grand Remplacement. To briefly summarize, it proposes that the indigenous French population, together with other European peoples, is undergoing replacement by those foreign to the continent—a demographic trend that is driven both by low birth rates and high rates of immigration (legal or otherwise).
Former French presidential hopeful, Éric Zemmour (incidentally, of Jewish descent) had successfully mainstreamed the term in French politics during the country’s last presidential elections.
While he took umbrage with the idea, deeming it “too radical,” Alain Finkielkraut, a French intellectual of note, argued that it takes a “fanatical denial of reality” to outright dismiss the demographic replacement taking place across the European continent.
Ever since its inception over a decade ago, establishment press as well as academia have, however, been insistent on branding the notion as a ‘far-right conspiracy,’ as it points to supposed ‘white nationalist’ sympathies.
Now, Antwerp residents and students, joining forces under “UA against fascism,” make similar, though considerably more hysterical, claims. They deem Dewinter’s book to be based on “a Nazi theory that contributed to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany” and that, as such, it “consciously fuels xenophobia.” Any talk on the topic should therefore be banned—or so the logic goes.
To his credit, the rector of UAntwerpen, Herman Van Goethem, is not caving to pressure and has allowed the event to take place. He told Radio2 that his university takes no issue with Dewinter giving his lecture as long as critical questions are possible. “Preventive censorship,” on the other hand, “is impossible,” since “freedom of expression is the foundation of democracy.”
Van Goethem instead enjoined all to enter into debate with Dewinter. “Anyone who takes offense at the propositions that may be defended in this lecture is urged to be present and bombard the speaker with all possible critical questions during or after the lecture.” Antwerp police were ready for the lecture, as well as for its detractors.
At a previous lecture that took place in Leuven on October 22nd, Dewinter was prevented from entering a building to give a talk. Activists were seen shouting “no fascists in our city,” as liquids were thrown at the Flemish member of parliament. Eventually, after some shoving had taken place, Dewinter was pushed to the ground.
Following the incident, Dewinter went in and gave his lecture as planned, while protesters were held outside.
Curiously, police were present at the scene as a precautionary measure, yet only seemed to intervene after Dewinter hit the ground. In a statement made after the facts, Leuven police explained away their delayed assistance by saying that “every situation is a learning moment.” Only one activist had been written down in a police report for assault and battery. He was part of a group called ‘Concerned Leuvenaars,’ who had set up camp in front of the meeting center where the lecture was to take place. Other perpetrators could still be identified, pending further analysis of the video material, police say.
In a statement published on his party’s website, Dewinter said that while he knows that the Left does not want him to talk about ‘replacement,’ he “did not expect that people would try to prevent me from doing this with physical violence. I will not only file a complaint against unknown persons [who had assaulted him], but I also deem the mayor of Leuven Mohamed Ridouani (at Vooruit) to have been in dereliction of his duties as police did not intervene in time.”
He went on accusing the socialist mayor of knowing that a violent leftist counter-protest was imminent, and yet “failed to take appropriate measures.”
Meanwhile, fellow party member Chris Janssens observed that Petra Denier, a member of the communist PVDA (labour) party, was present at the counterprotest; she is seen standing next to a placard picturing a black stick figure, ready to swing his bat in an attempt to strike a red one, thus shaped to resemble the nazi swastika.
“PVDA and democracy: they will never go together,” Janssens noted.
Quick to respond to the incident, Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Grieken took to Twitter, querying whether this is “the society we want? Where left-wing ‘activists’ physically attack a right-wing politician because of an opinion? I hope that each side strongly condemns the unacceptable attack on Filip Dewinter. Or will you remain silent?”
Several Belgian politicians, including CD&V chairman Sammy Mahdi, MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez, and Flemish minister Zuhal Demir from N-VA have responded.
Mahdi called the attack “unacceptable,” and stated that despite his detestation for Dewinter’s ideology, “physically attacking someone cannot and should not be the answer.”
This was echoed by Demir, who said: “Whether you find him, his party, or his message objectionable or not, keep your hands off other people. “Violence is never the solution. Not even against Filip Dewinter.”
“You can fight a political opponent with respect, using words and arguments, but never with violence,” Bouchez concluded. “I condemn the attack against Filip Dewinter. I will continue to fight his vision and program, but never his right to free speech.”