Neo-Nazi groups call for gathering after far-right Vlaams Belang is excluded from government but the party itself has tried to distance itself from the march.

More than 1,000 people are expected to come out for a far-right march in Brussels on Sunday, prompting police warnings and concern among residents of the Belgian capital.

Brussels, also the de facto capital of the European Union, has a population of more than 1.1 million and is home to a diverse community including an estimated 212,000 people of Muslim origin.

On Sunday, the “Dutch for March on Brussels” event will be held in the city, held by Bloed-Bodem-Eer en Trouw (BBET), a local Flemish offshoot of the international Blood and Honour neo-Nazi group.

BBET called for the march in response to Belgian parties’ decision to band together and exclude the far-right Vlaams Belang from the government.

After the rally was announced in August, the English-language Brussels Times reported, Vlaams Belang party chairman Tom Van Grieken stated that his party has “entirely” distanced itself from the event, claiming that such a march would constitute “anti-publicity” for his party.

The police have advised the group not to march and urged a counter-rally organised by anti-fascists not to take to the streets, the daily newspaper added.

Mayor Philippe Close will now make the decision as to whether the far-right march will take place, the Brussels Times reported.

At the time of publication, TRT World was unable to reach Mayor Close’s office for comment.

Created in 2004, BBET has been linked to violence in the past.

Aris Oikonomou, a Brussels-based photographer and reporter, said the BBET group is “very much related to hooliganism and football” and are “very used to getting into fights”. 

“They are violent,” he told TRT World. “Imagine, last time [they marched] … it was the first time I saw so much tear gas in Brussels.”

He explained that, although there’s “no formal” links between Velaams Belang and more hardline neo-Nazi groups, it is commonly believed that there are “overlaps” between many of these groups.

“There’s no formal way to say VB and BBET are connected, but important people have a lot of overlaps.”

Far-right surge

In May, the country’s voters went to the ballot box to cast their votes for national, regional and European Parliament elections.

Vlaams Belang, the ultra-rightwing Flemish nationalist party, experienced a sharp resurgence in those polls, garnered more than 18 percent of the vote, a number nearly 13 percent higher than in 2014 elections.

“This is not a black Sunday, but a Sunday full of hope. We want to assume our responsibility,” said Van Grieken in a celebratory speech after the vote.  

Later that month, Belgium's King Philippe met van Grieken, an incident that prompted criticism. It was the first time a Belgian king met a far-right leader since 1936, BBC reported at the time.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of hate crimes recorded in Belgium soared from 375 to 875,according to the OSCE hate crime monitor.

During the first six months of 2019, the number of hate messages doubled when compared to the first half of the previous year, climbing from 369 incidents to 740, according to the anti-discrimination agency Unia.

The sharp uptick seemed to rise fastest during the election period, the agency noted.

Vlaams Belang advocates for Flemish separatism, rails against multiculturalism, and has been regularly accused of drumming up anti-immigrant xenophobia and pushing anti-Muslim incitement.

In 2017, along with Dutch far-right and anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, Vlaams Belang’s Filip De Winter planned a so-called “Islam safari”, in which they intended to march through the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek.

Molenbeek, a recurrent focus of the far right in Europe, is home to a large number of residents of Muslim ancestry.

The ire stems from the neighbourhood receiving a large amount of attention in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings. Several of the plotters were from or had lived in Molenbeek.

Belgian authorities, however, blocked the “Islam safari”, citing public safety concerns.

De Winter and Wilders subsequently accused authorities of submitting to “Islam’s domination”.

Recent years have seen an uptick in far-right support around Europe, including countries stretching from the United Kingdom to Austria.

File: A protestor is arrested by police at an underground station during a demonstration in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
File: A protestor is arrested by police at an underground station during a demonstration in Brussels. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP)
Source: TRT World