Brussels — The leading lights in Belgium's small but vocal neofascist movement have been put behind bars, bringing extreme-rightist activities in the country to a halt -- at least temporarily.
Bert Eriksson, head of the Vlaamse Militanten Orde (VMO), Belgium's largest neofascist organization, and Francis Dossogne, leader of the Front de la Jeunesse, have been slapped with prison sentences of one year and seven months, respectively.
Another 101 VMO and 14 Front members were found guilty in court of crimes ranging from assault to participation in racist demonstrations to membership in illegal organizations to carrying unauthorized weapons.
Both organizations were labeled "private militias" by the courts, enabling the judges to invoke a 1934 law prohibiting such organizations in Belgium. The courts, however, did not order the VMO and the Front to disband but simply to cease their paramilitary activities.
Human-rights and leftist organization, which have said repeatedly that Belgian authorities were too lenient with members of the neofascist movement in the country, called the court decisions a victory for democracy. Clashes between the VMO -- wearing helmets and other military attire -- and leftist organizations have occured with some frequency here. VMO leader Ericksson's most widely quoted remark, made last fall at a rally protesting the presence of foreign workers in Belgium was, "If blood has to flow, too bad."
Beside Dossogne, two other Front leaders were sentenced. Still in hiding, they were condemned in absentia to two years in prison.
VMO leaders have said publicly that their only aim is to prevent foreign workers from winning the right to vote in belgium.
But in Senate testimony over the past several months, victims have explained how they have been terrorized by VMO members. Claims made by a leftist weekly that the VMO ran a paramilitary training camp in eastern Belgium were also upheld in court.