Tv Series on Nazi Collaborator Triggers Unease, Protest in Belgium

A storm of protest has been raised here over the broadcast of a three-part television series about Belgium’s most notorious Nazi collaborator, Leon Degrelle, who is still a neo-Nazi activist.

The first part, aired Thursday night by RTBF, the French-language television station, featured a 1977 interview with Degrelle, 82, who lives in Malaga, Spain.

It was accompanied by commentary from historians and World War II specialists. Nevertheless, patriotic groups protested vigorously and the Auschwitz Foundation, an association of death camp survivors, tried to bring legal action against RTBF, but was stymied by jurisdictional problems.

They argued that the series gives a platform to a Nazi who still denies the Holocaust and the existence of gas chambers to exterminate Jews. A Christian Democratic member of the Belgian Parliament, Paul-Henry Gendebien, asked RTBF to cancel the series on grounds that the publicity offered Degrelle would trigger a revival of rightwing extremist propaganda.

The television station claimed the broadcast has historical merit and insisted that freedom of speech required that Degrelle be allowed to express his views as long as they are balanced by the truth. “Fascism is like AIDS, the best way to combat it is to speak about it,” one local newspaper said Thursday.

Degrelle, who headed the Belgian fascist Rex Party, was Hitler’s most outspoken supporter during the Nazi occupation. He was sentenced to death in absentia after the war, but the sentence became moot when the statute of limitations took effect in 1974. He is barred from entering Belgium.

In general, collaborationists are a taboo subject in Belgium. Authorities are said to fear Degrelle might compromise several living personalities in this country were he allowed to return.

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