There was once a time when radical left-wing politics and the Flemish Movement went hand in hand. In today’s Flanders, it seems unthinkable that the red flag and Flemish lion once flew side by side during political marches in the streets of Antwerp or Ghent. Yet that’s precisely what happened in the 1920s.
Als rook over de bergen (‘Like Smoke over the Mountains’) is the moving life story of Jef Van Extergem, socialist, Flemish nationalist and later communist. In 1928, he campaigned electorally for the nationalist Frontpartij candidate August Borms and joined the Belgian Communist Party. We follow Van Extergem to his meetings at socialist halls in Antwerp, to the Berlin of the Spartacists, to prison and to the Kalmthoutse Heath. We see him writing, pushing and fighting as part of the political struggle to achieve his ideals: international socialism and Flemish emancipation.
He distanced himself in the 1930s from the authoritarian and Catholic elements of the Flemish Movement and during the Second World War, Van Extergem joined the resistance against the German occupation. In 1943 he was denounced, arrested and tortured at Fort Breendonk. He died at the Ellrich concentration camp in 1945.
Marc Andries, author of Vossenjong, has written some 25 novels, along with several essays and poetry collections. His work was published in the 1960s by De Bezige Bij, and he was a friend of Louis Paul Boon. It was partly at the latter author’s behest that he wrote a book about Van Extergem. A book you can now read for yourself.