The centenary this year of the First World War is expected to bring many new visitors to Belgium, and tourist arrivals to its historic sites are forecast to rocket. Politicians, world leaders and royals will also be arriving en masse for planned memorial ceremonies.
But members of battle re-enactment societies, who plan to turn up in full authentic kit, are a little wary about their welcome. They have been invited by a group called 100 Years Great War, which is organising events. But the Flanders News website reports that some may decide to stay away amid concerns that they will fall foul of Belgium’s strict gun-control laws.
The groups use real antique weapons when they take to battlefields to recreate the great clashes of the past, and Kristof Blieck of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele told the website that societies from America and Australia are now thinking twice. They are concerned that they will be fined or have their weapons confiscated, and the Belgian government is puzzling over what to do.
The Flemish Prime Minister, Kris Peeters, has promised to find some sort of legal solution, which may mean granting the groups a special licence for the antique weapons. One politician has said that security agencies may need to vet each member.
Discussions are ongoing, but there is one solution that Mr Blieck rejected out of hand, and that is the potential for using replica arms. “This is not an option,” he said. “These are not carnival troupes. They are particularly proud of the historical accuracy of the smallest detail of their equipment.”