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Something stirs in Belgium

Posted by Helen Tuesday, June 15, 2004

It is good to know that politicians in other countries are as much at sea after last week’s elections as the British ones. It is also good to know that the British media, particularly its europhile part, continues to view everything that happens on the other side of the Channel very much de haut en bas and refuses to take interest in the details or even in big stories.

Take the case of the Vlaams Blok in Belgium. We have already written in this blog about the curious campaign waged against the main opposition party in Flanders, whose crime appears to be, according to the pro-government paper De Standaard: “Its conservative family policies, its deeply felt ethical objections to abortion and euthanasia, its radical pursuing of the interests of Flanders, its republicanism, these are the issues voiced by no other party, these are in practice the indiscussable phantasms of the Vlaams Blok.” [see A Very Dangerous Precedent]

For this they have been labelled as extreme right-wing and racist. Actually, they have been labelled racist because they have said that immigrants must either adapt to the culture of the country they choose to live in or go home. The news service on AOL entitled the piece on the subject Far Right Threat in Belgium and ended it by saying: “Apart from advocating a stop to immigration and even sending North African immigrants home, the party wants a break-up of Belgium, where Dutch- and French-speakers have obtained significant powers of regional autonomy in the past two decades.”

All of which possibly explains why the Vlaams Blok has secured an electoral success both regionally and in the European elections and why the political establishment of Belgium is panicking.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s Flemish speaking Liberal party came in third in the European elections, getting 13.56 per cent of the vote, while the Christian Democrats got 17.43 per cent and the Vlaams Blok 14.34 per cent. The Francophone Socialist Party 13.54 per cent and the liberal (definition of “liberal”, of which there are many, unspecified) Reform Movement 10.35 per cent. The Christian Democrats and the Socialists will have four seats each in the European Parliament, the VLD (Verhofstadt’s lot), the Reform Movement, the Flemish Socialists and the Vlaams Blok three each.

On top of that, the Vlaams Blok took 24 per cent of the vote in the Regional Assembly elections in Flanders, up from the 19.9 per cent of the last general election. With 32 seats it will be the second largest party in the Assembly, behind the Christian Democrats but ahead of the government coalition of Flemish Liberals and Socialists.

There is, as one can imagine, a great deal of pother about this with all the other parties scurrying round, trying to form a coalition to exclude the Vlaams Blok and hoping that their appeal against the rather disgraceful decisions by the Ghent Court (as described in this blog) will be dismissed.

Especially worried is the Francophone press, since Flemish nationalist sentiment is largely directed against what it considers to be the etatist Walloon establishment that runs the Belgian state for their own people’s benefit and to the detriment of the hard-working Flemish, who bring in most of the country’s wealth. La Libre Belgique calls this a racist and nationalist plague and considers it to be out of tune with the modern world of international organizations such as the EU and human rights treaties.

It is amazing how many things people do or say are defined as being completely at odds with the modern world, as if the “modern world” were some kind of a defined association that only the initiated can understand and define. You can be sure it has nothing to do with modern life as it is lived by most people.