Vlaams Belang: Extremely Right, Extremely Lonely

Article published on May 31, 2014
Article published on May 31, 2014

Vlaams Be­lang is a mot­ley bunch of Flem­ish far-right sep­a­ratists. They're build­ing an anti-Eu­ro­pean al­liance with the French Front Na­tional. Cafébabel went on the ground with them to see what they're re­ally up to and what they're all about.

On a gray day in April, a bard with a bright red al­co­holic's nose stands on a stage in a town near Brus­sels. He can't re­ally focus his eyes on the three dozen or so fol­low­ers of the ex­treme-right in­de­pe­dence party Vlaams Be­lang. With sway­ing hips and a cheer­ful smile, he sings along with the Flem­ish folk music that the band is play­ing. The elec­toral cam­paign event takes place in Halle, in the Flem­ish re­gion of Be­ligium, barely half an hour away from Brus­sels, the Bel­gian cap­i­tal. De­spite this, Halle seems to be in a far off, dis­tant land. In Brus­sels, every lan­guage under the sun is spo­ken, but in the Flem­ish city of Halle, peo­ple pre­fer to speak Flem­ish.  

Skin­heads dance the polon­aise

The bouncy cas­tle is the main at­trac­tion for chil­dren at the event. The adults wait in lines at the bar to get their beer. The politi­cians' speeches are re­ceived with sparse ap­plause. Those who came here spon­sta­neously seem to be more in the mood for a folk fes­ti­val and would rather lis­ten to the bards. The po­lit­i­cal party seems to have re­ceded into the back­ground. After a con­flict a cou­ple of weeks ago be­tween right wing ex­trem­ists and an­tifas­cists, one sees nei­ther an­tifas­cists nor po­lice cars. When a cou­ple of skin­heads begin to dance the polon­aise to the hit song "Anita," I de­cide to make my way back to Brus­sels. 

At one point in time, Vlaams Be­lang was voted for by every fourth Flem­ish per­son. Today the party cam­paigns for recog­ni­tion. The ideas for which the sep­a­ratist party Vlaams Be­lang fight seems to be rel­e­vant for the ma­jor­ity of those liv­ing in Flan­ders. Many peo­ple in Flan­ders be­lieve that the Flem­ish peo­ple are pay­ing for the liveli­hoods of those liv­ing in the French-speak­ing Wal­loon re­gion, and that life would be eas­ier with­out French-speak­ers. Aside from this, many see the Eu­ro­pean Union as a threat, an ex­ces­sive and un­wel­come in­flu­ence on their lives. These are also the po­si­tions that Vlaams Be­lang hold, but hardly any­one is will­ing to vote for them. The Nieuw-Vlaamse Al­liantie (N-VA) is a na­tional con­ser­v­a­tive party which, in re­cent years has made things dif­fi­cult for Vlaams Be­lang, and it has in­cor­po­rated many of the de­mands of the ex­treme right. Ever since Flem­ish aton­omy has ceased to be the pri­mary sell­ing point of Vlaams Be­lang, they have claimed to be an anti-im­mi­gra­tion party. "Vreemdlinge," pri­marly Mus­lims, are at fault for every­thing that's al­legedly going wrong in Bel­gium. 

Closed bor­ders, more po­lice and more de­por­ta­tons

Philip Claeys leads me through the maze of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment. As we ar­rive in the cor­ri­dor where his of­fice is lo­cated, Claeys sud­denly speaks qui­etly, as if to not dis­rupt his next-door neigh­bor. In par­lia­ment, the Vlaams Be­lang del­e­gate is con­sid­ered in­de­pen­dent and there­fore doesn't have the same rights as par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that be­long to a party. That's why for the sake of the next Eu­ro­pean elec­tions the party has spo­ken with Ma­rine Le Pen from France, Geert Wilders from the Nether­lands, Heinz-Chris­t­ian Stra­che from Aus­tria and the Swedish de­moc­rats to cre­ate a mu­tual party, ex­plains Claeys, as if hav­ing such al­lies are nec­es­sary. 

Claeys de­scribes him­self as "po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect." In his of­fice he speaks with an al­most soggy ut­ter­ance about the goals of the party. Ac­cord­ing to him every­one is "over-sen­si­tive" when im­mi­gra­tion is raised in con­ver­sa­tion; his party in con­trast, so he claims, ad­dresses the issue in plain-talk. He talks of "no go areas" in Brus­sels, ghet­tos and Sharia Law. He and his party con­duct pol­i­tics in a way that in­sti­gates fear. Their pro­pos­als read: close the bor­ders, in­crease the size of the po­lice force and in­crease the de­por­ta­tion rate of refugees, even those with ap­proved sta­tus. As I take my leave, Claeys again speaks in a hushed tone. 

Eu­rope as it once was - sub­ju­gated under hitler

The of­fice of Vlaams Be­lang in Brus­sels spans many floors. Next to the desks that are made out of a light-col­ored wood, black and yel­low plac­ards and flags are stacked up in piles. Gerolf An­ne­mans, the chair­man of the Party, looks a lit­tle bit like actor Bill Mur­ray. His voice booms with the com­fort­ing depth of a con­tra­bass. "Who placed all these flags in the of­fice?" He says he can't re­ally re­mem­ber be­cause he's not re­ally a "fan of flags." He's at­tached an old-fash­ioned tele­phone hand­set to his cell­phone, mak­ing his tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions seem to exude im­por­tance. 

For 27 years An­ne­mans has been in the Bel­gian par­lia­ment, which in his opin­ion shouldn't exist at all. For him, Bel­gium should be abol­ished. "Why are you even a part of a par­lia­ment that shouldn't exist?" An­ne­mans ca­su­ally shrugs his shoul­ders. He sees the par­lia­ment as a venue where he can make his views heard. 

How far right? - Dis­cus­sion about new rights. 

gladly tak­ing on the role of vic­tim

The EU for him is noth­ing other than a giant trans­fer mech­a­nism from North to South, which dis­gusts him. It's the same sit­u­a­tion in Bel­gium; the Flem­ish in the North have to pay for those that live in the south­ern Wal­loon re­gion. Dur­ing the time of Hitler, Hadrian and Napoleon, Eu­rope, ac­cord­ing to him, was just as ar­ti­fi­cially fab­ri­cated as the EU is today. He says this to "pro­voke thought." You wouldn't be­lieve this charmer ca­pa­ble of giv­ing such a his­tory les­son. 

How­ever, here lies the miss­ing link to the party that wouldn't ever con­sider it­self ex­trem­ist. In the front row, men dressed in per­fectly tai­lored suits, such as An­ne­man and Claey, pre­sent the views of the upset flamin­gants, or those Flem­ish peo­ple who want to sep­a­rate them­selves from Wal­lo­nia. These men adorn their anti-im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric with dif­fuse ar­gu­ments about ex­ploita­tion on the part of the EU and Wal­lo­ni­ans. They gladly take on the role of vic­tim to jus­tify their jar­ring noise against "wild im­mi­gra­tion."

Jour­nal­ist Tom Cochez wrote a book about Vlaams Be­lang. He tells me, that the fol­low­ers of the party would like more than any­thing to sing "old Ger­man songs" to­gether when they're alone. Oth­ers carry Nazi sym­bols under their clothes. One shouldn't allow one­self to be dis­tracted from and in­tim­i­dated by the in part bour­gois ap­pear­ance of party elites. For the time being, Vlaams Be­lang has lost sig­nif­i­cance in the Flem­ish party land­scape. Their ideas, how­ever, are gladly taken on by more tem­per­ate po­lit­i­cal forces. There­fore, the ex­treme right will not be alone when they read the re­sults of the next elec­tion.

THIS AR­TI­CLE IS PART OF A SPE­CIAL SE­RIES DE­VOTED TO Brus­sels. IT'S PART OF EU­TOPIA: TIME TO VOTE, A PRO­JECT RUN BY CAFÉBABEL IN PART­NER­SHIP WITH THE HIP­POCRÈNE FOUN­DA­TION, THE EU­RO­PEAN COM­MIS­SION, THE MIN­ISTRY OF FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRES AND THE EVENS FOUN­DA­TION.