Belgium: Vlaams Blok – new name, same racism

On 9 November the highest court in Belgium confirmed an earlier court decision convicting three associations linked to the Vlaams Blok for racism.

Even though the court case was not directly against the Vlaams Blok, it was generally seen as a conviction for racism of the Vlaams Blok itself.

Among leftwing activists and anti-racists there were a lot of illusions in this legal process. Of course LSP/MAS is happy with the outcome of the court case; a different outcome would have been worse. But we have to ask what this conviction will change.

First of all we need to stress that we do not need bourgeois courts to know that the Vlaams Blok is racist. And that will not change with a "new" Vlaams Blok, now under the name Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). This was made clear by Filip Dewinter in an interview with a BBC journalist: "When I see Muslim culture I think that our culture is superior. Our values, our way of life are superior and we have to say so. I don’t think the way of life of Muslims is compatible with our way of life." This racism can get more support following the events in the Netherlands and the international ideological offensive of the neo-conservatives against "islamic-fundamentalism". It was no coincidence that Vlaams Blok MP’s almost all supported Bush in the US election.

More importantly however is the fact that while many anti-racists thought they could fight the Vlaams Blok through the courts, it is becoming more apparent that the Vlaams Belang would easily increase their vote again if there would be elections today. The Vlaams Blok has succesfully used this court case to strenghten their "anti-establishment" credentials. The party used the court case to have a stage-managed intervention to dissolve itself and found a new party, Vlaams Belang. They succeeded in convincing the general public that they were forced into dissolving themselves because the establishment was about to outlaw them and rob them of the state subsidies all major political parties receive. The danger of the Vlaams Blok losing its state subsidies (€ 5.6 million a year!) was not real.

From Vlaams Blok to Vlaams Belang

The Vlaams Blok used the court case to launch its new name and new look. Party-leaders said they want the "new" party to have a softer image to make it possible to find more open support in wealthier areas of the country. As there are no big forces on the ground to counter the anti-establishment image of the Vlaams Blok in the poorest working class areas in the cities, the party thinks that it will have those votes anyway. It now wants to strenghten its position in the small villages around the big cities.

We of course know that the anti-establishment image of the Vlaams Blok/Belang was not real. This became very evident when, during the 1999 election campaign, Filip Dewinter organised fundraising dinners at which the guests payed € 500 for a meal. The attendance was probably not exactly from poorer areas.

If we look at the policy proposals of the Vlaams Belang in areas where they are strong, we clearly see they are not interested in defending workers and poor people. Instead of demanding more and decent social housing, they want to ban immigrants by demanding a 5% immigrant quota in social housing. Instead of demanding free bin bags, they demand strong police repression against those who dump their waste illegally.

Politically the use of divide-and-rule racism remains the main theme for Vlaams Belang. When Dewinter was quoted in the tabloids about the need to expell all "neo-fascists and other mad people", he immediately added that this did not implicate ‘Voorpost’, fascist shock troops who steward many activities from all sorts of neo-fascist groupings. Voorpost leader Luc Vermeulen is on the pay-roll of Vlaams Belang. It is clear they only want to get rid of people they do not fully control. A controversial TV documentary showed how Dewinter has a book of Nazi leader Albert Speer in his library and how he showed a big interest in a bookstall with Nazi-books.

What future for Vlaams Belang?

The growing electoral support for Vlaams Belang leads to a certain pessimism amongst some anti-racists. They are wrong as there is absolutely no need to be gloomy. In the past few weeks we have seen the beginning of a process that could lead to a future defeat of Vlaams Belang. This process did not involve antiquated judges, but was kicked off by the development of workers’ struggles. In the past weeks there have been strikes and protests of workers in the post offices, of workers in social services and health care, public transport workers in Brussels… These actions are important because they show the way forward and impel Vlaams Belang to reveal their real program.

Vlaams Belang tries to present itself as a party defending all layers in society and says what it thinks people like to hear. Whether they speak to unemployed, to workers or to bosses, they just adapt their rhetoric. That makes it impossible for the Vlaams Belang to play an active role in workers’ movements. Even more, if workers move into action they will see the real face of Vlaams Belang. And that would be the face of MP’s like Freddy Van Gaever who was quoted saying that all unemployed people are just lazy… Of course they would not say that to the unemployed, a large proportion of whom have voted for the Vlaams Blok.

The populist method becomes more difficult when workers move into action. And today we see the first steps of a more active resistance against the neo-liberal policies of the present national and regional governments. Our key task will be to unite this resistance and to start a discussion about political representation for the movement. That would be the strongest possible answer to the Vlaams Belang.

To intiate this, we launched an appeal for a Youth March for Work. This appeal was signed by the youth wings of the main trade union federations. We are now mobilising for a big national demonstration on 19 March 2005. We are setting up mobilising committees locally in schools, universities, factories, neighbourhoods. It is of crucial importance to unite the different developing workers’ struggles with the unemployed and the youth to progress the active resistance against capitalism, and thus create the conditions to beat the Vlaams Belang.

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December 2004