Belgian Nationalist Party Resurfaces and Renames Itself After Government Crackdown
Monday November 15, 1:35 AM
Belgian far-right reborn after court slap
Belgium's far-right Vlaams Blok formally dissolved itself and relaunched under a new name, after a court ruling banning the party, one of the most successful anti-immigrant forces in Europe.
The party, which wants independence for Belgium's northern region of Flanders, announced the creation of Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), which will not be bound by legal decisions against the Blok.
"The Vlaams Blok has always been the best -- if not the only -- defender of Flemish interests. In this sense the choice of name is obvious," said the party on its newly-created website.
The decision was taken at a party congress in Antwerp, five days after Belgium's supreme court upheld a lower tribunal's ruling that the group was guilty of "permanent incitement to segregation and racism".
As a result the Blok -- which has surged to record levels in opinion polls -- said it would lose 250,000 euros (325,000 dollars) in annual public funding, while any activities were liable to prosecution under anti-racism laws.
The change of new name to Vlaams Belang -- which has already been that of the party's magazine -- was widely anticipated ahead of Sunday's meeting in the northern port city and capital of Flanders.
The party's basic demands will not change: it wants richer, Dutch-speaking Flanders to secede from Belgium, whose other main community is French-speaking. The two populations co-exist in an uneasy federal partnership.
But party officials denied the widespread view that the change is purely cosmetic.
"The founding of a new nationalist Flemish party is not a cosmetic operation but a manicure: we are cutting our nails and polishing our teeth to come out of the corner more effectively," said key party figure Filip Dewinter.
"Under our new name Vlaams Belang will be even more motivated in our democratic struggle for an independent Flanders," added a statement on the party's website.
In national elections in May last year, the Vlaams Blok posted the best performance in its 26-year history by gaining three more seats in Belgium's 150-seat parliament to take its tally to 18.
Two opinion polls last month placed the Vlaams Blok as the most popular party in the region, ahead of the Christian Democrats, after it came second in June regional elections.
Dewinter used the Antwerp party congress to renew attacks on the court ruling -- using the recent killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh as a sharp rhetorical reference.
"While in the Netherlands they kill freedom of expression with bullets, in Belgium they do it with court rulings," he said, according to the Belga news agency. Flanders borders on the Netherlands and they share the same language.
The Flemish party has led a resurgence of the extreme right across Europe including the Austrian Freedom Party of Joerg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in France and murdered Dutch firebrand Pim Fortuyn.