Nationalism and immigration have resurfaced as the main issues in Belgium’s municipal elections. They have been at the top of the agenda for the extreme-right Flemish nationalist party, Vlaams Belang, which has been gaining more support in every election since the 1980s.
Leader Filip Dewinter pulled no punches during campaigning. He said: “We have a clear message: the political establishment must take into account the interests of the silent majority of native Europeans who are suffering from increasing illegal immigration, criminality and politically correct thinking.”
Opponents of Vlaams Belang, which wants an independent state for Dutch-speakers, fear it could could become the biggest in Flanders and control Antwerp, Belgium’s second city. The country’s political sytem has created a fragile unity between Dutch speakers and French speakers.
In Wallonia, French is spoken. The president of the region, Elio Di Rupo, said: “Some Flemish leaders want to make Flanders a country, not only would they like to have the French-speaking communes around Brussels, but they also want Brussels. But Brussels is 90% French-speaking. Of course, Wallonia will never give up Brussels, there is a French-speaking solidarity.”
On the Flemish side, French-speakers are accused of not wanting to integrate. The Flanders president, Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, said: “What I have said is that at this moment French speakers are not integrating. They continue to speak French and refuse to learn Dutch. So either they can’t learn Dutch; or are intellectually not able to. Or they don’t want to learn.” With comments like that, some believe that Leterme may just win over some Vlaams Belang voters this weekend.