Right-wing Populism and the Radical Centre: Explaining the Electoral Growth of the Vlaams Blok in Belgium

  • Patrick de Vos


This chapter engages with mainstream explanations of the electoral growth of the xenophobic and separatist Flemish far-right party, Vlaams Blok, in Belgium from the late 1980s onward. The issue of right-wing populism in Flanders is introduced by briefly outlining the genesis of the current political situation, and subsequently explaining the two dominant political positions held by the Vlaams Blok, separatist nationalism and authoritarian xenophobic populism, as they were articulated in Party manifestos, such as Immigration: the Time Bomb Is Ticking!’,2 the 1999 electoral platform ‘Masters in Our House’, and the current programme summary ‘A Future for Flanders’. Thereupon I will summarize and problematize the two foremost types of analysis that have been put forward to account for the electoral upsurge of the Vlaams Blok, and relate them to strategies employed by the mainstream democratic elites to marginalize this party. From this, it is argued that the current dominant frame of thinking is missing a crucial point: for instance, that the rise of an ultra-nationalist and authoritarian-populist party in Flanders, as elsewhere in Europe, can be better understood in the context of a hegemonic consensus around the political centre, resulting from an ideological convergence between the established political parties, characterized by the disappearance of antagonism. Such an alternative account has been developed over the years by Chantai Mouffe, and I shall first summarize and expound her thesis, and explain how and why it is applicable to the case of the Vlaams Blok.


Depression Europe Sine Defend Hate 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Institute of Social and Political Oppinion Research (ISPO)/De Standaard, 10 October 2000. Swyngedouw (Catholic University of Brussels (KUB)) has made similar observations for various previous elections; see: Swyngedouw, M., ‘Het Vlaams Blok 1980–1991: opkomst, groei en doorbraak’, in R. van Doorslaer and J. Gotovich (eds), Herfsttij van de20ste eeuw: extreemrechts in Vlaanderen 1920–1990 (Leuven, Kritak, 1992), pp. 83–104.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Spruyt, M. (2000) Wat het Vlaams Blok verzwijgt (Leuven, Van Halewyck), p. 69.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Vlaams Blok, Pen toekomst voor Vlaanderen: programma en standpunten van het Vlaams Blok (Brüssel: Vlaams Blok, 2003): <http://www.vlaams-blok.be> (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Elbers, F., and Fennema, M. (1993) Racistische partijen in West-Europa: tussen nationale traditie en Europese samenwerking (Leiden, Stichting Burgerschapskunde), p. 92.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Torfing, J. (1999) New Theories of Discourse: Laclau, Mouffe and Žižek (Oxford, Blackwell), p. 301.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Howarth, D., and Stavrakakis, Y. (2000), ‘Introducing Discourse Theory and Political Analysis’, in D. Howarth, A. J. Norval, and Y. Stavrakakis (eds), Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies and Social Change (Manchester, Manchester University Press), p. 11.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    De Smedt, D. (1997) ‘Recht door zee!’, Vlaams Blok, 21 (12): 10–11 (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Vlaams Blok, Wetgevende verkiezingen 1991: Campagnestrategie (Brussels, Vlaams Blok, 1991) (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Verstraeten, G. (1998) ‘Eigen Volk Eerst’, Vlaams Blok, 1 (9): 4–5 (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Dewinter, F. (1989) Eigen volk eerst: antwoord op het vreemdelingenprobleem (Brecht, De Roerdomp), p. 130 (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Balibar, E., and Wallerstein, I. (1991) Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (New York, Verso), p. 21.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Hossay, P. (1996) ‘Our People First! Understanding the Resonance of the Vlaams Blok’s Xenophobic Programme’, Social Identities, 2 (3): 355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 23.
    Anastasakis, O. (2000) ‘Extreme Right in Europe: a Comparative Study of Recent Trends’, Discussion Paper no. 3, (London, The Hellenic Observatory/The European Institute-LSE), pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    See Betz, H. G. (1999) ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Radicalism in Europe’, Contemporary European History, 8 (2): 299–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Swyngedouw, ‘Het Vlaams Blok 1980–1991’; and Burghgraeve, P., Corijn, E, and Verbraeken, P. (2000) ‘Vlaanderen: wat we zelf doen, doen we beter...niet’: <http://www.antifa.com/afi/charta91/Charta91-2000txt.htm/>.
  16. 25.
    De Witte, H., and Scheepers, P. (1997) ‘Twintig jaar Vlaams Blok’, Internationale Spectator, 51: 7-8, 420–8.Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    De Witte, H., Billiet, J., and Scheepers, P. (1994) ‘Hoe zwart is Vlaanderen? Een exploratief onderzoek naar uiterst-rechtse denkbeelden in Vlaanderen in 1991’, Res Publica, 36 (1): 85–102.Google Scholar
  18. 27.
    Eisinga, R., Lammers, J., Lubbers, M., and Scheepers, P. (1998) ‘Het electoraat van extreem-rechtse partijen: individuele en contextuele kenmerken, 1982–1996’, in J. van Holsteyn and C. Mudde, Extreem-rechts in Nederland (Den Haag, SDU), pp. 93–112.Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    Lipset, S. M. (1990 [1960]) Political Man (New Jersey, Doubleday).Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    See also Swyngedouw, ‘Het Vlaamse Blok 1980–1991’; Scheepers, P., Eisinga, R., and Felling, A., Het electoraat van extreem-rechts: theoretische verklaringen, empirische bevindingen, conceptualiseringen en operationaliseringen. Bijdrage aan de studiedag over ‘extreem-rechts’ (Voorburg, Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 11 November 1994).Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    See Anastasakis, ‘Extreme Right in Europe’, p. 14; see also Betz, ‘Contemporary Right-Wing Radicalism’, p. 41; see also de Witte, H. (1992) ‘Racisten of apatici?’, in E. Desle and A. Martens (eds), Gezichten van hedendaags racisme (Brussels, VUB Press): 190–1Google Scholar
  22. see also Backes, U. (1990) ‘Extremismus und Populismus van Rechts: ein Vergleich auf Europäische Ebene’, in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, B46-7/90: 3–14Google Scholar
  23. see also Stouthuysen, P. (1996) ‘Het cordon sanitaire is een blok aan het been’, Samenieving en Politiek, 3 (3): 15–17.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    Vansevenant, J. (1994) De Agusta-affaire: kroniek van een omstreden helikopteraankoop (Antwerpen, Standaard Uitgeverij), pp. 31–6.Google Scholar
  25. 35.
    De Witte, H. (1997), ‘Een overzicht en evaluatie van strategieën ter bestrijding van extreem-rechtse partijen’, in H. De Witte (ed.), Bestrijding van racisme en rechts-extremisme: wetenschappelijke bijdragen aan het maatschappelijk debat (Leuven/Amersfoort, Acco).Google Scholar
  26. 37.
    De Witte, H., and Scheepers, P. (1997) ‘Twintig jaar Vlaams Blok: herkomst, evo-lutie en toekomst van partij en kiezers’, Internationale Spectator, 51 (7/8): 421.Google Scholar
  27. 40.
    Cuperus, R., and Kandel, J. (1998) ‘The Magical Return of Social Democracy: an Introduction’, in R. Cuperus and J. Kandel (eds), Transformation in Progress: European Social Democracy (Freudenberg/Amsterdam, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung/Wiardi Beckman Stichting,).Google Scholar
  28. 42.
    Telö, M., ‘Transformation of Programmatic Profiles’, in Cuperus and Kandel (eds), Transformation in Progress.Google Scholar
  29. 43.
    Blair, T. (1998) The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century (London, Fabian Society)Google Scholar
  30. Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way: the Renewal of Social Democracy (Cambridge, Polity Press)Google Scholar
  31. Hombach, B. (2000) The Politics of the New Centre (Cambridge, Polity Press).Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    Stevaert, Steve, interviewed in: G. Roox, ‘Het bruto nationaal geluk volgens Steve Stevaert: liefde moet van onderuit groeien’, De Standaard, 14 October 2000, p. 13 (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  33. 47.
    Vande Lanotte, J. (1999) cited in: P. Lambrechts, ‘Belgische socialisten bewande-len al lang Derde Weg’, De Financieel-Economische Tijd, 29 September (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    Rustin, M. (1998) ‘The New Labour Project’, Soundings, 8 Spring: 7–11.Google Scholar
  35. 49.
    Fairclough, N. (2000) New Labour, New Language? (London, Routledge), p. 43.Google Scholar
  36. 50.
    Vande Lanotte, J. (1999) Het derde contract: de toekomst is van iedereen (Antwerpen, Houtekiet), pp. 27–8 (author’s translation).Google Scholar
  37. 51.
    Socialistische Partij (1998) Het Toekomstcongres 1998 (Brüssel, Socialistische Partij/SEVI).Google Scholar
  38. 52.
    Mouffe, C. (1993) The Return of the Political (London/New York, Verso); Mouffe (1995) ‘The End of Politics and the Rise of the Radical Right’, Dissent, pp. 498–502; Mouffe, ‘The Radical Centre: a Politics without Adversary’, Soundings, 9: 11-23; Mouffe, ‘10 Years of False Starts’; Mouffe (2000) The Democratic Paradox (London/New York, Verso).Google Scholar
  39. 54.
    Krieger, J. (1999) British Politics in the Global Age: Can Social Democracy Survive? (Cambridge, Polity Press), p. 26.Google Scholar
  40. 55.
    Rustin, M. (1999) ‘Editorial’, Soundings, 11: Spring, p. 8.Google Scholar
  41. 56.
    Hall, S. (1998) ‘The Great Moving Nowhere Show’, Marxism Today, November–December: 9–14 (10).Google Scholar
  42. 57.
    Hombach, B. (ed.) (2000) The Politics of the New Centre (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), p. 66.Google Scholar
  43. 58.
    Blair, T., and Schröder, G. (1999) ‘Europe: the Third Way/die Neue Mitte’, reprinted in Hombach (ed.), The Politics of the New Centre.Google Scholar
  44. 59.
    Giddens, A. interviewed by J. P. Rondas, Het wereldbeeld: interview Anthony Giddens, Radio3/Klara, 30 April (2000), 11.00 a.m.-12.00 p.m.Google Scholar
  45. 64.
    Bechler, R. (1998) ‘The End of Politics?’, New Times, 141.Google Scholar
  46. 66.
    Giddens, A. (1994) Beyond Left and Right: the Future of Radical Politics (Cambridge, Polity Press).Google Scholar
  47. 71.
    Dewinter, F., and Van Overmeire, K. (1993) Een tegen allen: opkomstvan het Vlaams Blok (Antwerpen, TYR), p. 105.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick de Vos
    • 1
  1. 1.Belgian Ghent UniversityBelgium

Personalised recommendations