Far-right support surges in Belgium as anger grows over Brussels terror attacks
FAR-RIGHT groups and political parties have surged in popularity in Belgium after two deadly terrorist attacks killed at least 31 people and injured another 300 in Brussels.
By Selina Sykes
PUBLISHED: 17:42, Sat, Mar 26, 2016 | UPDATED: 22:18, Sat, Mar 26, 2016
Belgian flag on fire and Flemish flagsGETTY
Far-right wing groups are gaining ground in Belgium after the Brussels attacks
Support for the notorious right-wing Flemish populist party Vlaams Belang has grown substantially in aftermath of the atrocities in the Belgian capital.
The party’s number of likes on Facebook has jumped by more than three thousand percent compared to one week ago, according to data published by Facebook.
Such a massive surge in popularity is particularly significant in Belgium, which has only 11 million habitants.
Vlaams Belang, whose main goal is independence for Flanders - Belgium’s Dutch-speaking northern region - also has a tough stance on immigration and the deportation of non-nationals.
A swing towards far-right parties was also seen in France in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November last year, with the Front National (FN) gaining nearly seven million votes in recent regional elections.
Photo: French Front National leader Marine Le Pen with Flemish party Vlaams Belang head Tom Van Grieken
I think there are dark times coming
Tough words about clamping down on extremism and immigration from the leader of Vlaams Belang, Tom Van Grieken, are likely to strike a chord with many conservative voters in an increasingly anxious public as emotions remain raw.
Mr Grieken said his party’s Facebook page gained 10,000 new likes overnight after the Brussels attacks and some of his posts warning of the dangers of radical Islam had been shared more than four million times.
The 29-year-old, who attended a march organised by the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant group Pegida in January, said “solidarity alone is not enough” and called for a “three-tier system of concrete measurers” to clap down on terrorism.
Photo: Demonstrators holding coffinGETTY
Voorpost members carrying a symbolic coffin of Belgium as they campaign for Flemish independence
Like FN leader Marine Le Pen, Mr Grieken campaigns on an anti-immigration platform and has called for “a watertight border policy” as well as the “preventative detention of known Islamic extremists”.
Mr Grieken has also said Belgium’s ‘Law-Lejeune’, which allows the early release of inmates for good behaviour, should be dissolved immediately.
His comments have won the right-wing leader a massive surge in support after the Brussels attacks, with his Facebook page’s number of likes jumping by 916 per cent.
Vlaams Belang was created in 2004 after its predecessor Vlaams Blok lost state funding and access to television after Belgium’s highest court ruled it was guilty of violating anti-racism legislation.
Voorpost, a Flemish nationalist ‘White Power’ group, has also experienced a surge in support following the Brussels attacks, according to its leader Bart Vanpachtenbeke.
Mr Vanpachtenbeke said a “huge number of people” had started supporting the far-right group online and the number of new members had more than doubled since the bombings in the Belgian capital.
A statement after the Brussels attacks on Voorpost’s website read: “The guilty of these attacks are undoubtedly Muslim fundamentalists, but even more guilty is the political establishment which has for several decades and continues to conduct a policy of fear concerning migration, regulation and open borders and the regular media with subjective dissipation of news and Muslim pampering.
“The relaxed policy and subjective journalism in Flanders have created a breeding ground for radical Islam which considers itself off-limits and has ensured that radical Islam has become anchored in our cities and can barely be controlled.”
Voorpost, meaning ‘outpost’ in Dutch, is predominantly a Flemish nationalist organisation that wants to re-join Flanders with the Netherlands, Afrikaner South Africa and Dutch-speaking areas of Germany.
Voorpost members campaigning for independence for Flanders from Belgium
The far-right group, which is avowedly against immigration, the European Union (EU) and “Islamisation”, was founded by a member of Vlaams Blok in 1976.
Muslims account for eight per cent of the Belgian population and 25 per cent in Brussels.
Mr Vanpachtenbeke, who promised “drastic action” and “a lot of noise” after the Brussels attacks, said: "I think there are dark times coming. We can’t give any information, but we are planning a lot of new protests.”
Voorpost is closely monitored by Belgian security services who believe the nationalist group are at risk of committing violence.
However, the numbers are “far smaller” than radical extremists, according to Vidhya Ramalingham, a fellow at the German Institute on Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Studies.
Belgium has not experienced the same unrest between locals and immigrants as seen in Germany, Finland and Sweden - but tensions are rising as the country continues to welcome refugees arriving in Europe.