Last Sunday, people in Belgium went to bed in a country that seemed to be more divided than ever. In Flanders – the Flemish speaking north of the country, where the majority of the population lives – the NVA (New Flemish Alliance) was elected with 30 percent of the Flemish votes.
This represents a historical victory for the NVA. The party was created in 2001 out of the ashes of the Volks Unie (People’s Unity). The NVA bases its politics on the idea of a Flemish independent state.
The central argument they use is that millions of euros are transferred from the Flemish north to the French south. What they don’t say is that the money transfers from Brussels to Flanders balance this out and that Brussels is mostly French speaking.
Also, it goes against the basic ideas of solidarity. The French south was devastated in the 1990s and the early years of this century when the great steel and metal industries pulled out of the country. This left record numbers of unemployed, and very few job opportunities.
In the south the Socialist Party, sister organisation of the British Labour Party, won 33 percent of the vote.
Last Sunday’s elections follow three years of chaos at a national level. Five governments have fallen in the last three years and divisions have sharpened between French and Flemish speakers.
The NVA is not only a nationalist party but also clearly right wing, comparable to UKIP in Britain. They call for a closing of the Belgian borders and “selective immigration” in order to give jobs to “Flemish workers”.
In practice this means that white, European, rich immigration is acceptable but that immigration from the rest of the world should be stopped.
This is ironic since the Belgian state exports great amounts of weapons to the rest of the world and are therefore part of the reason that force people in the global south to leave their homes. Belgium sold weapons to the Nepalese state when it was fighting a popular revolt, they sell weapons to the Israeli state, which is massacring the Palestinian people and facilitated the transport of US weapons to Iraq and Afghanistan. It also still keeps US nuclear weapons in the military base of Kleine Brogel.
In addition to this, the NVA calls for a higher pension age and wants to force ordinary people to work even longer than 65. The NVA’s call for a division of welfare, healthcare, immigration control, taxations and education funding will result in a real crisis for French-speaking workers. It will cut state money which at present provides for the most vulnerable in society such as casual workers and the unemployed.
It is also bad for the Flemish people. Indeed, if a right-wing government that promises to ease the task of the bosses is in charge of their welfare state, their future in a state that will have to implement austerity measures once the constitutional questions have been resolved doesn’t exactly look pink and flowery.
Finally, the constitutional debate is overshadowing the real questions that ordinary people in Belgium will have to face in the months and years to come. As everywhere around Europe the bosses and government officials will attempt to make ordinary people pay for their crisis and if the Belgians are too busy following these politicians into the blind alley of regionalism they will be forced into that situation without even seeing it happen.
Unfortunately the Socialist Party in the south is not defending ordinary people. They agree with the NVA on the necessity to push for a later retirement age and the implementation of austerity measures to cope with the crisis.
In the years to come French and Dutch speaking workers will share a similar fate. They will have to resist the attacks coming from their government, whatever its nature.
This opens the possibility of a fight back and a North-South unity and solidarity that would counter the reactionary arguments from the nationalist parties.
The one bright bit of news that has come out of these elections is that the Vlaams Belang (The Flemish Interest), sister organization of the fascist BNP in Britain, has lost votes for the first time in the last 20 years. They lost on average about 5 percent in every Flemish constituency. Their votes were taken in by the NVA and although this is positive in the immediate future, it should not comfort anti-fascists too much. Indeed, what we are seeing is a very similar situation to that in France in 2007.
Nicolas Sarkozy was elected on a hard line position against immigrants. In power, he has attacked thousands of ordinary people on the basis of their origins.
At the same time he has forced through attacks on jobs, pensions and education. French people’s lives are worse today than they were before 2007.
This creates a situation in which both the government and the fascist Front National (National Front) keep attacking immigration as a source of social and economic instability. In this situation the Front National has grown electorally. A similar situation could play out in Flanders if struggle does not unite workers.