BELGIUM’S general election saw a terrifying surge in support for the far right Vlaams Blok (Flemish Block). The party is overtly racist and pushes savagely anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
It got 19 percent of votes in Flanders, the northern Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. This was an increase from the 15.4 percent it got in the last election. The Vlaams Blok gets around 30 percent of votes in Antwerp, the key city in Flanders. The Vlaams Blok is viciously racist against Belgians of immigrant origin, especially those with a Muslim background. It also wants to break Flanders away from the southern French-speaking part of Belgium, called Wallonia.
Historically the Belgian state, only created in the 19th century, was dominated by the richer French south. In recent decades that has been reversed economically, with the decline of the coal and steel industries of Wallonia. The Vlaams Blok whips up resentment at the ‘subsidies’ they say Flanders now gives to the French south.
The whole of Belgian politics is riven by this linguistic divide, with every main political party having separate French and Flemish organisations. The election results will see a continuation of the governing coalition dominated by the free market Liberals and the Labour-like Socialists. But they have delivered little for most Belgians, and have presided over rising unemployment.
The Greens were part of the last governing coalition. Their vote slumped last weekend as they have lost their ability to pose as a radical alternative to the main parties.
Young Belgians of Arab and Muslim background have formed their own political movement, Resist. There is a lively multicultural and radical political culture among young people in cities like Antwerp.
If political movements drawing on this can connect with the bitterness Belgian workers feel at the mainstream parties, they can offer a real alternative and begin to challenge the Vlaams Blok.
SOUTH KOREAN truck drivers have won a major victory after striking, and defying the army and a government declaration that the strike was illegal. Some 5,000 truck drivers at the key port of Pusan demanded higher pay, reduced taxes and lower road tolls.
They walked out and effectively shut down what is the third busiest port in the world, and the key port for Korean exports. Truck drivers also struck and shut down the smaller port of Kwangyang. The government responded by declaring the strike illegal, sending in troops and issuing arrest orders for the strike leaders.
But the workers stood firm, and the government quickly buckled after a week-long stoppage which halted most exports. It has bowed to most of the truckers’ union’s demands. The workers’ victory may embolden others to take action. That is certainly the fear of business commentators.
‘This will further increase the bargaining power of labour unions,’ worried Lim Ji-wom of the JP Morgan bank. ‘Labour tensions could make for a hot summer in South Korea,’ agreed Tom Condon of ING Barings investment bank.
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