Gains by Belgian Right-wing Party Eliciting Memories of Prewar Years

The extreme right made strong gains in Belgium’s parliamentary elections Sunday, a worrisome development for Jews, who recall similar victories by the far right in the years just preceding World War II.

The most significant advance was made by the ultra-nationalist Flemish Bloc (Vlaams Blok), which increased its representation from two to 12 seats in the 212-member Parliament.

The party campaigned on a xenophobic, anti-immigrant platform. It did best in the northern port city of Antwerp, home to 20,000 Jews, where it emerged as the largest single party in the local government, with 25 percent of the vote.

Moreover, the extreme right-wing National Front, a party akin to its French equivalent led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, made important gains in Brussels, winning its first seat in Parliament.

Belgian politics have long been divided between Flemish- and French-speaking nationalists, with Flemish spoken largely in the North, the region that abuts the Netherlands, and French spoken in the South, abutting France. Brussels, the capital, in the country’s center, is officially bilingual, but French predominates.

The Flemish Bloc seeks to establish a separate Flemish state. It also advocates returning immigrants to their countries.

The Belgian Parliament is elected through a system of proportional representation, which inevitably means coalition governments. In Sunday’s national elections, 39 political parties or groups ran.

Many observers attributed the election results to a loss of credibility by the mainstream Socialists and Christian Democrats, who have traditionally governed this nation of 10 million.

While some commentators described it as a protest vote rather than a trend, others compared the right-wing successes Sunday to those of extreme right-wing candidates in the 1936 elections who went on to become Nazi collaborators when Belgium was occupied four years later.

According to Lazard Perez, chairman of the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations, “these elections confirm the analysis made recently in Berlin by European Jewish leaders who foresaw a general rise of extreme right-wing movements” in Europe.

Right-wing parties have been racking up substantial vote counts in other European countries, including Austria and Germany.

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