- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s anti-immigrant Vlaams Blok party was branded racist yesterday in a Supreme Court ruling that will force one of Europe’s most successful such parties to reorganize under a new name.

The court upheld a verdict by a lower court in April that found the party guilty of “permanent incitement to segregation and racism.”

The top court rejected all 21 arguments put forward by the Vlaams Blok in an appeal against the April ruling by a court in Ghent, saying that freedom of speech had its limits under tough new anti-racism legislation.

The verdict was met with applause from anti-racism activists inside the packed courtroom but with gasps from party supporters.

Party officials had warned that the failure of the appeal would spell financial ruin for the Vlaams Blok, with the loss of $325,000 in annual public funding.

“What happened in Brussels today is unique in the Western world: Never has a so-called democratic regime outlawed the country’s largest political party,” Vlaams Blok leader Frank Vanhecke said in a statement.

“Today, our party has been killed, not by the electorate but by the judges. We will establish a new party. This one Belgium will not be able to bury; it will bury Belgium,” he said.

The Vlaams Blok wants the richer, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders to secede from Belgium, whose other main community speaks French. The two populations coexist in an uneasy federal partnership.

The party said after weekend talks that if it lost the appeal, it would renew itself under the name Vlaams Blok or Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest).

It said it no longer would advocate the wholesale expulsion of nonwhite immigrants. But the party vowed to continue its campaign against immigration and to demand independence for Flanders, whose main city is the wealthy and cosmopolitan port of Antwerp, the world capital of diamond cutting.

The city has large North African and Orthodox Jewish minorities. It has seen a spate of anti-Semitic attacks recently, and a radical Arab group has been staging vigilante patrols in North African neighborhoods.

Two opinion polls last month showed the Vlaams Blok as the most popular party in the region, ahead of the Christian Democrats, after it came in second in June’s regional elections.

In national elections in May last year, the Vlaams Blok posted the best performance in its 26-year history by gaining three more seats in Belgium’s 150-seat parliament to take its tally to 18.

Despite its poll success, the Blok has been kept out of power by a political “cordon sanitaire” of isolation by mainstream parties.

The Vlaams Blok, to be reintroduced this weekend, plans only a slight modification of its policies.

Instead of pushing for the expulsion of non-European immigrants, in the future it will demand the departure of minorities “who reject, deny or fight against culture and European values like the separation of church and state, freedom of expression and equality between men and women,” it said.

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