Elections 2024: The key players in Vlaams Belang

In the run-up to the June elections, Belgium's political figureheads are gearing up to fight for votes. Today we take a look at Vlaams Belang and its key players, Tom Van Grieken and Filip De Winter.

If the polls are to be believed, Vlaams Belang is well on its way to becoming the largest party in Flanders. The far-right party appears to have attracted one in four voters in the region.

Leader Tom Van Grieken has been instrumental in softening Vlaams Belang's image, setting it up for electoral success. For example, he accepted an invitation from King Philippe during the formation of the government in 2019, a first in the party's history. This is part of Van Grieken's plan to turn Vlaams Belang into an "acceptable" right-wing party and to court the N-VA to form a right-wing Flemish government.

Controversial topics

Although Vlaams Belang's image is softer than ever, Van Grieken still regularly makes headlines with controversial statements. He stirs up controversy on topics like migration, Islam and the LGBTQI+ community, among others. His behaviour scores well in the polls, making him the third most popular politician in Flanders, but it also makes governing with his party a no-go for parties that are not the N-VA.

Van Grieken learnt his trade from his mentor Filip De Winter, an even more controversial political figure. De Winter has been involved in far-right politics since his teens. In 1983 he joined Vlaams Blok, the forerunner of Vlaams Belang. In 2004, the party was condemned for violating Belgium's racism law, and subsequently reformed into Vlaams Belang.

Greek neo-Nazis and Chinese spies

His career has been full of controversy. In the last decade, De Winter visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of numerous human rights abuses throughout his rule. He travelled to Russia following the annexation of Crimea and to Greece to meet with the leaders of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

More recently, De Winter has been in hot water for his links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Earlier this year, magazines Apache and Humo published documents revealing that De Winter had been paid by the CCP to lobby in favour of Chinese interests. They say De Winter also used his links to a Chinese spy to order face masks at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

De Winter denies these allegations, describing them as "another attempt to damage Vlaams Belang" and "a smear campaign ahead of the elections". But the controversies are complicating Van Grieken's attempt to make his party an acceptable candidate for a right-wing government.

#FlandersNewsService | Vlaams Belang leader Tom Van Grieken © BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER

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