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Bart De Wever: Architect of the Flemish Nationalists’ revenge

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-06-15

The leader of the New Flemish Alliance has emerged as the main winner of the June 13 parliamentary elections. France24.com takes a closer look at this unusual political figure, who has fine-tuned his approach to the goal of Flemish independence.

The president of the New Flemish Alliance, Bart De Wever, is a colourful personality. In Belgium, he is considered the architect of the Flemish Nationalists’ revenge. “He was able to transform the ashes of the Volksunie party [Flemish separatist party that ceased to exist in 2001] into a big Flemish regionalist party”, explained Regis Dantoy, a specialist in Belgian political parties at Cevipol (Centre for Political Studies) in Brussels.

One of the reasons behind De Wever’s success is the fact that he does not scare people off, something that cannot be said of leaders of the other separatist party, Vlaams Belang. But a closer look at Bart De Wever’s CV could nevertheless cause an average voter to break out in cold sweats.

Palling around with Jean-Marie Le Pen

De Wever was born into politics in 1970 in Mortsel, a city near Antwerp. His father, a member of Flemish separatist movements and sympathiser of the Flemish National Union (which professed an ideology close to Nazism), registered him with the Volksunie (People’s Union) party as soon as he was born.

He considered a career as a historian while studying at the Catholic University of Louvain, but his family roots in politics would soon pull him back. Between 1991 and 1992, De Wever was editor-in-chief of a publication featuring ideas influenced by Catholic traditionalism. When he finished his studies in 1996, he was photographed shaking the hand of far-right French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

But word on the political street is that ever since he officially stepped into national spotlight, De Wever has changed. “He’s become wiser over time”, said Regis Dantoy of the man credited with orchestrating the “Flemish cartel”, the alliance between his party and Christian Democrats which lasted until November 2008. “During this period”, Dantoy added, “he played on two fronts: he was part of the government while also criticizing it. It’s an unrivalled political strategy”.

De Wever posing for a magazine cover with Miss Belgium as she steps on the Belgian flag.

Indeed, De Wever is seen as both a smart tactician and a charismatic personality. He participated in a reality TV show called “The Best Known Man in Flanders”, and also stages attention-grabbing stunts like driving a truck filled with fake money in order to denounce the “scandalous” transfer of money from Flanders to French-speaking Wallonia. “He’s a popular figure who flirts with populism”, summed up Regis Dantoy.

An ambiguous position

To attract the largest number of voters possible, De Wever has made eyes at the radical electorate typically associated with Vlaams Belang. In January 2010, for example, he posed for a cover of the very popular “P Magazine”, on which the newly crowned Miss Belgium is seen trampling on the Belgian flag. “In order to win, he couldn’t alienate far right voters”, Regis Dantoy assessed. “That’s why he positions himself very ambiguously”.

His party’s victory means that De Wever will now more than ever need to play the negotiating game. “His main challenge will be explaining to his constituents that his reforms will take longer than he had promised”, Regis Dantoy said, before confirming that De Wever’s ultimate goal remains independence for Flanders.

Date created : 2010-06-15

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