Vlaams Belang is not just any party. It is the successor of Vlaams Blok, of which a number of organisations were condemned for racism. Vlaams Belang/Blok’s radical views on issues such as immigration have made the party the subject of a so-called cordon sanitaire: All other parties agreed they would not enter a coalition with it, for ethical reasons.
Vlaams Belang called the cordon sanitaire undemocratic; other critics suspected that it helped the party grow. The success of Vlaams Belang/Blok in the 1990s frustrated young Bart De Wever, now president of N-VA. That it mixed the Flemish nationalism he adhered to with racism troubled him so much that defeating Vlaams Belang became one of his political ambitions.
Vlaams Belang, who in 2004 received almost one in four Flemish votes, has become largely irrelevant now – not due to the cordon sanitaire, but because N-VA has become the new haven for the disgruntled. In a way, De Wever has made his dream come true, but that, he is finding out, never comes easy. Meanwhile, Vlaams Belang politicians keep flocking to his party.
A key factor in this is Marie-Rose Morel, a student chum of De Wever’s, who traded in N-VA for Vlaams Belang, only to be reunited with her old friend in the face of her early death. In the preceding years, Morel had tried to take over Vlaams Belang, along with her later husband Frank Vanhecke. Vanhecke may have been Vlaams Belang’s president, but true power escaped him and Morel and Vlaams Belang steered clear of the new course they set out. In the end Vanhecke, now an independent MEP, turned his back on Vlaams Belang, while the late Morel became an icon with almost saintly stature.