Anti-immigrant sentiment is spreading across Europe, boosting support for populist, right-wing parties. One of the most successful is in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Backers of the party, known as Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest Party) criticize Muslim immigrants for failing to assimilate. In the Vlaams Belang’s stronghold of Hoboken, on the outskirts of Antwerp, the party soared in local elections last month. It won 41 percent of the vote, far ahead of all other parties.
Sitting at the bar of a smoky cafe, school bus driver Eric Delawer says this working-class town used to vote socialist. But in recent years, with the influx of large numbers of Muslim immigrants, he says the people of Hoboken have turned to Vlaams Belang. “The immigrants don’t integrate,” he says. “They separate themselves from us. They want to stay among themselves. I say, if they don’t adapt to our customs, the only option is to send them back to their home countries.”
“We are not in favor of the famous multicultural society,” says Filip Dewinter, the party’s leader. “We do not have a problem with legal immigrants if they are willing to assimilate to our culture, our way of life, our values,” he says. “But we can’t allow that they come to our country, that they come to Europe, and they keep their own culture, their own religion – Islamic religion – which is not always compatible with our way of life, our culture.”