AMSTERDAM—Hilbrand Nawijn, who was the first immigration minister in the Netherlands between July 2002 and May 2003, is to address a meeting of the Belgian extreme right party Vlaams Belang.
He denied the Vlaams Belang—described as a “fascist party” by the Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht in December—is racist.
The Vlaams Belang was created last month when its predecessor, the Vlaams Blok, was outlawed by the Belgian Supreme Court for being racist. The new party has pledged to continue the Blok’s xenophobic policy on immigration and will still fight for the independence of Flanders, the mainly Dutch-speaking area of Belgium.
Nawijn met Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter at a debate in Rotterdam in December and accepted Dewinter’s invitation to address the Belgian party’s New Year’s meeting on 26 January. Nawijn described the ban on the Vlaams Bloc as a “scandal”.
The former Dutch minister will tell the meeting about immigration and integration policies in the Netherlands in light of the assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November. Nawijn will not, he said, comment on the situation in Belgium as he does not know enough about it.
Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht took a totally opposite view about the Vlaams Belang in mid-December. “It is a party run by fascists. (Vlaams Belang leader) Filip Dewinter is a fascist. We have to face the reality,” said De Gucht on Belgian television on 12 December.
Vlaams Belang is growing in popularity. De Gucht has said he is ready to debate with it, but not negotiate with it or accept it as a coalition partner.
Speaking to reporters this week following the announcement of his plans to address the gathering on 26 January, Nawijn refuted the suggestion he could be “contaminated” by his connection to Vlaams Belang.
“Vlaams Belang is not a racist party. Far worst things have been said in the Netherlands,” he said. “I want nothing to do with racism, but you have to be able to talk to a democratic party.”
Nawijn said he had addressed meetings of many other parties, including the Socialist Party. “Therefore it is not strange that I speak to a party that is much more along my line [of thinking],” he said.
The Vlaams Belang campaigns for assimilation of immigrants, Nawijn said, “and this is something I am also in favour of”.
Nawijn is an MP for the LPF faction in the Dutch Parliament. The faction operates independently from the LPF party, which was founded by populist and anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn.
Fortuyn was assassinated on 6 May 2002, nine days before his party came second in a general election. The LPF entered a short-lived coalition government and Nawijn got the job of tightening the country’s immigration policy.
Infighting within the LPF collapsed the government after 87 days, and continuing internal wrangles in 2004 led to the parliamentary faction breaking away from the LPF.
Gerard van As, the leader of the parliamentary faction, said “only good” would come from Nawijn’s decision to seek dialogue with the Vlaams Belang. Van As said communication rather than demonisation was the best approach, because the latter approach led to Fortuyn’s murder.