Belgium has 10.5 million (legal) inhabitants. About 9 million of them are indigenous Belgians – of whom 6 million are Dutch-speaking Flemings and 3 million French-speaking Walloons. Belgium also has 900,000 legal aliens, and 650,000 so-called “new Belgians” – foreigners who acquired the Belgian nationality since 1980. About 0.5 million Belgian inhabitants are Muslims, of whom 265,000 Moroccans and 155,000 Turks. According to the security services, almost 2% of the Muslims (some 8,000 people) sympathize with Islamist extremists.
Since the acceptance of the so-called “Quick Citizenship” Act in May 2000, the Belgian nationality is notoriously easy to acquire. Belgian citizenship is a right for everyone who has lived in the country for 7 (but often only 3 or even 2) years. One does not need to speak the language or prove that one is willing to integrate in the host country. Obviously, the “new Belgians” are entitled to vote in all elections, while legal aliens have been given the right to vote in local elections.
The decisions to extend the local franchise to foreigners and to grant Belgian nationality virtually on demand were taken with the aim of countering the electoral surge of the Flemish-secessionist Vlaams Belang. As Leona Detiège, the Socialist Mayor of Antwerp, said in September 2000: “The VB is currently overrepresented as the immigrants are not allowed to vote.” In February 2001, Claude Eerdekens, the parliamentary leader of the governing Parti Socialiste, admitted that “99 % of the applications [for Belgian citizenship] made in Brussels are filed in French.” Indeed, in order to counter the demand for more autonomy on the part of the Flemings, the authorities have granted Belgian citizenship to as many French-speaking foreigners as possible. “We do more for the frenchification of Brussels than the Flemings can ever do to prevent it,” Eerdekens boasted.
Half of the 650,000 “new Belgians” were created since 2000, at an average of over 4,200 each month. Most of the “new Belgians” live in the major cities. Today only 29.5% of the population of Brussels are indigenous Belgians, 26.9% are legal aliens and 43.6% are “new Belgians” (the latter figure was 34.8% in 2003 – an increase of 8.8% in barely 4 years).
In Antwerp, the corresponding figures are 67.6%, 12.5% and 19.9% (15.6% in 2003). In Mechelen, 79.4%, 6.4% and 14.2% (10.9% in 2003). In Ghent, 79.0%, 7.8%, and 13.2% (10.7% in 2003). The figures were recently published by the leftist sociologist Jan Hertogen. Though Hertogen is an outspoken opponent of the Vlaams Belang he has been reprimanded for publishing the figures by the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (CEOOR), a government organisation.
Since immigrants (or “new Belgians”) are not likely to vote VB, the growing share of the immigrant vote affected the VB results in last June’s general elections. While the VB’s popularity continues to rise amongst the indigenous urban population, it fell in Brussels by 2.8% compared to the 2003 general elections. In Antwerp it fell by 2.1%, in Mechelen by 1%, and in Ghent by 0.6%.
The party’s gains in rural Flanders, where there are fewer immigrants, compensated the loss in urban areas. Brussels, however, appears to be lost territory. In 2009, the “capital of Europe” will have a foreign (“new Belgian”) electorate of 50%. Most of these “new Belgians” are non-Europeans. European bureaucrats, lobbyists, businessmen and expats generally do not apply for Belgian citizenship.
The growing share of the immigrant vote has begun to affect the positions adopted by Belgian politicians on various issues, from the wearing of headscarves to the Armenian genocide. On June 3rd, during the past election campaign, Ergün Top, a Turkish born Belgian politician who is a local councillor in Antwerp, declared that if there were a war between Belgium and Turkey, he would join the Turkish army and fight Belgium.
Top holds the Belgian as well as the Turkish nationality. He is a Muslim but belongs to the Christian-Democrat Party. He was standing for a seat in the Belgian Senate. During his campaign among Belgian voters of Turkish origin, he indicated that he feels more loyalty towards Turkey than towards Belgium. The message was well received by his audience, who feel the same. Mr Top said that he approves of Cemal Cavdarli, a Socialist member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives who went to serve in the Turkish army while he was a member of parliament in Belgium.
Ergün Top is a top advisor of Yves Leterme, the leader of the Belgian Christian-Democrats and Belgium’s likely next Prime Minister. Top prides himself on influencing Leterme’s position on the Armenian genocide. According to Top the 1915 killings of Armenians by the Turkish army do not constitute a genocide. Up to 1.5 million Armenian citizens perished in the killings, but Turkey refuses to take responsibility for what happened.
In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Zaman, Mr Leterme said that he refuses to use the word “genocide” to refer to the 1915 killings, because “international experts disagree on the historical facts.” To the Belgian newspaper De Morgen Leterme explained: “As a politician it is not wise to talk about a genocide until the experts agree on a pronouncement. I am not the only one to take this position. I have nothing more to add.” Two days later, however, indignant politicians pressed Leterme during a parliamentary debate to concede that he does “not doubt the Armenian genocide.”
Apart from the Turks, almost all international experts agree that a genocide of the Armenians took place in 1915. In France (where there are many citizens of Armenian origin) it is a criminal offence to publicly deny the 1915 Armenian genocide. Not so, however, in Belgium with its many “new Belgians” of Turkish origin. Like Mr Leterme, Johan Vande Lanotte, the leader of the Flemish Socialist Party, refuses to apply the word “genocide” to the 1915 mass killings. Vande Lanotte said the issue is “extremely sensitive.”
The same holds for Wouter Bos, the Labour leader in the Netherlands, who during the run up to the November 2006 Dutch general elections, spoke of the Armenian “issue” rather than genocide in order not to antagonize the electorate of “new Dutchmen” of Turkish origin.
Earlier this month, Bos’s Dutch Labour party (PvdA) tried to silence Ehsan Jami, a Muslim apostate who is a local PvdA councillor in Leidschendam-Voorburg. The 22 year old Jami intends to establish an international organization of ex-Muslims. An internal memo [pdf], sent to Labour parliamentarians and ministers, shows that the party fears that Jami’s campaign will cause it electoral damage and enrage Muslims. The party wants Jami to consider the fact that his initiative will go down badly with the PvdA’s immigrant following. The Dutch press revealed that Jami received hate mail from PvdA executives.
Belgian and Dutch Parties Try to Put Genie Back in the Bottle, 12 October 2006