The Party of the People Versus the Cultural Elite: Populism and Nationalism in Flemish Radical Right Rhetoric about Artists



This article discusses the interplay between nationalism and populism in the Flemish
(North-Belgian), Vlaams Bloc/Vlaams Belang’s (VB), populist radical right rhetoric about expressive culture. Building on a discourse theoretical analysis of three extensive case studies (concerts against the VB, the opposition between the VB and the Flemish theatres, and the VB’s criticism of the Flemish National Songfest), and a number of other controversial moments the article shows that nationalist and populist discourse play different roles in VB rhetoric about expressive culture. Radical and exclusionary
nationalism is the ideological core of the VB’s views on culture and of its relationships
with artists. Populism is a strategy the party uses to position itself as the political
representative of the people, to present its nationalist demands as the will of the people, and to dismiss opposition to the party and its radical and exclusionary nationalist ideology as elitist.

The VB’s ‘positive’ populist strategy of associating with popular Flemish artists and genres, the article shows, has only had limited success. By contrast, the party’s ‘negative’ populist strategy of criticising artists as an elite has been instrumental in delegitimising the strong, mainly anti-racist, resistance from the part of artists against the VB. It has reduced artistic resistance to the VB and its ideology to support of the political elite. And it has presented artists themselves as an elite that is completely out of touch with the ordinary people who suffer from multicultural society. The VB’s nationalist-populist rhetoric about expressive culture has thus contributed to the construction of the antagonism that is central to its populist radical right politics: the antagonism between on the one hand the anti-Flemish and multiculturalist political, cultural, media, and intellectual elite and on the other hand the people and the radical and exclusionary Flemish nationalist VB as the party of the people.


NationalismPopulismRadical RightBelgiumCulture
  • Issue: 9
  • Page/Article: 70-91
  • DOI: 10.18573/j.2016.10043
  • Published on 1 Jun 2016