In Belgium, the incredible rise to power of Tom Van Grieken, the “Belgian Jordan Bardella” – L’Express

In Belgium the incredible rise to power of Tom Van

In France, he could present himself as the “Belgian Jordan Bardella”. There’s no need for Over-Quiévrain, everyone already knows it. Since the results of the legislative elections on June 9, the face of the Belgian far right, Tom Van Grieken, is more popular than ever. At the end of the federal vote which was held at the same time as the European vote, his party, Vlaams Belang, once again rose to second position by gathering almost 14% of the votes. And thus continues to narrow the gap that separates it from the Flemish nationalist party, N-VA, which came in first with 16.7% of the votes cast.

A hold-up which earned him the highest honors. This Tuesday morning, between two meetings, King Philippe of Belgium received the deputy from Antwerp. The interview lasted a little less than half an hour. The fact remains that this is a small departure from the tradition which requires the sovereign to receive the leaders of the first two political forces north and south of the linguistic border the day after the elections. Which are Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the MR, the first French-speaking party, and Bart De Wever at the head of the N-VA, the first Dutch-speaking political group.

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A former activist close to neo-Nazi circles

This meeting is, however, nothing new. Already in 2019, Tom Van Grieken had received an invitation from the palace, making him the first far-right leader to speak with the king since 1936. A guarantee of credibility for a character long perceived as unapproachable, due to of his anti-immigration ideas and proposals, but also of his past as an activist. Because in his youth, the now cantor of Flemish nationalism flirted with Nazi ideology.

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At the age of 18, for example, he paid tribute to Bert Eriksson, a neo-Nazi who joined the Hitler Youth of Flanders during the Second World War, and participated in repatriating the body of a collaborating priest. As recently as 2009, accompanied by a handful of students belonging to the NSV – Flemish nationalist student association – Tom Van Grieken threw rolls of toilet paper at people in an irregular situation. An operation called “papers for undocumented immigrants” which also tarnished the reputation of the leader of Vlaams Belang. Youthful blunders, he defended himself later.

RN-style de-demonization

Since then, Tom Van Grieken has taken care of his image, trying to correct its rough edges. This thirty-year-old with a slightly tanned complexion and always perfectly slicked-back brown hair works on social networks and on television sets to make Vlaams Belang sexy – whose ancestor is none other than Vlaams Blok, dissolved in 2004 as a result. of a conviction for “incitement to segregation and racism”. Born in 1986, he knew how to tame the platforms coveted by young people: not a day goes by without him posting on TikTok and Instagram.

This aggressive digital strategy is reminiscent of that of the president of the National Rally, Jordan Bardella, whose victory in the European elections led Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly on Sunday. The Belgian media do not ignore the parallels between these two rising stars. Last March, the RTBF humorously noted a first point in common: their “‘ideal son-in-law’ faces”.

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And twinning doesn’t stop at the envelope. Both managed to get elected as head of their party at less than 30 years old. Neither has been a member of any government, and has therefore based his popularity on the comfortable position of opponent. Finally, both see around them a galaxy of personalities with racist ideas, which sometimes undermine their work of demonization.

An entourage that leaves a mark

In France, the National Rally is embarrassed by ex-activists Frédéric Chatillon and Axel Loustau. In Belgium, Vlaams Belang has Tom Vandendriessche in its ranks. A MEP, fond of neo-Nazi references, who does not hesitate to use the pseudonym “Grossfaz” on social networks. A nickname which refers directly to Adolf Hitler: the Führer calling himself that by the Germans in the 1930s. But unlike the RN which distanced itself from the two former “gudards”, Tom Van Grieken continues to maintain close links with Vandendriessche. Many people even refer to him as the “right arm” of the nationalist leader.

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Last June, while he was leading the Vlaams Belang list for the European elections, the European Anti-Fraud Office opened an investigation into Vandendriessche for suspicion of embezzlement of European funds. The outgoing MEP will however not be worried by his party. Nor was Filip Dewinter, a Flemish MP suspected of having been paid by the Chinese Communist Party in return for lobbying activities. It must be said that Tom Van Grieken does not appreciate having his hand forced. Thus, he reluctantly separated from former Vlaams Belang senator Frank Creyelman, although he was the target of an investigation by the Belgian federal prosecutor for his alleged relations with a Chinese spy…