Extreme-Right Parties Advance on Immigration Issue

Two years after being disbanded for "repeated incitement to discrimination," Belgium's far-right Vlaams Blok party has reemerged as Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). In October elections, it expanded significantly for the first time beyond its traditional base in Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city, where it won 33.5% of the vote. Party chairman Frank Vanhecke called the election a "landslide victory."

The Oct. 8 election saw the Vlaams Belang reach just over 20% of the vote in the 308 municipal councils of Flanders, the country's Dutch-speaking region. The anti-immigrant, Flemish separatist party has been accused of ties to neo-Nazi skinhead groups in Antwerp, the site of numerous hate attacks in recent months, including a shooting rampage last May that left two dead.

October elections in Austria also saw gains for the far right. Together, the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria's Future won more than 15% of the national vote -- a 50% rise since 2002. As in Belgium, anti-immigrant rhetoric dominated the parties' campaign strategy. Members of both parties have also expressed antipathy toward Israel and are known for their campaigns against Muslims living in Austria.