Artists versus the populist radical right in Belgium

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


Ever since the Flemish radical right party Vlaams Blok's (later Vlaams Belang, VB) massive electoral breakthrough in 1991, artists have been at the forefront of the resistance against the party. The VB itself has not been particularly prolific in its discourse about culture, but when it did speak it often caused strong reactions.
This paper presents a discourse-theoretical analysis of two cases when the VB and artists clashed. A first case study deals with the 2006 "0110 concerts for tolerance and against racism, extremism and gratuitous violence". A second case study focuses on the VB's criticism of the city theatres' un-Flemish, decadent and elitist programme.
Through a discourse-theoretical (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, Laclau 2005) reading of the literature about the populist radical right, three central concepts - people, elite, and nation - are identified that are crucial to the VB's nativist, populist, and authoritarian-conservative discourse (Mudde 2007). The paper analyses which definitions of people, elite, nation the VB constructs in its discourse about culture, and how artists contest, redefine and reproduce these definitions.
The paper shows how the struggle between the VB and artists exploits inherent tensions in liberal democracy. It then discusses competing definitions of the nation: an exclusive and closed one versus a more open and multi- or intercultural definitions. But it is the VB's populist claim on 'the people' that turns out to be the hardest to contest. The VB presents itself as the party of the people by juxtaposing itself to the progressive cultural elite. Theatre makers reject this populism, but have trouble escaping from it because of their position as part of the cultural elite. 0110 turns the VB's populism against the party because popular artists' performances at the event undermine the VB's claim on 'the people', but can only do this by reproducing the VB' opposition between leftist elite culture and the culture of 'the people'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeauty will save the world’: An Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Workshop on Art and Social Change, University of Bristol, 7-8 September 2010
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Sep 2010 → …


Period1/09/10 → …


  • Vlaams Belang
  • populism
  • discourse theory
  • discourse analysis
  • nationalism


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