Lucky Little Countries?

Freer and richer than almost anywhere else in the world, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland would seem to have little to worry about. Yet all three have witnessed the rise of right-wing populist parties that are capitalizing on widespread resentment and fears.

AMSTERDAM – Western Europe’s small democracies have, on the whole, been exceptionally fortunate. Freer and richer than almost anywhere else in the world, countries such as Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland would seem to have little to worry about. This is why the world normally hears less about them than about Afghanistan, say, or Kosovo. Yet all three have been much in the news of late – and not for happy reasons.

The most successful political force in Switzerland today is Christoph Blocher’s Swiss People’s Party. The party’s propaganda material tells its story. A poster shows three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. And images of junkies and Muslim women in headscarves are contrasted in a promotional movie with idyllic pictures of Alpine scenery and efficient banks – the People’s Party’s Switzerland.

Vlaams Belang, the Flemish nationalist party, may not be the biggest party in Belgium, but it has done well in local elections. Like the Swiss People’s Party, Vlaams Belang feeds on popular resentment of immigrants – especially Muslim immigrants – of the European Union, and, of course, of the French-speaking Walloons, from whom the Flemish nationalists would like a divorce. This last sentiment is posing a serious threat to Belgium’s survival.

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