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Lucky Little Countries?

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.

Although the Dutch government is still managed mostly by mainstream, steady-as-you-go Christian Democrats, right-wing populism is growing. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party wants to ban the Koran, halt Muslim immigration, and deprive delinquents with an immigrant background of Dutch citizenship. The new Proud of the Netherlands Movement, led by Rita Verdonk, the former Minister of Integration, promotes a somewhat more respectable version of this hard line.