Who is Vlaams Belang leader Van Grieken?

The far right Vlaams Belang is the big winner of Sunday’s general election in Flanders.  Vlaams Belang leader Tom Van Grieken played a crucial role in this victory, but who is Tom Van Grieken?

The Vlaams Belang leader is 32 and the youngest of all Belgian party leaders.  He took over in 2014 and has brought a party that was in the doldrums back to life.

Van Grieken joined Vlaams Belang predecessor Vlaams Blok as a teenager. Tom’s dad is a former state police officer and at one time headed the public order and terrorism section of the Special Detection Squad. At work Tom’s father regularly heard how his son was arrested during demonstrations.

Van Grieken tells reporters he didn’t have a racist upbringing: “My mum was a florist.  My dad bought a Vlaams Belang party card the day he retired from the police.”

At the age of twenty Van Grieken was elected to the local council in Mortsel (Antwerp). He studies communication management at the Plantijn Hogeschool in Antwerp where he becomes the president of the Nationalist Student Union NSV. Under his leadership the far right NSV is recognised at several universities allowing it to collect subsidies.

After his studies he sets to work in the advertising world where he picks up a trick or two.  Soon he is elected as the president of the Vlaams Belang youth wing. In the party he embraces the hard line of Vlaams Belang supremo Filip Dewinter initiating controversial protests.  In 2012 a barbeque with halal meat is targeted and pork sausages are handed out.

In 2014 he becomes an MFP and is elected as Vlaams Belang leader. Van Grieken tries to soften the party’s far right image and invests in social media.  He is ambitious for his party and puts figures like Dries Van Langenhove of the far right Schild & Vrienden movement on the party’s list.

The party’s style too has changed: out go Flemish lion flags to be replaced by white flags with the party logo.

Now living in Schoten he’s got a girlfriend and enjoys rock concerts, football and basketball matches in his leisure time.

In Sunday’s election Vlaams Belang landed 23 seats in the Flemish Parliament (a gain of 17) that has 124 seats and 18 in the federal Chamber of Representatives (up 15) that has 150 seats.  As the party’s victory becomes clear Van Grieken asks supporters not to poke fun at other parties’ losses!