Belgians elect authoritarian leader

27 January 2023

Belgen verkiezen autoritaire leider

We live in a divided society in which a large majority of the population is increasingly self-absorbed, has less and less confidence in our democratic institutions and is open to authoritarian leadership. These are the most important, for me disturbing, findings of a large-scale survey among the Belgian population that Le Soir and RTBF published this week. The poly crisis with all its uncertainties increasingly leaves its mark on people's minds and their values. A wake-up call.

It is an important study that has unfortunately received hardly any attention in the Flemish media. It is important because, on the basis of a representative sample of the population, the undercurrents in our society that lie at the basis of important social trends today are measured.

The researchers note two important sociological tendencies that I myself have repeatedly touched on in this place in recent years. First of all, there is what they call the 'retribalisation': a strongly advanced form of tribalism, characterized by folding back on oneself, the family or the group. About 1 in 2 Belgians (52 percent, with hardly a difference between Flanders and Wallonia) belongs to this movement. They are won over to an authoritarian government and reject our democratic system in whole or in part. As a rule, they are over 35 years of age, they have an average education, and are confronted with increasing financial insecurity. They are afraid of one day ending up in poverty. They feel insufficiently protected by the existing social system and see little prospect of the future for themselves. They feel hostile to the society around them, they feel powerless and are furious with everything and everyone. They believe that it was all better in the past and they look for scapegoats. Especially the alleged elites have to pay the price (economically, financially, politically, media): 71 percent of Belgians believe that the elites should be abolished because they act against the interests of "real people like me".

The call for authoritarian leadership is particularly strong. As many as 69 percent of those surveyed believe that the country should be governed by a strong personality who understands the people and who should not take into account a parliament or elections. Nothing should be put in the way of this leader, according to a majority. The corona crisis, the increased lifespan and the war in Ukraine have only reinforced this tendency.

Opposite this mainstream is a second, much smaller group of citizens: the supporters of an "open society" (22 percent of the population). They are younger than 35 years old, they have a higher education and are more likely to live in Brussels than in Flanders or Wallonia. They are concerned that society is pulverizing, they are aware of the growing gap in society, but they are hopeful that they can bring things back together through a joint effort. They are convinced that they are in control of their own lives. They believe in the future they can build themselves. Where the 'tribals' passively undergo the world around them, the proponents of an open society want to actively work for a new and better world in different domains: economy, ecology, politics.

Finally, there is a third group of undecideds who commute between the two currents (26 percent).

The results of this study force us to face these undercurrents, understand them, and take them seriously. Do not look away from this reality, do not pour populist oil on the fire, but above all the urgency to provide positive, constructive answers to the fears and uncertainties of a large majority of the population. There is a war going on outside that must be won, but we must also work on rebuilding popular confidence. Even though the pandemic and inflation will soon be gone, and hopefully the war will soon come to an end, restoring confidence and believing in a better future will be a long-term work, a marathon, with many obstacles and pitfalls along the way. But there is no other way.

Via this link you can read the full research report 'Noir, jaune, blues...' consult in detail:
VFRapport Vague 3 (