The democratisation of education in the Belgian/Flemish society of the 1960s resulted in people starting to value democracy as a way of organising themselves. They expressed this by getting involved in civil society organisations. Therefore it was no wonder that the rise of a radical right-wing party like Vlaams Blok (later called Vlaams Belang) (VB) in Flanders since the 1990s created a shock in Belgian society. Because of its anti-migration programme, the VB was regarded as a threat to democracy and its values. Party politics and the state authorities started in that period to consider the civil society as – in the words of some Flemish sociologists – “an instrument to bring people together (think ‘social cohesion’) and to fight against ‘alienation’ and ‘bitterness’” which had driven people into the arms of the VB.

Yet there have been tendencies in the last two decades, such as reduced financing by the government and an inclination towards a management model, which have stimulated the depoliticising of civil society. The civil society organisations nevertheless remain strong thanks to citizens who continue to engage themselves with the ideas of democracy and participation.