Pillarisation (verzuiling in Dutch) is a term used to describe the politico-denominational segregation of Dutch and Belgian society. These societies were (and in some areas, still are) "vertically" divided into several segments or "pillars" (zuilen, singular: zuil) according to different religions or ideologies.

These pillars all had their own social institutions: their own newspapers, broadcasting organisations, political parties, trade unions, banks, schools, hospitals, universities, scouting organisations and sports clubs. Some companies even hired only personnel of a specific religion or ideology. This led to a situation where many people had no personal contact with people from another pillar. Austria, Israel, Lebanon, Malta, Northern Ireland might be other territories where similar phenomena could be observed.[citation needed]


The Netherlands

In the Netherlands there were (at least) three pillars: Protestant, Catholic and Social-democratic. Almost all Catholics were part of the Catholic pillar. Orthodox and conservative Protestants joined the Protestant pillar, Industrial Workers and Jews were part of the Socialist pillar, while more latitudinarian Protestants, atheists and Orangists were pillarless. The Protestant party Christian Historical Union did not organise a pillar of its own but linked itself to the Protestant pillar shaped by the Anti Revolutionary Party. Pillarisation was originally initiated by the Anti Revolutionary Party, who based it on their philosophy of sphere sovereignty. People in the Socialist pillar were mainly working class. People who were not associated with one of these pillars, mainly middle and upper class latitudinarian Protestants and atheists set up their own pillar: the general pillar. Ties between general organisations were a lot weaker. The political parties usually associated with this pillar were the liberal Free-minded Democratic League (VDB) and Liberal State Party (LSP), although these parties opposed pillarisation. Communists, Humanist and ultra-orthodox Protestants also set up similar organisations; however, such groups were a lot smaller.

Institutions by pillar

The following table shows the most important institutions by pillar:

  Protestant Catholic Socialist General
Political Party before 1945 ARP (from 1879; gereformeerd);
NP/National Party (1888–1897; hervormd);
CHK (1897–1903; hervormd);
VAR (1898–1903; hervormd);
CHP (from 1903; hervormd);
FB (1898–1908; Fryslân hervormd);
CHU (from 1908; hervormd);
SGP (from 1918; from 1908; bevindelijk gereformeerd);
HGS (from 1921; anti-roomse hervormd)
AB (1904–1926);
RKSP (from 1926)
SDB (1881–1900; Socialist);
SDAP (from 1894; Guild Socialist);
CPN (from 1909; Comunist);
SP (1918–1929; Libertarian socialist);
RSP (1929–1935; Left communist);
OSP (1932–1935; Revolutionary socialist);
RSAP (1935–1940; Council communist)
LU (1885–1921; mainstream Freethinking);
BVL/Free Liberals (1906–1921; old Freethinking);
EB (1917–1921; free-market Freethinking);
NP/Neutral Party (1918–1921; Artists Freethinking);
MP (1918–1921; Middle Class Freethinking);
LSP/Freedom League (from 1921; right-wing Freethinking);
RB/Radical League (1892–1901; progressive Freethinking);
VDB (from 1901; left-wing Freethinking);
LP (1922–1925; positivist Freethinking);
VV (1925–1926; nationalist Freethinking);
NSB (1932–1945; national socialist Freethinking)
Political Parties after 1945 ARP (until 1977);
CHU (until 1977);
CDA (from 1977; oecumenisch);
PU (1946–1988; anti-roomse hervormd);
GPV (1948–2000; gereformeerd vrijgemaakt);
RPF (1977–2000; protestants);
CU (from 2000; gereformeerd/evangelisch/protestants);
KVP (until 1977);
CDA (from 1977; oecumenisch)
PvdA (from 1945; Social-democratic);
CPN (until 1989);
PSP (1957–1989; Anti-War Left Socialist);
PPR (1968–1989; Christian Socialist);
GL/GreenLeft (from 1989; Eco-socialism);
SP. (from 1971; State Socialist);
NCPN (from 1992; Utopian Socialist)
PvdV (1946–1948; Humanist Freethinking);
VVD (from 1948; Conservative Freethinking);
D66 (from 1966; Liberal Freethinking));
NVU (from 1971; Great Dutch Freethinking);
ToN (from 2007; National Conservative Freethinking)
broadcasting organisation NCRV (Dutch Christian Radio Association);
VPRO (Free Protestant Radio Broadcasting Organisation);
EO (Evangelic Broadcasting);
IKON (Interdenominational Broadcasting Netherland);
ZvK (Airtime for Churches)
KRO (Catholic Radio Broadcasting Organisation);
RKK Omroep (Roman Catholic Communion Broadcasting)
VARA (Association of Workers' Radio Amateurs);
NPS (Dutch Programme Corporation);
LLiNK Omroep (Left Broadcasting)
NPO (Dutch Public Broadcasting);
AVRO (General United Radio Broadcasting Organisation);
RVU (Radio Folk's University);
NRU (Dutch Radio Union);
RNW (Radio Netherlands Worldwide);
NTS (Dutch Television Corporation);
VRON (Free Radio Broadcasting Netherland);
NOT (Dutch Educational Television);
Teleac (Television Academy);
TROS (Television & Radio Broadcasting Organisation);
NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Corporation);
HOS (Humanist Broadcasting Foundation);
Zomer-TV (Summer-TV);
Wereldomroep TV (World Broadcasting TV);
BNN (Flagrant News Network);
BVN Omroep (The best of Flanders and Netherland Broadcasting);
Omroep MAX (Maximum Broadcasting);
POWNED (Sane Netherland And Such Public Broadcasting);
WNL Omroep (Awake Netherland Broadcasting)
Youth Movements ARJOS (gereformeerd);
CHJO (hervormd);
JG (anti-roomse hervormd);
CDJA (non-denominational);
GPJC (gereformeerd vrijgemaakt);
RPFj (Protestant);
PerspectieF (Protestant);
SGPJ (bevindelijk gereformeerd)
KVP (until 1977);
CDA (from 1977; oecumenisch)
PvdA (from 1945; Social-democratic);
CPN (until 1989);
PSP (1957–1989; Anti-War Left Socialist);
PPR (1968–1989; Christian Socialist);
GL/GreenLeft (from 1989; Eco-socialism);
SP. (from 1971; State Socialist);
NCPN (from 1992; Utopian Socialist)
Jeugdstorm (National Socialist Freethinking);
JOVD (Conservative Freethinking);
JD (Liberal Freethinking);
GJN (Great Dutch Freethinking);
JT (National Conservative Freethinking)
Unions CNV (Christian National Union);
NWV Patrimonium (gereformeerd)
NKV (Dutch Catholic Union) (until 1976; FNV) NVV (Dutch Alliance of Unions) (until 1976; FNV) ANWV (General Dutch Workers' Unions)
Employers PCW NKW none VNO
Newspapers De Standaard (gereformeerd);
Friesch Dagblad (Fryslân gereformeerd);
Trouw (gereformeerd);
Nederlands Dagblad (vrijgemaakt);
Reformatorisch Dagblad (gereformeerd)
Volkskrant Het Vrije Volk Staatscourant (Public journal);
Algemeen Handelsblad (until 1970);
Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant (until 1970);
NRC Handelsblad (from 1970);
De Telegraaf;
Schools "School with bible"(Protestant oriented school), Protestant Education Roman Catholic School Free Schools, Public Schools Public Schools
Universities Protestantse Theologische Universiteit (hervormd);
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (gereformeerd);
Theological University of the Christian Reformed Churches (bevindelijk gereformeerd);
Theologische Universiteit (vrijgemaakt)
Radboud Universiteit;
Katholieke Universiteit Brabant
State-sponsored universities;
Universiteit voor Humanistiek;
Nyenrode Business Universiteit
Hospitals Green/Orange Cross White/Yellow Cross Green Cross
Sport clubs NCSU;
Recreation (examples) Saturday football, Weekend rugby Sunday football Dancing Schools, Sunday football, Korfball Folk dancing, Weekend rugby, Hockey, Weekend football


After World War II liberals and socialists, but also Protestants and Catholics, began to doubt the pillarised system. They founded a unity movement, the People's Movement Nederlandse Volksbeweging. Progressives of all pillars (including the Catholic resistance movement Christofoor) were united in this. They wanted a breakthrough (doorbraak) of the political system. But pillarisation was ingrained in Dutch society, and could not be defeated that easily. Even the People's Movement suffered from this, it was associated with the socialist party, SDAP, and its ideology was socialism combined with democratic principles. Only the left liberal VDB and the minor Protestant CDU joined the SDAP to form a new political party: the Labour Party, Partij van de Arbeid in 1946.

During the 1960s these pillars, particularly under political criticism from D66 and the group Nieuw Links (New Left) in PvdA, largely broke down. For example, over time VPRO moved towards the general pillar. Television was also pillarised, but in its early years (the 1950s) it had only one station, which meant that everyone watched the same broadcasts. Young people did not want to be associated with these organisations. Because of this and of increased mobility, many people saw that people from the other pillar were not that different from themselves. Increased wealth and education made people independent of many of these institutions. From 1973, ARP and CHU of the Protestant pillar united with Catholic KVP in CDA, they first entered in elections in 1977. From 1976, the Catholic trade union NKV cooperated with NVV of the Socialist pillar to merge into the FNV in 1982.

By the 21st century, the "total" pillarisation of society has disappeared but many remnants can be seen: public television for instance is divided over several pillarised organisations, instead of being one organisation, as is the education system, split between public and religious schools. Moreover, there are small pillars that still exist today. Members of the Reformed Churches (liberated) have their own (primary and secondary) schools, their own national newspaper, and some other organizations, such as a labor union. Members of several pietist Reformed Churches have also founded their own schools, newspaper and political party. Increasingly, Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands are also using the possibilities of the pillarized structure of society, by setting up their own schools.


Pillarisation in Belgium was very similar, although there was no Protestant pillar. Also there was no "general" pillar, but a politically well-organised liberal pillar. In both Flanders and Wallonia, societies are pillarised. In Flanders, Catholics were the dominant pillar, in Wallonia the Socialists were. Even though the liberals are stronger in Belgium (particularly in Brussels) than in the Netherlands, they are still relatively weak, due to their rather small, bourgeois support: liberal trade unions are very small. De Tijd, a financial daily, is the newspaper aligned with the liberals. This is due to its readers only, not to editorial policies. However, a Flemish newspaper with historical liberal roots, Het Laatste Nieuws, also exists.

Denominational (many Catholic and a few Jewish) schools receive some public money, although not parity of funding as in the Netherlands, so that tuition is almost completely free. Belgian universities charge more or less the same, relatively low, tuition fees.

As a consequence of the language struggle in the latter half of the twentieth century, the pillars split over the language issue that became the most significant divisive factor in the nation. Now every language group has three pillars of its own. The pillar system was the primordial societal divide much longer in Belgium than it was in the Netherlands. Only near the end of the Cold War did it begin to lose importance, at least at the individual level, and to this day it continues to influence Belgian society. For example, even the 1999–2003 "Rainbow Coalition" of Guy Verhofstadt was often rendered with the terms of pillarisation. Political currents which rose in late 20th century (Vlaams Blok, now Vlaams Belang, AGaLev and the Arab European League (AEL)), did not attempt to build pillars.

Pillarisation was visible even in everyday social organisations such as musical ensembles, sport clubs, recreational facilities, etc. Although weakened in the contemporary situation, many major social organisations (trade unions, cooperatives, etc.) still strictly follow the lines of pillars.

Institutions by pillar with their ethnic divisions

The following table is limited to the most important institutions and it shows the current division of everyone by the three ethnic groups.

  Flemish Catholic Walloon Catholic German Catholic Flemish Socialist Walloon Socialist German Socialist Flemish Liberal Walloon Liberal German Liberal
Political Parties before 1945 Catholic Party Catholic Party Catholic Party Belgian Labour Party Belgian Labour Party Belgian Labour Party PVV/PRL PVV/PRL PVV/PRL
Political Parties between 1970 and 1995 CVP PSC CSP SP.A PS SP PVV PRL PFF
Political Parties after 1995 CD&V CDH CSP SP.A PS SP VLD MR PFF
Trade Unions ACV;
CSC Boerenbond ABVV FGTB none ACLVB CGSLB none
Health Insurance Christelijke Mutualiteit Mutualité chrétienne Christlichen Krankenkasse Socialistische Mutualiteit Mutualité socialiste Sozialistische Krankenkasse Liberale Mutualiteit Mutualité Libérale Freie Krankenkasse
Hospitals White/Yellow Cross Christian Fund Christian Fund (Center for) Homecare Socialist Fund Socialist Fund Solidarity for the Family Liberal Fund Liberal Fund
Aid agencies Caritas Vlaanderen Caritas en Belgique Francophone-Deutschsprachiges Belgien Caritas en Belgique Francophone-Deutschsprachiges Belgien FOS-Socialistische Solidariteit Solidarité Socialiste-FCD FCD none none none
Newspapers De Standaard;
Gazet van Antwerpen;
Het Volk;
Het Belang van Limburg;
Het Nieuwsblad
La Libre Belgique Grenz-Echo Vooruit (until 1978);
Volksgazet (until 1978);
De Morgen (since 1978)
none none Het Laatste Nieuws;
De Tijd
Le Soir none
Cultural Associations Davidsfonds none none Vermeylenfonds none none Willemsfonds none none
Schools Flemish Secretariat for Catholic Education (Catholic Schools), Flemish Association of Catholic Colleges Catholic Schools Catholic Schools Public Schools Public Schools Public Schools Public Schools, Non-denominational private schools Public Schools, Non-denominational private schools Public Schools, Non-denominational private schools
Youth organizations KVHV;
Katholische Academische Verbindung Leuven;
Jeunes cdH
Die Junge Mitte;
Rode Valken;
Animo Jong Links
Les Jeunes Réformateurs
Major Universities Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Université catholique de Louvain none Rijksuniversiteit Gent University of Liège none Vrije Universiteit Brussel Université Libre de Bruxelles none
Other Universities Universiteit Antwerpen;
Industriële Hogeschool Brabant;
Vlaams Verbond van Katholieke Hogescholen
Université de Namur;
Facultés Universitaires Catholiques de Mons;
Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis
none Trans-Universiteit Limburg Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux none Erasmus Hogeschool Université de Mons none
Institutes of Higher Education Flanders Business School;
Antwerp Management School;
Instituut voor Ontwikkelingsbeleid en beheer;
Institute of Transport and Maritime Management Antwerp
Institut Catholique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales none Vlaams Instituut voor de Logistiek none none Vesalius College;
Instituut voor Tropische Geneeskunde;
Ecole Supérieure des Arts du Cirque none
Banks Volksdepositokas Spaarbank Dexia Dexia Bank van De Post Banque de La Poste Bank von der Post Generale Bankmaatschappij Générale de Banque Generale Bank
Sport clubs Sporta;
Gym & Dans Vlaanderen
none none AVB (1919–2000);
FROS (1976–2000);
VASCO (1993–2000);
FROS Amateursportconfederatie vzw (since 2000)
none none none none none


See more about Austrian Verzuilling in the Proporz article The Austrian version of Verzuilling is the doctrine Proporz (diminutive of Proportionalität, German Proportionality) long standing doctrine, first, only within the politics second Austrian republic but later, degenerated into a neo-corporavist system of patronage and nepotism pervading too many aspects of Austrian life. The Proporz was created, developed and promoted by the two mainstream parties, the catholic Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the social-democratic Socialist Party of Austria, since 1991 Social Democratic Party of Austria (both names as SPÖ). This de facto two-parties system collapsed by the elections of 1999, which resulted in the joining of the national-conservative Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), whose political margination and that of its predecessor, the Federation of Independents (VdU), was the main reason for the establishment of the Proporz policy, because of their pro-German and individualist views.

The Proporz system arose out of the need for balanced, consensual governance in the early years of Austria's second republic. At that time, the country was consumed in an effort to rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II. Thus, the doctrine of Proporz is intimately linked to the idea of the grand coalition, in which the major political parties, in the case of post-war Austria the SPÖ and the ÖVP, share in the government.

At first it was decided that the occupation of federal political positions by either members of the two big parties be according to the proportionally of the number of seats of each party in the Nationalrat, but soon this policy was repeated at a Länder policy; then it was decided that civil service, military, trade unions and even economy and state businesses positions had to be occupied by members of the two big parties, proportionally of the results of their in the Nationalrat (if it was a Federal position) or in the Ladtag (if it was a Land one). Afterward, this policy reach the policy of membership in every type of association: sport clubs, culture groups, motoring organizations, folk music brotherhoods... converting them in bichephal ones, divided in two parts (a Catholic and a Social-democratic), if not two ones. Even the public broadcasting ORF was divided between ideological fences (radio station Ö2 and TV channel FS1 were Catholic-oriented, whereas Ö1 and FS2 were the Social-democratic ones). This system was popular in the post-war period, however from the 1980s, people’s perceptions and opinions changed strongly. The old Proporz system, where basically the SPÖ and the ÖVP would divide everything up between them, was increasingly seen as outdated and even undemocratic. Because both parties always had an absolute majority in parliament, no effective opposition could ever exist. Almost second Austrian republic governments have been ÖVP-SPÖ Coalition, which resulted in a situation that some political position were almost property of each party and occupied by a member of this one, according on the basis of its constituency or any perceived ideological mandate to them. For example, Minister for Labour and Social Relations was nearly always held by a member of the (SPÖ), while the ÖVP, with traditionally strong support from farmers, took the Ministry which controlled agriculture and forestry.

As voters’ frustration with the old system grew, the FPÖ under the young and dynamic party chairman Jörg Haider (who as Governor of Carinthia, revoke Proporz policies in the Land) was able to ride the wave of discontent and win votes in every parliamentary election. The FPÖ had its core support with the right wing, but was increasingly able to attract voters from the conservative ÖVP and even made inroads with traditional SPÖ voters who grew fed up with the grand coalitions and the old Proporz system.

A diversified media and the possibilities of modern information technology also hold the government to higher standards of transparency and accountability. Above all, there has been a sea change in the public's attitude to the practice and its willingness to confront it, getting the opportunity to cancel. Today, there is almost no trace of Proporz in Austria.

Institutions by pillar

  Social-democratic Catholic
Political Party before 1945 SDAPÖ (1888–1945) CS (1893–1945)
Political Parties after 1945 SPÖ (from 1945) ÖVP (from 1945)
Wireless Station Ö1 Ö2
TV Channel FS2 (since 1991: ORF2; since 2011: ORF zwei) FS1 (since 1991: ORF1; since 2011: ORF einz)
Alpine Clubs Friends of Nature Austrian Alpine Club
Automobil Clubs ARBÖ ÖAMTC
Unions FSG FCG
Student society AKS Schülerunion
University unions VSStÖ AG
Verbindung VSM MKV
Cultural associations Bund Sozialdemokratischer Akademikerinnen und Akademiker,Intellektueller, Künstlerinnen und Künstler Österreichischer Cartellverband
Employers SWV ÖWB
Tennants associations MVÖ MB
Newspapers Arbeiter-Zeitung;
Salzburger Tagblatt;
Neue Kärntner Tageszeitung;
Die Zukunft;
Der Standard
Die Furche;
Kleine Zeitung;
Die Presse;
Oberösterreichische Rundschau
Private University SFU KTU
EMS[disambiguation needed ] ASBÖ MHDA
Children aid agencies Kinderfreunde Österreich, Rote Falken Österreich Dreikönigsaktion, Kolpingwerk Österreich
Sport associations ASKÖ SPORTUNION
Youth associations SJÖ JVP
Pensioner associations PVÖ ÖSB
Recreation (examples) Soccer Football Skiing


Institutions by pillar

  Pro-Italian Self-determinationist
Political Parties before Independence Anti-Reform Party (1880–1885);
Partito Nazionale (1885);
Partito Nazionalista (1885–1921, 1926–1927);
Unione Politica Maltese (1921–1926);
Partito Democratico Nazionalista (1921–1926);
Partit Nazzjonalista (from 1927)
Partit Kostituzzjonali (1921–1953);
Camera del Lavoro (1921–1949);
Partit Laburista Malti (from 1949)
Political Party after Independence Partit Nazzjonalista Partit Laburista Malti (from 2008: Partit Laburista)
Trade Unions MGCU (from 1978: UHM) GWU
Holdings Media.Link Communications Rainbow Productions Limited (from 1990: ONE Productions Ltd)
Wireless Station Radio 101 Super One Radio (from 1997: One Radio)
TV Channel NET Television (Malta) Super One TV (from 1997: One TV)
Daily Newspapers In-Nazzjon L-Orizzont
Sunday Newspapers Il-Mument;
Lehen is Sewwa
Friday Newspapers Il-Mument Il-Helsien (from 1992: Kullħadd)
Tabloids Il-Gens L-Alternativa
Web Newspapers maltarightnow.com Maltastar.com (from 2007: One Media)
Travel agencies Associations of Returned Migrants One Travel
Mobile phone companies Maltacom p.l.c. (since 2007 GO Mobile) Mobisle Communications Ltd (since 2007 Redtouch Fone)
Hospitals Saint James Hospital Group Government Healthcare Service
Cultural Associations Maltese Heritage Foundation Strickland Foundation
Schools Catholic Schools Public Schools
Youth organizations MZPN FZL
University unions SDM GM

Northern Ireland

Institutions by pillar

  Unionist Nationalist
Political Parties UUP;
Sínn Féin;
Newspapers The Belfast Telegraph;
The News Letter
The Irish News;
Irish newspapers
Schools "Controlled" (State) schools Catholic ("Maintained") schools
Sports Cricket, Rugby Gaelic football, hurling;


  • Christophe de Voogd: "Histoire des Pays-Bas des origines à nos jours", Fayard, Paris, 2004

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