What does cordon sanitary mean?

I find this a strange expression and can’t find it anywhere in any dictionary. To me this comes across as an exclusion but a bad form of it. Isn’t this discrimination?

Asker: Liliane, 44 years old


It is a term from medicine and literally means ‘protective ring’, a strategy to literally contain an epidemic.

In the political sense, it is indeed essentially about exclusion: in principle no coalitions are formed, sometimes no discussions, sometimes by mutual agreement, sometimes spontaneously. The term was first used in 1919 by French President Clemenceau, who wanted to use it to curtail Russian Bolshevism. It is not only used in the context of the VB, but also, for example, in the Netherlands: the former CD and to a lesser extent the current VVD, or during the Cold War. Left-wing parties were targeted in Italy and reunified Germany. In Spain, Basque and Catalan nationalists were excluded. In an extreme form in the Czech Republic, MPs left the room when Sladek’s Republicans were given the floor.

Discrimination is making an unlawful distinction. A cordon sanitaire means that a distinction is made between ‘to avoid’ and other partners, but the extent to which this distinction can be justified is a matter of debate. Certainly in the case of the VB, the right-wing often criticizes that such a cordon sanitaire is undemocratic and therefore unjust. A second, more unsuspecting criticism is that the cordon is inefficient and only makes the targeted party grow – something that has not always been the case in the course of history: sometimes it did work.

Answered by

dr. Karl Catteeuw

History of Upbringing and Education, Romanian, Music

Catholic University of Leuven
Old Market 13 3000 Leuven


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