The Dutch Freedom Party has shattered the politics of consensus with its blunt, populist anti-Islamic goals
IT COULD turn out to be one of the great ironies of Dutch politics that the very love of consensus on which its modern-day coalition governments are based becomes the door through which populist right-wing parties gain a permanent foothold – not just in the Netherlands but across Europe as well.
While the far right in Holland may be synonymous with Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV), Wilders’s political ambitions stretch far beyond the modest boundaries of the Netherlands – as the pan-European International Freedom Alliance, which he set up last year, illustrates.
The alliance has two goals: to “defend freedom” and to “stop Islam”, the inescapable message being that the first is possible only in tandem with the second. The aim is to bring together anti-Islam parties from as far afield as France, Germany, Britain, Canada and the US, with Wilders as their charismatic ideologue and leader.
In neighbouring Germany, the links are already being forged. Wilders travelled to Berlin last September for the inauguration of a new right-wing party called Die Freiheitor Freedom – a clear echo of his own Partij Voor De Vrijheidor Freedom Party.
Its leader, 45-year-old René Stadtkewitz – ejected shortly before from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – would dearly love to emulate Wilders’s domestic popularity. That’s why he’s supporting, for instance, Wilders’s demand for a €1,000 headscarf tax that would apply only to Muslim women.
Wilders also caused a storm of controversy in March when he succeeded in overturning a British home office ban on visiting Britain, and declared outside the houses of parliament that Islam and democracy were fundamentally incompatible.
In France, Marine Le Pen – leader of the National Front, founded by her father, Jean-Marie – agrees: “Without a concerted revolution, our civilisation is ultimately doomed.” However, she’s also regarded as being personally wary of Wilders’s expansionist inclinations.
But it’s at home in the Netherlands that Wilders – a Hague insider who used to work as a parliamentary aide to former European commissioner Frits Bolkestein, but who likes to characterise himself as an outsider – has shown his real political skill.
The politics of immigration is a dangerous business here. The gay right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn, who’d called Islam “a backward culture”, was assassinated during the 2002 general election.
The film director Theo Van Gogh, great-grandnephew of the artist, was assassinated in 2004, having just completed a film about the assassination of Fortuyn.
Van Gogh had also worked with writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali to produce the movie Submission, which was critical of the treatment of women under Islam.
Now, Fortuyn and Van Gogh are dead. Hirsi Ali – once named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on the world – is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, having quit Holland because of death threats.
The ground has been left entirely to Geert Wilders, and he is thriving on it. The general election last June was his most important success to date.
Wilders succeeded in bringing his party home third, with 15 per cent of the vote, behind the Liberals (VVD) and the Labour Party (PvdA), punishing outgoing prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende by forcing his Christian Democrats into an unprecedented fourth place.
Although the Liberals and the Christian Democrats finally got together to form a new coalition government last October, they remain in power only with the support from the sidelines of Wilders and the Freedom Party – whose influence on the programme for government is clear and wide-ranging.
The programme includes measures to ban the burka, to reject a higher proportion of asylum applications, to halve immigration from non-western countries, to bar radical religious leaders from entering the country, to make language and citizenship classes obligatory for immigrants applying for residence permits, and to fast-track the expulsion of immigrants convicted of crimes.
Beyond the issue of immigration, there are also proposals to close Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops – where cannabis can be sold and consumed legally – to foreign tourists; to beef up the police; and to take a harder line on the expanding powers of the European Union.
Wilders’s success in the general election and in the provincial elections since has been a wake-up call for the mainstream parties, which are already repositioning themselves in response, says Dr Paul Nieuwenburg, associate professor at Leiden University’s Institute of Political Science.
"What we are seeing is a gradual move away from the more liberal aspects of democracy, such as the protection of civil rights, for example," Dr Nieuwenburg told The Irish Times.
“Specifically, Wilders and the PVV are forcing the Liberal Party here to move to the right and to become more of a law-and-order party than a party espousing traditional liberal values.
“Of course, this is going on in other European countries as well.”
Hans Overbeek, professor of international relations at the Free University in Amsterdam, agrees.
“Ironically, as immigration becomes less important – in part because of tighter legislation over the past 20 years – the rhetoric has become louder,” he says.
The rhetoric is indeed becoming louder. But is anybody listening? That's the frustrated question posed by Rob Rieman, director of the Nexus Institute at Tilburg University, whose book The Eternal Return of Fascism (De Eeuwige Terugkeer Van Het Fascisme), published last year, compares Wilders's views with the early incarnations of European fascism.
Rieman points out that in times of economic crisis, reactionary figures such as Wilders can expand their power bases more rapidly as a result of popular disaffection, while centrist politicians too often stand politely by, refusing to call a spade a spade.
This, he acknowledges, is the downside of Holland’s “polder” model of political consensus-building, so-called because of the fact that with so much of the Netherlands below sea level, groups with opposing interests have since the Middle Ages been obliged to set aside their differences to maintain the polders (ie fields) and prevent the country being flooded.
Because of this natural tendency towards consensus, confrontation is often regarded as “un-Dutch”, and political disagreement is acceptable only when expressed in a collegiate manner.
So while the mainstream dithers, argues Rieman, Wilders goes from strength to strength, managing with apparent ease to take a right-wing stance on socio-cultural issues such as immigration and a left-wing stance on issues such as the government’s response to the banking crisis and the global economic downturn.
A good example, says Leiden University’s Nieuwenburg, was the recent controversy over the substantial 2010 annual bonus – around €1.25 million – due to be paid to the chief executive of ING Bank, Jan Hommen.
“Wilders and the PVV demanded that a 100 per cent tax be levied on that bonus. Although none of the other parties had suggested anything similar, they then felt they had no option but to support the PVV proposal, for fear of looking soft on high-earning bankers whose banks had been bailed out by the taxpayer,” he said
This was classic Wilders. While the coalition parties hummed and hawed, he cast himself as the man of action, leaving them flailing around in his wake.
“In Dutch politics, traditional allegiances have been breaking down,” says Nieuwenburg.
“As a result, an increasing number of people are what you might call protest voters. And those protest voters typically gave their support to the Socialist Party.
“Wilders has been very cunning at attracting those protest voters away from the Socialists to the PVV.
“And, of course, they would typically not be supporters of a multicultural society.
“In fact, in Holland, multiculturalism is all too often regarded as one of the hobbies of the elite.”
GEERT WILDERS IN HIS OWN WORDS
"Take a walk down the street and see where this is going. You no longer feel like you are living in your own country. There is a battle going on and we have to defend ourselves. Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches!
Islam is the Trojan horse in Europe. If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time . . . We are heading for the end of European and Dutch civilisation as we know it.
If it ever may come to racial riots, which I really don’t want, then this doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative result.
I am not denying anyone the right to family life. Including non-western immigrants. They can marry, they can live together. Just not in the Netherlands.
Many fundamental problems in the Netherlands are ultimately directly connected to migrants, such as infrastructure, traffic jams, housing problems and the welfare state.
I don’t believe that cultures are equal. Our culture is much better than the retarded Islamic culture.
You can only answer intolerance with intolerance, there is no other way, my friends. That might not be pleasant, not politically correct. But if you don’t want to be eaten yourself, you will have to eat the other."