Loathing has long lurked beneath the surface of the liberal Dutch cultureby Joris Luyendijk / March 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Just three decades ago, the world considered the Netherlands a byword for tolerant self-confidence: a social laboratory for gay rights, soft drugs, regulated prostitution and euthanasia. The country’s most right-wing party, the liberal-conservative VVD, was well to the left of the US Democrats. Progressive Dutch intellectuals called their country the “guide-nation,” which was proving to the world that gay marriage and legal marijuana did not spell the end of civilisation. Instead, stable and prosperous, the country seemed like a happy model of freedom, diversity and multiculturalism.
Never did this self-image fit more snugly than on one sunny Saturday in June 1988 when, having beaten Germany in the semi-finals, our football squad beat an uninspired Soviet Union to win the European Championship. The team had key roles for Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Gerald Vanenburg. All three had Surinamese roots—the German and Soviet teams were entirely white. The multicultural Dutch played the more attractive football and won.
Zoom forward to 2017, and at first blush the Netherlands may seem like another land entirely. The left seems lost or deeply divided, all manner of new right-wing parties have sprung up; there is even a dedicated party for immigrants, Denk, that models its campaign on Donald Trump’s. All the campaigning ahead of the parliamentary elections in March showed that the PVV or Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, has dragged the country to the right.
But the idea of the Netherlands as a progressive guide-nation was always a caricature. The turn towards Wilders, whose Indonesian heritage is obscured by his bleached hair, is also more complex than it may look. He may support Trump, Brexit and be moving ever closer to Marine Le Pen, but he is less of a break with the past than you might think. For Dutch tolerance was never all it was cracked up to be.
The 1980s saw a slew of political violence. In 1985, anarchists nearly killed the Amsterdam mayor, Ed van Thijn, when they placed two bombs next to his bedroom. A year later, protesters torched the hotel where the far-right Centrum Democraten were convening. The leader’s partner lost her legs in the fire—yet Dutch parliamentarians ignored the incident. In 1991 another left-wing group bombed the house of Aad Kosto,…