The rise of right-wing parties in the Dutch elections brings to light long-running tensions around race and immigrationby Theodore Stone / March 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
The Netherlands prides itself as being synonymous with liberalism. To many, the term exemplifies the country’s social and political culture. Seen by many as the home of open-minded values and a leading light in the fight for social progress, the term “liberal” seems to sum up the country’s social and political culture.
Yet Wednesday’s municipal elections show a different story. Compare the above with the opening lines in the right-wing politician Geert Wilders’ latest video: “Islam is Terror. Islam is Misogyny.” Compare it with the campaign by the popular shock-blog GeenStijl’s, asking people to not “vote for the Muslim candidate” in an online poll for the country’s best councilor—and compare that with the racist abuse the candidate Ugbaad Kilincci had to experience during a campaign visit.
It seems that the liberal credentials that The Netherlands prides itself on may be wearing thin; the tolerance becoming complacent.
The signs have been there for over a decade. The Pim Fortuyn List (PFL), which rallied around the idea that Islam was incompatible with Dutch culture, stormed into Dutch politics in 2002, when, five days after the assassination of its leader Pim Fortuyn, it secured 17 per cent of the vote, 26 seats—and a coalition deal.
Openly gay, Fortuyn had argued that he was protecting tolerance, inspiring anti-immigration populism to start taking pages from liberalism. However, the party collapsed without him, and by 2003 it was in terminal decline.
Concerns grew in the 2017 elections that such an event may happen again, but whilst populism did once again emerge in second-place, it was with a lower vote share, fewer seats, and no place in government.
A year later, however, the fears have returned. Instead of Dutch nationalism going the way of UKIP, it has started reach record levels of popularity.
On Wednesday, the FvD gained three seats in the only city they ran in; Amsterdam, which was previously seen as immune to nativist charms. This might not seem like much—but they are now the most successful new party in Amsterdam in almost 50 years.
The PVV, meanwhile, made gains in several cities, including Rotterdam, Maastricht, and Enschede.
Both parties are anti-immigration and heavily Eurosceptic. Both have demanded policies such as hardline border control, and legislation such as a “Dutch Value Protection Act.”
Like the PFL, they see themselves as the ‘defenders of liberalism.’ When an FvD candidate for councillor was recently caught making homophobic remarks on WhatsApp, they were immediately dropped because it went against these alleged values (although questions remain as to how much was known privately.)
There are, of course, differences between the two. FvD Leader Thierry Baudet mixes a European high culture war with alt-right sentiments. With a background in academia and journalism, he plays a measured heir to Fortuyn.
He tries to portray himself in a more professional, academic, manner than Wilder’s gnashingly populist, proto-Trump persona, which rails against the “Islamization” of The Netherlands and “Moroccan scum.”
Yet these differences haven’t stopped Baudet from refusing to condemn comments from the FvD candidate Yernaz Ramautarsin, who claimed that there is a correlation between IQ and race, or from filing a report for defamation and slander against the Home Affairs Minister Kajsa Ollongren for taking him to task for it.
Nor has it stopped both parties railing against Islam in a country where one third of the population carry a suspicion of the religion, despite less than 5 per cent of residents identifying themselves as Muslim.
In this respect, they speak to an aspect of Dutch society which fits ill with the “bastion of progress” image.
The phenomenon of “black schools”—consisting almost entirely of migrant children—and the “white schools” of Dutch natives are just one of the symptoms of where the Dutch went wrong on integration.
Attempts to amend this mistake have only emerged in recent years, and whilst studies have concluded that social cohesion is not at risk of erosion, there remain problems in numerous parts of Dutch society.
Part of this populist motion is also down to geographic differences. As with Brexit and Trump, the cities have become where liberalism goes to survive.
Polling geographer Josse de Voogd found that the Catholic south, rural north-east, and declining industrial areas are all hotbeds for populism. The right essentially wins everywhere in The Netherlands—bar cities such as Utrecht and Amsterdam.
However, the FvD now has a foot in the door of the capital—something the PVV never had—and may now choose to run beyond the city gates.
What’s more, the ruling VVD has not ruled out a coalition with the FvD, and 2019 is now an open question. Both the European Parliament and the Dutch Senate are up for grabs, and if the PVV and FvD continue to poll competitively, then the Netherlands’ illiberal slide may have only just begun.
The Dutch State may have been founded on religious freedom, but don’t bet too much on its survival.