Vlaams Blok boss visits Rotterdam

Searchlight, november 2003

Filip Dewinter, boss of the far-right Belgian Vlaams Blok paid a sneak "working" visit to Rotterdam at the end of September.

Dewinter's trip was made at the invitation of Michiel Smit's Nieuw Rechts (New Right) organisation. Smit is a former Rotterdam city councillor for Leefbaar Rotterdam, the local arm of the late Pim Fortuyn's populist movement.

Anti-fascists contributed to Smit's removal from Leefbaar Rotterdam by exposing his contacts with known ultra-rightists like the former Nederlands Blok leader Wim Vreeswijk and his activities on the nazi internet forum Stormfront, where Third Reich fetishism, swastikas and anti-Semitism are salient features.

September was a very busy month for Smit and his Nieuw Rechts playmates. On 11 September, they held a 50-strong demonstration in Rotterdam to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks in the USA two years ago and to campaign against the alleged support of Muslim organisations in the Netherlands for terrorism.

The organising committee for the demonstration consisted of a motley crew of people from the Jonge Fortuynisten, the youth wing of the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), some right-wing conservatives from internet fora like "Freedom of Speech", the Friends of Fortuyn - a group that gained infamy for is mock "hanging" of Volkert van der Graaf outside his trial for Fortuyn's murder - and, last but not least, the fascist New National Party (NNP).

The open cooperation between the young Fortuynistas and splinter groups like Nieuw Rechts is remarkable and shows clearly that the LPF's leadership has lost control to such an extent that the far-right element in the party feels free to do what it wants.

In August, LPF leader Mat Herben warned Smit, still an active LPF member, not to compromise the LPF by hooking up with the Vlaams Blok. The warning did not come out of thin air, Smit having visited the Vlaams Blok and attended an international meeting of Movimento Giovani Padani, the youth organisation of the Lega Nord, and the Sweden Democrats in Malmö in June and July.

The Vlaams Blok, and especially Filip Dewinter, has never hid their admiration for Fortuyn and, after the victory of Leefbaar Rotterdam in the March 2002 elections, immediately established Leefbaar Antwerpen.

Dewinter also revealed, earlier this year, on Dutch television that he had had telephone conversations with Fortuyn and that they had agreed to meet after an LPF victory in last year's parliamentary elections which would probably have made Fortuyn prime minister had he not been murdered in the run up to the poll.

The Vlaams Blok has continued to flaunt its esteem for Fortuyn, claiming that he "breached political correctness in the Netherlands". On 6 May, a Vlaams Blok delegation laid a wreath at the Belgian-Dutch border to pay tribute to Fortuyn and to honour his political legacy. Smit and Rob Verreycken, a Vlaams Blok city councillor in Antwerp, also want to erect a statue of Fortuyn in the city.

By the end of September, then, the time was ripe for Dewinter to make a further "secret" and maximum security visit to the Netherlands. Indeed, his latest appearance marks the sixth occasion on which he has parleyed with Dutch right-wingers on Dutch soil.

On his first trip, in 1988, he wanted to hold a public meeting together with the ultra-right Centrum Democrats (CD) but ended up being arrested immediately when he tried to make a speech through a megaphone from the house window of a CD member in Dordrecht.

On another visit in 1997, the Vlaams Blok was able to stage a press conference in a private room in the village of Woerden, with the fascist strong-arm squad Voorpost taking care of security, and, a year later, he spoke to a group of Dutch right-wingers, advising them to take a break for at least eight years before trying to get back on the parliamentary circuit.

Dewinter's endeavours, from the early 1990s onwards, have been mainly devoted to trying to unite the extreme right in the Netherlands but his efforts were frequently thwarted by the capriciousness of the CD's boss, the late Hans Janmaat.

Dewinter's last visit to the Netherlands, a trip to Amsterdam in September 2001 to take part in a live TV discussion programme Buitenhof together with Johan Leman of the Brussels-based Centre for Equal Rights and the liberal right wing Dutch parliamentarian Henk Kamp, a man notorious for his outbursts against refugees was hardly auspicious.

Indeed, events rapidly went pear-shaped when Dewinter was confronted by anti-fascists before the broadcast and had his car smashed up with him still in it. It was later revealed that Dewinter had been preparing himself for the televised debate by reading the book My father, Rudolf Hess in the car.

Nor did his problems end when he entered the TV studio because, during the programme, he was drenched in chocolate sauce to give him the brown image he rightly deserves. No sooner than studio staff hurriedly cleaned him up, anti-fascist demonstrators used firecrackers to drown him out for several minutes.

After the show, a very scared but incandescently furious Dewinter was forced to beat a retreat from Amsterdam in a police van - his car wrecked, his suit ruined and his image damaged - to rendezvous with the Dutch branch of Voorpost, which escorted him home to Antwerp.

Now, two years on, Dewinter turned up with an entourage of security men and Vlaams Blok parliamentarians who accompanied him on a "walkabout" in Rotterdam, a city they see as the sister of Antwerp, both having a big harbour, heavy unemployment and large immigrant populations.

Joop van Heijgen, then still a councillor of Leefbaar Rotterdam and Florens van der Kooi, the NNP chairman and a councillor in the Rotterdam district of Feijenoord acted as tour guides for the Vlaams Blok tourists.

In interviews with the press, Dewinter and his host Smit raged against the construction of a new mosque in the city and Dewinter went out of his way to praise Nieuw Rechts' work. He also expressed surprise at the public debate Leefbaar Rotterdam had initiated about measures to stop the influx of foreigners into the city. "We are not ready for that in Antwerp yet," he said.

Van Heijgen quickly switched from Leefbaar Rotterdam to Nieuw Rechts after Dewinter's visit, claiming that he found the ideas of Leefbaar Rotterdam "too soft". His change of party loyalties is important because the coalition between Leefbaar Rotterdam, the conservatives and the liberals has now lost its majority on the city council, handing casting votes and, thus, more power to Smit and van Heijgen.

Following the twin successes of Dewinter's visit and his launch of a local newspaper Nieuws uit Rotterdam Smit has won some respect from the Fortuynistas and other right wingers but remains a controversial political solo artist whose his politics pull him in all directions.

Despite this, he seems to be the only rightwing currently capable of organising anything, although his pro-Israeli stance is not popular among other right-wing extremists, especially the NNP, a party that has still some influential anti-Semites in its ranks.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! in Utrecht