Tough Campaign for elections

Searchlight, February 2003

In the campaign for the 22 January Dutch parliamentary elections, there are as many are 20 seats to be reclaimed for the mainstream parties as the right-wing liberal VVD, the Christian Democrat CDA, the social-democrat PvdA and the socialists from the SP battle to profit from the decline of the right-wing populist List Pim Fortuyn (LPF).

The LPF, meanwhile, has been trying desperately to counter its big losses in the polls with a huge publicity campaign on television, radio and the advertising billboards and with anti- immigrant statement that stoke up racist tension.

The late Hans Janmaat from the extreme right-wing Centrum Democraten (CD) was once convicted for saying that "The Netherlands is full" but, now, ever since the late Pim Fortuyn aired similar views, it is acceptable. To such an extent, it appears, that VVD leader Gerrit Zalm was able to make the same kind of statement in a debate.

The anti-immigrant trail, though, is still being blazed by the LPF whose boss Mat Herben ­ again party- leader after minister of Integration and Asylum Hilbrand Nawijn quit the post ­ recently stated that "There's only a place for real refugees in The Netherlands if, first of all, illegal immigrants are kicked out."

The fascist New National Party (NNP), in the meantime, failed to win a single council seat in local by-elections in Zwijndrecht, a town near Rotterdam. The NNP had hoped to win at least two seats but their zero result has forced them to back out of the general election contest.

Now that the fascists have opted to avoid further humiliation, The extreme right-wing is now represented by ex-LPF star Winny de Jong's Conservatives.nl and her running mate Michiel Smit of the populist Leefbaar Rotterdam.

Smit has been continuing his relentless attack on the multi- cultural society and is finding much sympathy in traditional extreme right-wing circles. Anti-fascists have revealed that Smit himself has been actively scratching around for support from older right-wing extremists and fascists in a bid to get nominations for his candidates.

For example, he asked Wim Vreeswijk, former leader of the extreme right-wing Nederlands Blok (NB) ­ the sister party of the Vlaams Block in Belgium ­ for a a list of party members and got it, while Marcel Rüter, leader of the fascist organisation, Voorpost, signed the nominations list for the Conservatives.nl. Similarly, fascists from the NNP, among them members of the LPF, have also signed up for and assisted Conservatives.nl. One of these NNP fascists demonstrated with the LPF's "Leger tegen Links"("Army against the left") outside the prison where Fortuyn's killer is being held, with a banner proclaiming "The reds have to die".

Also supporting de Jong and Smit are some former leading CD figures and antisemites. Some of this extremist crew are members of and regular visitor to a rifle club, "Lisse", in Amsterdam, where CD activists used to gather for shooting practice.

The shaky electoral coalition in Rotterdam of the VVD, CDA and Leefbaar Rotterdam are less than happy with Smit's activities and his contacts with fascists while Smit himself is taking some of his Leefbaar Rotterdam councillors into the Conservatives.nl. This move marks what could well be the beginning of a bitter split between the radical and moderate rightists in Fortuyn's home town party.

The fact that Conservatives.nl did not manage to get enough support to get the list in on all voting districts makes their chance of winning a parliamentary seat very small indeed, but the growing cooperation between the hardcore rightists of the Fortuyn movement and the traditional fascists might signal a step towards a new ­ and dangerous ­ movement.

Leefbaar Nederland (LN), Fortuyn's former party has already split after the party executive decided to nominate the millionaire Emile Ratelband as its main candidate. The media then focused ­ negatively ­ on this highly controversial and somewhat racist individual for several weeks and, eventually, he was kicked out the party, just before the closing for the nomination of election candidates.

Despite this, Ratelband managed to found his own party within three days, assembling a list of 28 candidates and finding enough nominations to take part in all districts. In his party programme, Ratelband fulminates against immigrants and says he wants a re- establishment of the dominant Dutch culture and to take "the values of being Dutch into the constitution" and demands the "repatriation of persons with dual nationality who commit crime".

Ratelband has also a vision for education in which, every morning, school lessons will have to start with the singing of the Dutch national anthem. "This," he was quoted as saying on Dutch TV, "is to show the irritating Moroccan youth who is the boss in The Netherlands".

No election has ever elicited so much attention from the media. Every evening there is are debate between the various party leaders while, during the day, all the party leaders are out in the streets campaigning, especially in Rotterdam where the Fortuyn movement began.

The traditional right-wing extremist scene has been boosted by the overtures made to it by the likes of Smit but any attempt to translate that into street actions will be met by anti-fascists.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! in Utrecht

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