New right-wing populist party on the horizon

Searchlight, February 2005

Geert Wilders, the independent MP who quit the right-wing liberal VVD last September, is trying to launch a new conservative, populist party.

According to some polls, Wilders could already - without a party and hardly any programme - win as many as 28 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament.

The poll results for Wilders look increasingly like the start of a new populist revolt following the rise and fall of the late Pim Fortuyn's party, the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF).

Wilders latest moves fit in with the evolution of his career, which started in 1990 in the VVD as an assistant and speechwriter for Frits Bolkestein, a politician who popularised a hardliner stance on immigration and Islam... even at that time. Also in the same team of Bolkestein's team was Hans van Baalen, now a VVD MP but former sympathiser of the fascist Nederlandse Volks Unie (NVU).

In 1998, Wilders was elected in parliament and was, like his mentor Bolkestein seen as an illiberal hardliner espousing discriminatory positions against the disabled and self-confessed hatred of the left as well as acquiring notoriety for his outbursts against Islam.

For Wilders, opposition to Islam is a crusade, summed up in his declaration that "own culture is on the defensive because of the one million Muslims in our country". To stir the pot still further, he has claimed that and if he were Prime Minister he would ban Islamic headscarves. "I will eat them [Muslims - Ed] raw when they come to protest‚" is one of his most infamous one liners.

A weapon against the Islam is a halt to immigration, according to Wilders, coupled with assimilation: "At home they can wear their scarves and slaughter their sheep; outside they have to behave like anyone else" he ranted in an interview in February 2004.

Together with his then VVD-colleague Gert-Jan Oplaat, Wilders published, in the summer of 2004, a 10- point manifesto aimed at pushing the VVD further to the right. The main point of the mini-programme was that Turkey should never be allowed to join the European Union because it is an Islamic country.

Other points called for a rise in maximum speed limits, a 50% cut in development aid and the removal of radical Islamists from the Netherlands. It was also suggested that immigrants who integrated too slowly should be expelled. When the VVD failed to approve of the 10-point programme, Wilders quit. Oplaat, for his part, kept silent and is still in the VVD.

Finally liberated from the party discipline, Wilders went on to demand " a total halt for 5 years of non- western immigration, especially Muslims".

Two days after the murder of controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fanatic on 2 November, Wilders rushed to the media to announced the establishment of a new party with the leader of the conservative Edmund Burke Foundation, Bart Jan Spruyt.

Spruyt has written the kind of programme that Wilders likes very much. According to this programme, Muslims have to be refused from the civil right of establishing schools and organisations and immigration must be stopped. Spruyt and Wilders also want to lower taxes and the authorised minimum wage.

At the end of December, Wilders announced a campaign against the EU's entry negotiations with Turkey and he is now trying to raise money and mobilise people for his new party. He also calls for a vote against the European constitution in a referendum "to prevent Turkey from having too much power in the future of Europe".

He has also sent a personal e-mail - to 13,000 people who have supported him in recent months - touting, not without success, for money and support.

Since October 2004, Wilders has been under heavy guard because of threats to his life but, at the end of the year, he grabbed the headlines again by refusing to work in parliament unless the justice minister and prime minister guaranteed his safety and that of his (up to now still unknown) future colleagues and people who want to join his new party.

When he subsequently returned to parliament, Wilders gave a newspaper interview that was hugely reminiscent of Pim Fortuyn. "My mission," he stated, "is to give The Netherlands back to its citizens...The Netherlands have to become more liveable. People scream for solutions but the government is only concerned in its own power".

Wilders now plans to travel to Israel and the United States to discuss, with conservative counterparts, his political strategy and how to build a movement. His main concerns, however, are to keep his poll forecast 28 seats until the next elections in 2007 and to avoid the mistakes made by the LPF.

Wilders, who has time, support (although it is not yet clear from what kind of people), political experience and a fine nose for publicity, could grow to be a significant political force in parliament.

The probable reaction of the other political parties will be to be as tough as Wilders in the coming years in a bid to cling on to their power but the left, anti-fascists and even sections of the media can play a role in unmasking Wilders as an Islamophobe and exposing his policies as wholly undemocratic, grossly unrealistic and totally inhumane.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht