Populists line up for Dutch ballot

Searchlight - November 2006

Bart Jan Spruyt, the former director of the conservative think tank, the Edmund Burke Foundation, was the subject of a brief flurry of media attention recently after quitting ex-Liberal Geert Wilders' Freedom Party in mid-August. Spruyt, who was a top advisor to Wilders – and has his own axe to grind – laid into Wilders, charging him with being incapable of collaborating with other potential allies, for example Livable Rotterdam (LR) leader Marco Pastors and List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) parliamentarian, Joost Eerdmans.

Interestingly, the latter duo, together with Spruyt penned the so-called "independence declaration" of Wilders' party in which Wilders portrays himself as independent from the political elite that is, according to populists, responsible for everything that goes wrong.

In the statement, Wilders goes on to accuse the elite of political professionals – to which he also used to belong – of having lost touch with reality and abandoning The Netherlands to multiculturalism, cultural-relativism and a European super-state.

Wilders, who claims he "wants to return society to its inhabitants," seems to have the best chance of all the would-be successors to Fortuyn has the best chance to get some seats in parliament with his rightwing, neo-liberal and anti-Islam approach.

His anti-Islam policies have not made him popular in Islamist quarters and he is still accompanied by bodyguards because of death-threats resulting from his anti-Muslim rhetoric. This is not all negative, though, because it endows Wilders with the image of a steely a guy who doesn't stand for threats and of a man with a bigger mission than himself.

Wilders has his own views of changing society. Hence he goes in for a total neo-liberal approach. Sounding an ethical reveille and demanding better education and health care through smaller institutions is hardly a topic of debate and does not distinguish him much from other parties.

Wilders gets his biggest applause when he bangs a different drum by demanding in interviews that the constitution should be set aside in times of crisis to combat terrorism and that, throughout the Netherlands, there should be preventive searches by police.

In his programme for the 22 November elections, Wilders wants a 5-year halt to non-Western immigration, a 5-year embargo on building Islamic schools and mosques, the abolition of dual nationality and voting rights only for people with a Dutch passport. Foreigners, under this scheme of things, can only get a Dutch passport after ten years and cannot apply for social benefits during that time.

He also rages on about a binding referendum on the Euro, urging an end to Dutch participation in UN-missions and an end to Dutch payments to the European Union.

An LPF councillor and a Livable Rotterdam councillor have joined his candidates' list but a problem for any nazis planning to back him is Wilders' ultra-supportive line on Israel and the fact that he visited Jerusalem to seek inspiration for his new party.

With Wilders incapable of cooperating with them, Pastors and Eerdmans established their own party called One NL at the end of August. Their programme remains still unclear but will include such policies as elected mayors and the introduction of referenda. Their programme will also centre on issues like security, education, bureaucracy and integration, in their case meaning that there is one dominant culture in the Netherlands: the Western one.

Pastors wants a party without members but with lots of donors. The only members will be his candidates, claiming this is the modern way of making politics but proving the absolute absence of democracy in his organization. It is clear that people like Pastors want to be boss from start to finish. On the list for the elections you can find the youngest brother of Pim Fortuyn and the former driver of Fortuyn's Bentley, who is now councillor in Tilburg. Also two conservative liberals from the VVD joined the list, as well as a Turkish nationalist and a former chairman of the Islam Contact Group. The latter propably there to seek for the broad backing One NL needs and to avoid claims of being a racist party.

Another would-be successor to Fortuyn, former LPF Minister Hilbrand Nawijn has established his own outfit, the Party for the Netherlands (PVN), joined by LPF chairman Gerard van As who had just left the LPF after a big fight over the leadership. He did not last long in the PVN either, however, throwing the towel in – a mere month after enlisting – following a row with Nawijn over his position on the party's candidates' list.

Van As' earlier quarrel with the LPF will even further diminish the latter's chances of electoral success. Nawijn, meanwhile, known for his contacts with the Belgian fascist Vlaams Belang, is touting his hard line on migration, crime and reintroduction of the death penalty and.

His aim is to get the 200-plus local Fortuynist parties to come together and to persuade their voters to back the PVN. Most significant in the PVN's 25-point program is a full stop to the building of mosques, the ending of Islamic education and the prohibition of wearing headscarves in public sector jobs. And, of course, a harsh immigration policy, the extradition of criminal foreigners…all mixed up with free public transport and safety on the streets "24 hours a day, 7 days a week".

When van As left the LPF he took his seat in parliament with him, but two weeks later he left politics 'forgood', after a fight with Nawijn. His seat in parliament was taken by Olaf Stuger, who became immediately the front runner for the election campaign of the LPF. Stuger was parliamentarian in the notorouis 86 days of the first government in 2002 where the LPF was present in parliament with 26 seats. The LPF campaign launched with a change of name in List 5 Fortuyn and a controversial videoclip, where a Pim Fortuyn imitator speaks of 'you can shoot my body of the earth, but you can never beat my ideas out of me', with the 5 gunshots on the background that ended Fortuyns life in 6 May 2002. Than 'Fortuyn' jumps out of the plane and by landing near the governments building it appears to be Olaf Stuger. How List 5 Fortuyn is going to differ from the aforementioned parties is not clear yet.

The elections casted already their shadows ahead when a cracking report about the responsibility on the fire in the detention center at Schiphol at 26 October last year that killed 11 people, who didn't have the proper papers to stay in the Netherlands. In a bid to uphold the credibility of the public the ministers Piet Hein Donner of Justice and Sybilla Dekker of Housing left the government on 21 September. Donner is however still on the candidate's list of the CDA on number 5 and will return as parliamentarian.

As the elections approach, the most important aspect for anti-fascists will be to see on which topics the four populist contestants can score in media and public opinion. The tougher the policies the better will probably be the way ahead.

If they want The Netherlands' rising number of malcontents to vote for them, they have to distinguish themselves from each other and, crucially, from the most popular politician on the right, Rita Verdonk, the right-wing liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy Number 2 and hardline migration minister. She has the reputation of being an "Iron Lady" and will make her voice is the loudest in the campaign.

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