Friday, 1 October 2010

Hard-Right Holland

You know we've entered a different era when Spain has become the leading progressive voice in Europe while the Netherlands has come under the sway of a hard-right party. If you had posited this scenario to someone in the early 1970's they would have thought you were crazy. But Holland's years-in-the-making drift toward hard-right conservatism was again demonstrated this week when a conservative coalition government was finally formed – with the participation of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders. The new coalition is set to ban the veil and limit the number of "non-Western" immigrants allowed to come into the country.

Dutch elections were held back in June, but the two centre-right parties did not achieve enough of a majority to form a stable government on their own. The PVV, meanwhile, greatly increased their share of the vote. After months of negotiations, this week the centre-right parties concluded a deal with the far-right PVV, led by the controversial anti-Islam crusader Wilders, that will allow them to form a government with Mark Rutte as prime minister.

 Mr. Wilders' support didn't come cheap. According to news reports today, the new "Freedom and Responsibility" coalition has, in exchange for Wilders' support, pledged to introduce a bill banning the Muslim face veil and to halve the number of "non-Western" immigrants allowed to come into the country. Non-Western immigrants who are already living in the Netherlands will have to pass extra hurdles if they want to bring their family members to the country. Speaking at a press conference with the Christian Democrat leaders yesterday, Wilders declared "A new wind will blow in the Netherlands."

As I wrote last week, the far right has enjoyed a resurgence in Europe over the past few years and has attained its first elected seats across Western Europe from the UK to Sweden. But the fact that Geert Wilders, who is notorious across Europe for his anti-Muslim crusade, is now a part of the Dutch government is going to shock many people.

In recent weeks Wilder has even become a folk hero among the Tea Party movement in the United States. He was a headline speaker at the demonstrations against the so-called "ground zero mosque" on September 11th this year. He was invited by a group called 'Stop Islamisation of America', and told the cheering crowd that Muslims were trying to take over both the US and his home country by building mosques. He advocated the burning of the Koran as proposed by a Florida pastor. And in a bizarre misapplication of a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, he declared, "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." The irony of this quotation was apparently lost on the crowd of 3,000 Americans who cheered wildly in response.

The anti-immigrant and anti-Islam measures aren't the only new rightist initiatives the new Dutch government will pursue. The new government will be very Eurosceptic. They are set to cut the Dutch contribution to the EU budget by €1 billion, and they have indicated they intend to become a more difficult force within the European Council.

So why have so many people in Holland, a land once known for its progressive ideals and its tolerance, now fallen under the sway of the far right? Much of it has to do with the explosive conflict that is raging between the secular Dutch and the religious Muslim immigrants. The murder of openly gay artist Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in 2004 deeply shocked the country, and it has especially made the gay community in the Netherlands extremely hostile to Muslims (and vice versa). There is an increasing attitude that the Muslim immigrants have not and will not adopt the secular progressive ideals of the Dutch population, and the only solution is to stop any more Muslim immigrants from coming in. It is a bizarre brand of conservatism – racial prejudice in the name of protecting progressive values.

As is the case with the other far-right parties of Western Europe, the PVV's platform is devoted almost entirely to immigration and Islam. Clearly, concern over Muslim immigration has become so strong that it is making even traditionally progressive and pluralistic societies become attracted to the message of the far right. Centrist politicians in netherlands and elsewhere in Europe are scrambling to figure out what to do about this popular anti-Islam rage. But the clock is ticking, and the longer they wait the more people will sign up to the ideology of the far right. And that will not lead to a good outcome for Europe.


Frederik said...

This is exactly right. Politicians and the media can't just dismiss the people who are voting for the far right as crazy racists, they have to address the concerns these people have, some of which are legitimate. I don't know what the answer is, but European governments have to come up with one or the far right will just continue gaining support

Captain Kid said...

maybe this coalition will help to demystify wilders. people will notice that their lives are going to continue like this and that he is no saviour. nevertheless, i am very concerned and even ashamed of the increasing far-right-popularity in europe. in difficult times, people tend to be radical, that's why we must end this neo-liberal capitalism and return to our european social democracy.

eslaporte said...

The reality is that Geert Wilders is actually a fraud. There is NO "Islamification of the Netherlands" occurring according to demographic and statical evidence. For 2008, most immigrants to the Netherlands came from other EU member states, like Poland.

Why the hell it is they cannot debate the facts in Dutch politics and Wilders is allowed to get away with the "Islamification" hoax speaks of Dutch politics?. Also Wilders is not in the government - and his policies proposals are illegal.

The CoE has already made a statement about this coalition and hopefully will keep watch on events here. The EU needs to make ALL minority rights, not just Roma, Priority Number One in the next years - starting with the Netherlands.