Tag: Netherlands

A history of Dutch populism, from the murder of Pim Fortuyn to the rise of Geert Wilders

The 2017 Dutch election has taken on a significance for the international media that we haven’t seen for a long time here in the Netherlands.

Placed in the context of other European elections in France and Germany this spring and summer, the elections in the Netherlands are now often perceived as the first step in a populist revolution which has been shaking up Europe and the rest of the Western world.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States, populism now seems destined to conquer Europe’s mainland, starting with the Netherlands.

But all this analysis comes as somewhat of a surprise for the Dutch. There is no reason for us to talk about a new populist revolution at all. Ever since Pim Fortuyn’s revolt in the early 2000s, we have become all too familiar with the problems and anxieties of populism.

How Pim Fortuyn changed politics for good

Fortuyn, an openly gay sociology professor and publicist, rocked the boat of Dutch politics significantly more than the current representative of populism, Geert Wilders, is expected to do this time around.

Fortuyn ran on an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant platform. He claimed that Islam presented a threat to Western values of openness and liberalism, and wanted to restrict all immigration to the Netherlands.

He was killed on the campaign trail in May 2002 just days before the election. His assassin, Volkert van der Graaf, was an animal rights activist, who said he feared the effect Fortuyn would have on minorities in the country.

Fortuyn’s party, List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), went on to win 26 of the 150 available seats in the May 2002 elections, more than 17% of the electoral vote and enough to form a coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. But the government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was very short-lived, mainly because of internal frictions in the LPF.

Fortuyn and the LPD broke open the political system with a force that still baffles Dutch political scientists and commentators.

At the time there was no indication that the centrist parties which had been in power for eight years, a coalition of social democrats and liberals (the Purple Coalition), were headed for a major defeat.

And the populist wave did not subside with the demise of the LPF – Wilders, a former conservative parliamentarian, has picked up where Fortuyn and his friends left off.

21st-century populism

The central themes of the early 21st-century right-wing populism of Fortuyn and Wilders have been a fierce criticism of the political elite (usually portrayed as left-wing) combined with a steady flow of anti-Islam rhetoric and anti-EU sentiment.

Geert Wilders has repeatedly courted controversy, with his 2008 film Fitna, which compared Islam to Nazism, and a recent trial over his call to reduce the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands, expressed during a party rally just before the 2012 election, for which he was found guilty but not punished.

To acknowledge the fact that populism has been around in the Netherlands for quite a while already is not to underestimate its profound influence. As well as the far-right, it also affected some centrist parties, such as the and the Christian Democrats and People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.

The famous Dutch tolerance and progressiveness, if ever it existed, has turned into intolerance and a prolonged and painstaking search for Dutch identity.

Public debate has taken a nasty turn, blaming and shaming “foreigners”, Muslims mostly, but also the elite and Europe for the problems people experience. This opened up tensions and rifts which had previously been covered by a soft blanket of “political correctness”, which used to be regarded as civilized behavior but is now seen as treason and deceitfulness.

Wilders’s first taste of power

Wilders has played a role in the Dutch government before. He won 24 seats (16%) in 2010, which gave him a role as a minor partner supporting a coalition between the Christian Democrats and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy in the first cabinet of Mark Rutte. In 2012, Wilders refused to accept major budget cuts which the cabinet had to take in order to meet EU requirements. The government collapsed.

Since 2012, another Purple Coalition between the Labour Party and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy has been in power, headed again by Rutte. The current government can claim credit for financial and economic measures which helped the Dutch economy through the recent economic crisis.

But both parties, especially the Labour Party, are probably going to be punished by voters for the austerity measures they imposed on welfare and health care, as well as raising the retirement age from 65 to 67.

What to expect in 2017

This time around we can expect success, again, for Geert Wilders, despite the fact that his numbers in the polls have been dropping slowly since early January. The Dutch electoral system’s threshold of 0.7% makes it very open to new parties, so we may see a few new right-wing parties getting some seats alongside Wilders.

Wilders’s success however is not going to bring him into government, because none of the other centrist parties wants to collaborate with him. Another condoning role for Wilders in a right-wing coalition is highly improbable; everyone remembers the debacle of the first Rutte cabinet, when Wilders backed away from his responsibility to the government.

A left-wing coalition is also highly improbable, because even the most flattering polls show a collection of left-wing parties falling short of a majority.

The Christian Democrats, recovering from the 2012 debacle, have already made it clear they will not get on board with a left-wing coalition. So, the remaining centrist parties will have to build a new coalition which will probably take a considerable amount of time to materialize.

The new nostalgia

Most scholars tend to interpret populism as a reaction to increasing inequality in the Netherlands, both in terms of income and of education. However, the Netherlands is still one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, and the rift between levels of education is not a new phenomenon either.

The so-called “losers of globalization” are not the only ones who vote for Wilders these days. Nor do these voters in many cases seriously believe that Wilders should rule the country. What matters is that he is tapping into the anxieties of many voters.

It is better to see these rifts and the turbulent public debate as the right-wing of the country calling to be heard and taken seriously. It involves people who don’t believe that things are going to get better. They long for the return to an imaginary former Dutch culture in which migrants, minorities, and women don’t challenge the status quo and where the debate about blackface is not, as they see it, undermining Dutch culture.

Nostalgia is what moves them into the belief that new Dutch dikes are needed: to keep an ever-more-threatening outside world out of this low country.

Jacques Paulus Koenis, Professor of Social Philosophy, Maastricht University

Photo Credit: Wikipedia


You can follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook.


Donate to The Systems Scientist

Buy Now Button

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Will Dutch immigrant voters fight back at the ballot box?

The recent dispute between Turkish President Recip Tayepp Erdoğan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, concerning Rutte’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign abroad, has only made life worse for Turks in the Netherlands.

People from a Turkish background in the Netherlands are being forced to take a side in an unpalatable diplomatic dispute in which they have nothing to win and everything to lose. Erdoğan uses them to strengthen his position ahead of a referendum to increase his own powers, and Dutch politicians use them to show voters how tough they are on immigrants refusing to integrate.

The person who benefits, of course, is Geert Wilders: the most famous man in Dutch politics right now.

Wilders has had an enormous influence on the Dutch political debate. His harsh anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric has completely transformed the Dutch integration debate. Because of Wilders, all mainstream parties have shifted to the right on immigration, Islam and integration.

This means that Dutch voters with an immigrant background, especially Muslims, are increasingly less represented by secular progressive parties, such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, which have traditionally received the most support from immigrant voters.

An open system for minority representation

Almost 20% of the Dutch population is from a first-generation or second-generation immigrant background; around 12%, or two million people, have a “non-Western” background. This group is the main target of Wilders and his Freedom Party.

The Dutch political system of proportionality generally favors the representation of minorities in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. Elections in the Netherlands use a party list system with pure proportionality, very low thresholds, and the ability to cast preferential votes.

Party lists compete in elections. The order of candidates is decided upon by each party, though voters can select a listed candidate who will independently earn a seat upon getting enough votes. Parties only need about 60,000 votes (in a country of almost 17 million) to win one of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.

As a result of this open political system, the percentage of politicians with an immigrant background in the Dutch parliament is among the highest in Europe.

The birth of DENK

As mainstream parties moved further to the right in order to defend themselves against Wilders, these politicians and their constituencies have become increasingly frustrated.

Two politicians of Turkish descent, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who have strong ties to the conservative religious part of the Turkish-Dutch community, left the Social Democratic Party after intense internal fights about the extent to which Turkish religious organizations are an obstacle for integration and should be monitored and perhaps even forbidden. Kuzu and Öztürk started their own party, DENK, meaning “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish.

Our research shows support for secular progressive parties among immigrant communities has decreased rapidly, and their trust and interest in Dutch politics has further decreased, affecting participation rates significantly.

Studies of young people from an immigrant background illustrate that an ever-increasing proportion of this group does not identify with Dutch society or politics any more, feels frustrated and stigmatized and believes that their interests are not represented by the mainstream political parties.

DENK is projected to win two seats in parliament. Considering that the conservative Turkish-Dutch community is relatively large, well-organized and politically active, this does not seem unreasonable.

But whether this will signal a process of emancipation of voters with an immigrant background, and whether DENK will be able to represent their interest successfully, remains an open question.

Although the main message of the DENK party program is “connection”, their campaign strategy so far is to aggressively attack political rivals (especially if these rivals have an immigrant background themselves), along with the media and Wilders’s supporters.

In the short term, this tactic may fulfill their constituents’ need to voice anger and frustration. But in the long term it will further fuel polarization and possibly segregation, two things that are certainly not in the interest of this group.

The future of Dutch integration

Voters with an immigrant background both need to believe that it still matters to fight for something and to receive some commitment from and connection to their country of settlement, our studies illustrate.

Current political debates tend to focus whether immigrants are assimilating to Dutch culture. This approach portrays a connection with migrants’ origin country as a problem, leaving no room for dual identification. It will only lead to further polarization and segregation rather than create a political discourse that allows everyone to participate.

Who will take the first step to build bridges between the Netherlands’ different groups and constituencies? The longer we wait, the more difficult it will get.

Floris Vermeulen, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam and Maria Kranendonk, Phd Candidate, University of Amsterdam

Photo Credit: Xinhuanet.com

You can follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook.


Donate to The Systems Scientist

Buy Now Button

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.