Netherlands Far-Right Leader Wilders Contained, But Far From Defeated
Alternet’s Ben Norton says ‘The Dutch Donald Trump’ is going to remain a fixture in national politics – and this is just the beginning of a larger wave of far right movements across the globe
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
According to exit polls the conservative governing party of the Netherlands, The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, is said to remain the largest party in parliament. Netherlands Parliamentary election is being closely watched, because of concerns that the far right and anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders could have won a significant number of seats. Now, the results maybe reflect other European elections to be held later this year in France and Germany, and possibly in Italy.
The first exit polls indicate that although Wilders increased his party’s representation from 10 to 12.6% of the vote, he still falls short of being able to join a coalition government. Here’s what Wilders had to say shortly after he cast his ballot.
GEERT WILDERS: Well, I say if you don’t like the idea, don’t come to Holland here. We are free people, and you can decide where to go, and where not to go. I hope that we have less Islam in Holland. I think Islam and freedom are not compatible. But we are a free country, are free to go and to leave whenever you want. So, that’s my message.
KIM BROWN: The other important winner in this election was the Green left party, which managed to quadruple the number of seats it had in parliament, from four, up to 16, out of a total of 150 seats. And joining us now to take a closer look at the result is Ben Norton.
Ben is a reporter for Alternet’s GrayZone Project and recently co-wrote an article with Max Blumenthal titled, “Meet Geert Wilders: the Dutch Donald Trump backed by America’s Pro-Israel Big Wigs.” He’s joining us today from New York City. Ben, we appreciate your being here.
BEN NORTON: Thanks for having me, always glad to be here.
KIM BROWN: So, before we get into your recent article, I didn’t think that Geert Wilders looked like Donald Trump, until I actually took a good look at him. So, I think you guys might be onto something.
Policies notwithstanding, but also, I want to get your opinion Ben, and your thoughts, about the election result, as we know it so far because Geert Wilders did not do as well as some people feared. And it looks like the conservative government of Mark Rutte could remain in office. So, what do you make of all of this?
BEN NORTON: Well, thanks for the great introduction. I think it’s important to understand that Mark Rutte, the current leader in the Netherlands, is certainly not any kind of progressive leader, and he’s not someone that should necessarily be applauded. However, it is very important that Geert Wilders did not, you know, win the most, or at least the plurality. Even if he had won the plurality in the recent election, it was unlikely he was able to form a coalition government.
So, in some ways maybe the threat was a bit overstated, but we should also be very clear that this is just the beginning of a larger wave of far right movements. And you know there are going to be other elections in the future, and Wilders is going to remain a fixture in Dutch politics.
And we can talk about his incredibly extreme views. So, it’s important that he didn’t win, but it’s also in some ways a stark reminder of the fact that he is still going to play an important role in the government. His Party for Freedom, ironically named, is also going to play an important role in Dutch politics.
And when you look at his extreme policies, his fascistic policies, it’s very dangerous. And you know we should make sure that we remain cautious.
KIM BROWN: So, you and Max Blumenthal analyzed the links between the anti-Muslim Geert Wilders, and the conservative pro-Israel funders in the U.S. So, first tell us about what Wilders stands for.
BEN NORTON: Well, Wilders is, as I mentioned in the headline of the article, essentially the Dutch Donald Trump, but in many ways he’s actually more extreme. So, like Trump, he’s called for deportation of Muslims. He is opposed to refugees, and he actually refers to refugees in scare quotes, you know, in order to essentially cast aspersions on the fact that these are people who have been displaced by violent conflicts.
He has referred to Moroccan migrants inside the Netherlands as scum. He did so at a campaign rally. He has compared the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and ironically claimed that Islam — though the second largest religion in the world, which has 1.6 billion adherents — is Nazi-like, when he himself is using Nazi-like rhetoric, but replacing Muslims for Jews.
He, you know, essentially, like many of these far right leaders, blames a lot of the problems in the world on Muslims and migrants. He actually has campaigned explicitly on the slogan, “No More Islam”. He literally said that. In fact, he tweeted at the end of 2016 that his goal for 2017 was, “No More Islam”. You know, he is really in many ways, he’s actively I would say, fueling the rise of these far right, in some cases, violent movements.
So, and in not just the Netherlands, but throughout Europe, and throughout the U.S. and other countries, we’ve seen this rise of not just, I don’t want to say peaceful, but not just non-violent hatred of Muslims rhetorically, but also violent hatred.
You know, in the U.S. we’ve seen the rise in attacks on mosques, and other places of worship, and in Europe we’ve seen the same. And by spreading these outright lies about Muslims, claiming that they’re behind, you know, these crimes that were made up — you know, that Breitbart and other news outlets are falsely spreading — he’s actively fueling the rise of these hate groups, and that’s very dangerous.
KIM BROWN: So, why do you think that right wing organizations, such as the Gatestone Institute, are interested in supporting Wilders’ campaign in the relatively small country of the Netherlands?
BEN NORTON: Well, as I mentioned, Geert Wilders is part of a larger wave. So, he is essentially in his country what Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate in France, is for her country, and Donald Trump is for the U.S. Also, I mean, there are other figures like Narendra Modi, in India — this is part of a larger fascistic wave of movements throughout the world. And again, just to stress it, these are very dangerous.
When you look at their foreign policy, and when you look at people like Geert Wilders in particular, they are not only universally opposed to Muslims, but they also support frequently, you know, whatever the Israeli government wants to do. And Geert Wilders has explicitly claimed that Israel is the so-called last bastion against Islam for the West. He considers it a kind of white enclave against the supposed barbaric hordes of Muslims.
He has called for, not only the Dutch government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in violation of international law, he’s even claimed that Palestinians should be moved to Jordan, and Jordan should be renamed Palestine. And in fact, he promised that if he were to lead the Dutch government, he would try to do this. I mean, he is echoing the most extreme members of the Israeli government in making these claims. And not just this, I mean Geert Wilders who is not Jewish, who was raised Christian, but again has this extreme Christian Zionist ideology. Even though he’s distanced himself from religion as well, I mean, he identifies as a Humanist.
But he portrays the conflict as this kind of clash of civilizations, and he previously lived in Israel for two years. He has visited Israel more than 40 times, and has met with Israeli government officials. I mean, when you look at the new far right, it’s replaced its anti-Semitism with anti-Muslim bigotry. And Geert Wilders is the prime example of that, even though as you mentioned, that it was a small country, symbolically he is an important leader for the emerging far right movement.
KIM BROWN: But a lot of analysts suspected that he would do much better than what he actually did. I mean, about a month out, there was a lot of talk; a lot of concern, about how well Wilders’ campaign would fare amongst Dutch voters. But as we see now, it didn’t quite shake out the way that he expected.
So, could it be that voters looked at the United States, and looked at Donald Trump, and saw that voters who had supported Trump didn’t quite get what they were expecting?
BEN NORTON: I think that’s certainly part of it. And of course, there are going to be more studies and analysis of what exactly voters were thinking. But again, it’s important to underscore the fact that although Geert Wilders didn’t take the top position in the election, he’s still going to play an important role in the government. So, it wasn’t a complete repudiation.
But yeah, I think, certainly people have looked at Donald Trump and the U.S., and the extreme policies he’s pushing through. Not just in terms of social policies, but also in terms of economic and environmental policies; that you know, the moving away from any kind of action on climate change; support for the ultra-rich and tax breaks for large corporations and such.
And domestically, the Netherlands is also suffering from a lot of problems. They’ve been suffering from austerity for some time. They’ve been suffering as much of the Eurozone from an economic crisis, and people have not recovered from the 2008 crisis. And you can only campaign so much on fear mongering and scapegoating Muslims, and ignoring other problems without facing that kind of backlash.
And I think Brexit is, of course, another elephant in the room. You know, people in the Netherlands are looking to the disaster going on in the UK, and how the government has been rather incompetent in trying to carry out this policy of breaking up the Eurozone. Geert Wilders himself, of course, campaigned strongly on a promise to eventually leave the Eurozone. He and many of these far right figures demonize the European Union, and there are certainly a lot of issues with the European Union.
But the way they do it is, they don’t necessarily tap into some of the important economic problems that people are facing. After all, his Party for Freedom is still a right wing party. Rather, they try to scapegoat immigration and Muslims for all of their problems.
And then another important factor, just to mention briefly, is that in the days before the election in the Netherlands, there was a brief fight with Turkey. The Netherlands actually prevented Turkey’s Foreign Minister from speaking at a rally, and President Erdogan, who is himself increasingly authoritarian, is the leader of Turkey. He’s been pushing for the nearly five million Turkish immigrants inside Europe to vote in an upcoming referendum, to make Turkey a presidential republic.
And when the Netherlands prevented Turkey’s Foreign Minister from entering, there was a kerfuffle — Erdogan attacked the Dutch government and claimed that they were Nazi-like. And that lead to a back and forth, and Mark Rutte, who again is not a progressive leader, dealt with that in a bit of a better way, and was able to save face in the days before the election.
So, I mean, I think there are a variety of factors here, but just to underscore it one more time, Geert Wilders is certainly not going anywhere, even though he didn’t win the top place in this election.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been speaking with Ben Norton. Ben is a reporter for Alternet’s GrayZone Project. He recently co-wrote an article with Max Blumenthal, titled, “Meet Geert Wilders: The Dutch Donald Trump, backed by America’s pro-Israel Big Wigs.” Ben, we appreciate your reporting today, thank you.
BEN NORTON: Thanks for having me. It’s always great to be here.
KIM BROWN: Thank you. And thanks for watching, and checking out and supporting The Real News Network.