In late November 2016, the small – albeit multicultural – city of The Hague experienced a strange feeling of uneasiness. Around two hundred people – many of whose faces were covered with masks – had gathered to show solidarity with the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Although iconoclastic minorities were known to exist in the country, it was the first time that such a campaign was successful in large-scale mobilisation – especially in the prosperous province of South Holland. As loud sirens replaced the music of the grand piano at Central Station, people at both the elite wine bars and the ghetto flea markets in Holland’s capital could see the ominous signs of a dismal future.
The Evolution of Dutch Politics
Over the past 15 years, the country’s politics was altered significantly by the emergence of several single-agenda parties at the local level. The success of these parties was attributed to the highly effective articulation of constituency-specific ideas. National-level politics in the country, however, continued to be dominated by parties that figured on the traditional left-right ideological spectrum. At the same time, both local and national-level contenders adhered to a centrist political programme focused on non-controversial policy proposals of development.
The country’s electoral processes reinforced the centrist character of Dutch politics: Because of the distribution of votes across the multiparty legislature, a radical policy change remained unattainable. Consequently – to avoid a legislative gridlock – the coalition/party in power was coerced to make compromises.
So Who is Wilders?
Wilders became a vocal critic of Islam in the early 2000s.
In his days as a spokesperson of the conservative VVD or the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, Wilders’ colleagues accused him of violating the centrist protocol key to legislative success in Dutch politics.
As a consequence, Wilders founded the Freedom Party – an obscure political party that followed a singular anti-Islam agenda.
The party’s success and strategy, however, were similar to those of the single-agenda parties. Its campaign was electorally targeted. The party was based in sparsely populated suburban areas that did not benefit from the economic gains of migration. Until recently, cosmopolitan cities such as The Hague were not seen as its bastions.
According to a recent study by Leiden University, the manifesto of Wilders’ party not only marks a significant departure from the aforementioned development-oriented programmes of Dutch parties, but also contravenes both Dutch and international (and European) law.
The first agenda in the party’s manifesto is to “De-Islamize the Netherlands”, which includes “closing all schools [and] banning the Koran”. Unsurprisingly, Wilders also censures the European cause, whose fundamental principles of cooperation are in conflict with his political agenda.
But the given thesis of unequal prosperity in different areas is insufficient in explaining Wilders’ current rise. The Freedom Party’s successful mobilisation in The Hague is also accompanied by a tangible change in voter preferences. At present, most pre-poll analyses show that the Freedom Party is a close second in the polls.
Consequently, although it is inferred that Wilders represents an “anti-establishment” sentiment, it becomes essential to understand that this sentiment has begun to pervade Dutch society across geographic barriers.
Right-wing print and social media bolster the information gaps between Wilders and his voters. At another level, this also leads to unrealistic voter expectation, since existing Dutch institutions do not allow such ideological beliefs to be implemented as policy. Wilders’ possible rise on the political scene will raise questions that the Netherlands will have to answer urgently.
(The author is a second-year student majoring in Governance, Economics, and Development at Leiden University. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)