To succesfully challenge Geert Wilders’ Partij van de Vrijheid (PVV)(1) it is important to have a good understanding of the followers of the party. Not only the “autochtonen”(2) from the badly educated lower classes, but also the well educated entrepeneurs and academics. The following of the PVV is much more diverse than suggested.
|The original text in Dutch
(June 10th, 2009)
In the media and also in discussion in left wing circles people often assume that their following consists of angry badly educated “autochtonen” who mainly come from deprived areas in large cities and who claim they are threatened by “the muslims” in their neighbourhood. These would be the same stupid and racists voters who in the past voted for Pim Fortuyn and today vote for Geert Wilders. Racism is indeed present in the white lower classes, but in other layers of society this is no different. It must be challenged everywhere. Anti-racism must go hand in hand with taking the problems of the “autochtonen” lower classes serious; problems like poverty, unemployment, bad housing and deteriorating health care and education. Compared to the following of Pim Fortuyns LPF party(3) the PVV-following has been more varied from its conception. Wilders knows how to connect to people of both lower and higer education, the poor and the rich, workers and bosses. This is proven by recent research by newspaper Het Parool(4) and the Research and Statistic service of the Amsterdam municipal government. The PVV can count on more and more support in the Dutch capital, traditionally known as a “left wing” city. More and more of its well educated citizens chose for the PVV. According to the research the party would attract 7 percent of the voters in Amsterdam in May 2009. In February of that year this number was merely 3 percent. It is unclear whether the PVV will participate in the municipal elections in Amsterdam(5). The party doesn’t have any competent members for its local section according to their MP Hero Brinkman.
The growth of the number of well educated PVV-sympathisers comes from Wilders political position of on one hand running amok against the islam and on the other hand championing free speech. That turns out to be a succes. In 2004 Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA)(6) party leader Wouter Bos warned about the rise of Wilders which forms a threat for the social-democratic position of power. Bos was afraid that in the PvdA-stronghold Amsterdam his following would turn to the PVV. To satisfy possible turncoats he claimed that the PvdA was too soft in the multicultural debate. In 2009 the PvdA has turned even further to the right to challenge the PVV. Yet the popularity of the party is at an all time low in the surveys.
Tim de Beer of polling research organisation TNS NIPO sees a clear development in the support for Wilders. At the end of 2004 the party scored about 20 parliament seats in the surveys. At the parliamentary elections in 2006 the party received 9 seats. That decline was partially caused by many well educated voters who at first indicated they would support the PVV, but in the end voted for other parties. The PVV following in 2006 was comparable with the LPF in 2002: citizens with a lower to middle education from the lower classes. The number of well educated voters was about 9 percent. Now this has grown to 13 percent, and with new voters this number has grown to 16 percent. Many of them voted for Trots op Nederland (TON) leader Rita Verdonk(7), but now they chose for Wilders, probably because of the turbulence in TON.
Wilders smear campaign against Islam has given him publicity across the world. His flat racism against everything and everyone connected to Islam has yielded him much sympathy. The party however is viewed by many as an one issue party that gives little attention to topics other than islam. This meant that they appealed to a limited part of the voters. However by making himself the center of the freedom of speech debate Wilders has been able to appeal to a wider following. He is able to appeal to the better educated and the more prosperous middle class with his racist and nationalist program. In the suffocating right wing atmosphere of the last 10 years one can constantly hear that the “average citizen” is not allowed to say what he thinks. For instance, he would not be able to criticize the multicultural society. That would be because of the “politically correct left” that since the “terrible” eighties has been terrorising the Netherlands with anti-racism and “left wing hobbies” like the multicultural society, financial aid to developing countries and social security. The freedom of speech propagated by right-wing populists is a formidable weapon against anti-racism and the left. Pim Fortuyn used it, and Wilders perfected it.
Who are those well educated and prosperous Dutch who feel attraction by the right-wing populism of Wilders? The Volkskrant(8) investigated the people who sent threats to lawyer Gerard Spong, after the latter had supported a court case against Wilders aimed at his racist statements. The newspaper, which over the years has become more and more right-wing, had a lot of trouble to convince those people to get involved in the investigation. This is because they greatly distrust the in their eyes “left wing and politically correct Volkskrant”.
The investigation shows that those who sent threats reflect the following of the PVV. It includes people from deprived neighbourhoods, entrepeneurs, academics, fromer PvdA- and VVD-voters, atheists and the new category of PVV-voters: “the freedom of speech adepts”. One of them is real estate advisor René Dercksen. “He resents politicians who abandoned the workers. Only for that reason he decides to vote for the PVV.” Dercksen sticks up for the “elderly in Gouda, who are scared to go out of their flats to go to the supermarket”. He himself lives in a “nice, calm neighbourhood and doesn’t have much problems with crime”. He sees himself as member of “the GeenStijl-generation”(9) that according to him consists of well educated white collar workers who closely follow politics and the news, and mainly vote for the PVV. “These people are not antisocials, as people often wish to believe.” Another angry letter writer is director Joost Wildschut. Just like Dercksen he has a big salary and lives in a neighbourhood with “doctors and entrepeneurs”. He votes for Wilders with the best intentions. By voting for a racist he wishes to prevent “society from segregating”. Wildschut is one of the many dissatisfied Dutch who see “their own country” threatened by islam. “I think it’s bizarre that there is a seperate swimming hour for muslim women, or that a financial system for halal mortgages is in the planning. I find it annoying to see a woman with a burqa on the market.” Nurse Ger Dalen voted in 2006 on Wilders because of his believe in the “adapt or fuck off”-philosophy”. “I only want to associate with muslims when they embrace democracy, renounce the head scarves and see the non-muslim as an equal.”
Because of the wide variety of voters from all parts of society the PVV can afford to distance itself from racists who are so explicit that they might damage the party. One can find these often in the “autochtonen” lower classes. For the PVV these voters aren’t holy, because they could damage the image of a decent and democratic party. They could cause the PVV to find itself in the same class as predecessors Centrum Democraten and the Centrum Partij(10), and by that would not form an acceptable alternative that suits its neo-liberal and nationalist following. When in april newspaper De Pers(11) asked PVV-voters in Den Bosch for their opinions the party got in trouble. “If it is up to me the Morrocans who do not work can be sent back in a leaking boat. Then you know for sure they won’t come back.” was one of the many shady reactions. Another interviewee had the idea to put robbers against the wall and spray them with a machine gun. The party distanced itself quickly form these people. De Pers admited that the cliché image of bad educated poor PVV-voters is incorrect. The party confirms that. PVV MP Sietse Fritsma: “We notice that we are a becoming a broad party of the people. From a factory worker to an entrepeneur with a company that makes millions in profit, you see everything at our party meetings in the whole country.” That is where the core of the problem lies. A lot of people at the bottom of society convert the anger about their own problems into racism and would rather unite with their bosses than with their “allochtone” fellow workers. The answer of the left should lie in the strugle against these problems, against the antisocial breakdown of collective facilities, against neo-liberalism and racism.
1. Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), the Freedom Party, is a extreme right wing party in the Netherlands with a mix of conservative and neo-liberal ideas. Its main points are combating the “immigration problem” and Islam.
2. Autochtonen is a Dutch word used in general society to describe people “who are from here”. It comes from the old-greek words “autos” (self) and “chthoon” (earth, country). It is mainly used to describe the “original dutch” persons residing in the Netherlands.
3. The Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), The Pim Fortuyn List, was the party created by the right wing populist Pim Fortuyn. Pim Fortuyn was murdered a few days before the parliamentary elections in May 2002. Out of nothing his party received 26 out of 150 seats during these elections.
4. The Parool is a newspaper which was started as a resistance newspaper during the Second World War. It started as a social democratic illegal newspaper which contained political news. Nowadays it is a newspaper that is known as a liberal left newspaper and has a local focus on the city of Amsterdam.
5. The moment this article was written it was still unclear. The moment it was translated was just after the municipal elections in the Netherlands of 2010. The PVV only participated in the cities of The Hague and Almere.
6. Partij van de Arbeid (PVDA), Party of Work, is a Social-Democratic party. Traditionally they have been responsible from strengthening the position of workers and the creation of various forms of social security. The last 20 years they have mainly been working towards breaking these down, and have become a party slightly left from the center. They wish to introduce neo-liberal reforms with a so called soft touch.
7. Rita Verdonk is a former VVD member and was a minister of Vreemdelingenzaken en Intergratie (Foreigner Affairs and Intergration) and during that time was known for her strictness in implementating the alien laws in the Netherlands. Now she leads Trots op Nederland (Proud of the Netherlands). TON is a conservative nationalist party.
8. The Volkskrant (The People’s Newspaper) is a traditionally Catholic newspaper which aims at a well educated audience. It is known as a left of center newspaper.
9. GeenStijl is a right-wing “shock-blog” which rants about the “multicultural society”, “Morrocan streetterrorists” and “the left-wing church”.
10. The Centrumdemocraten (CD) and the Centrum Partij ’86 (CP ’86) were extreme right wing parties who in the eighties and early nineties were attacked for their racist stances and fascist following.
11. De Pers (The Press) is a free tabloid newspaper that is mainly spread on train stations. They present themselves as a free newspaper that offers more indepth articles compared to other free newspapers.