Three years ago the owner of the Totalitarian Art Gallery in Amsterdam escaped punishment by the courts after being found ‘guilty’ of selling several copies of Mein Kampf. Even though selling the book is illegal in Holland, Amsterdam’s district court ruled that prosecution would violate Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which safeguards freedon of expression. Oddly, Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders, who supported the court’s decision, has likened the Koran to Mein Kampf, but would like the former banned in the Netherlands. It would appear that the ‘right’ expression is more important than the freedom to express it.
Among Wilders’ recent expressions is the belief that Moroccan immigrants in Holland are ‘scum’. The fact that Wilders made this comment to journalists while walking around a market in Rotterdam, shows just how confident he is of a strong performance in the up-coming Dutch general election. It’s also an indicator of just how much Holland has changed since I lived there in 1990, when such a public expression of hatred would have been unthinkable. The first piece I ever wrote for Tribune followed the assasination of Dutch fascist Pim Fortuyn in 2002. What then seemed to be a flash in the pan – a temporary coruscation of noise and smoke – has ignited a bonfire that threatens to engulf this once happy-go-lucky nation that was formerly a model of internationalism and liberalism. Not any more.
Wilders’ anti-immigrant PVV (Party for Freedom) which campaigns beneath the slogan ‘Netherlands Weer Van Ons’ or ‘Make the Netherlands Ours Again’ is currently polling neck and neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre right VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy). His policies include banning all Muslim immigration – Wilders’ own mother is an immigrant from Indonesia and reportedly will not be voting for him – the enforced closure of Mosques, and leaving the European Union.
Wilders is in the unusual position of looking likely to both ‘win’ and ‘lose’ the election at the same time. Because, regardless of how many votes he wins, the remaining centrist parties (including Dutch Labour, PvDA) have made it uncompromisingly clear that they will not countenance forming a coalition that includes the PVV, and the only outcome we can be certain of is that there will be a coalition. There is always a coalition in the Netherlands. This would not be the first time in recent Dutch history that the victors of an election have been excluded from government – it has happened three times before – but given the extreme nature of the debate it would certainly be the most contentious.
Following the 2010 general election in Britain it took a week for the Tories and Liberal Democrats to draw-up an intial coalition agreement. The average time it takes the Dutch to form a government following an election is three and a half months! During that time it’s a general rule that nothing gets done, and that when a government is finally formed, no one notices anyway. This time is likely to be very different, not least because the Netherlands, one of the first countries in Europe to mainstream anti-Islamist and anti-European feeling, is seen as a bell weather for the rest of the continent. No one will be watching the result as closely as Wilders’ fellow fascist Marine Le Pen, who will be thanking her lucky stars that France is a republic and, as such, seperates presidential from legislative elections. If Wilders, often referred to by Dutch media as ‘the most famous bottle blond since Marilyn Monroe’ does as well as polls suggest we should not be surprised if ‘Nexit’ follows quickly on the heels of ‘Brexit’.
Perhaps this is Wilders’ ultimate aim. To reduce a once great nation to a northern European hinterland of no particular importance, just so long as everyone eats Dutch cheese.
In the 1970s, Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided the way to find true happiness was not through the pursuit of economic riches, but by limiting his country’s access to foreign culture, much as Wilders would like to do. The success of his country would instead be measured by the happiness of its remaining citizens, or what Wangchuck termed Gross National Happiness.
March 20, five days after the Dutch go the polls, is the International day of Happiness, and the Netherlands has consistently appeared in the top ten of the UN’s chart of happiest countries. Until now. Whatever the result of the election, it is unlikely to leave many Dutch smiling.