Faced with the impending doom that has been peddled by the far right across the western political sphere, the citizens of Europe are falling for the age old trick of saying it enough times to make it real. But how can a state like the Netherlands, so long the bastion of liberal thinking, be now on the verge of embracing a leadership that is the antithesis of that very way of life that they so dearly embraced?
In less than thirty days, on the 15th of March to be precise, the Dutch electorate will go to the polls to vote in a new government. Probably for the first time ever there is a high chance that the ultra far right Freedom party (PVV), under the rule of the man with possibly the most crazy hair style in Europe, could have a real chance of taking power.
We could discuss the man behind the party, Geert Wilders, and try to examine how and why he has come to this point, but suffice to say, I don’t believe he really matters. There is no doubt that it takes a certain type of individual to want power so much that he has allowed himself to be practically in hiding for the last five years as a result of his beliefs. Now it is here that I must give credit to him, but that’s as far as it goes. He has managed to get himself into a position of major influence over the Dutch electorate who now seem to have gone against the grain in what would have been seen to be a liberal open-minded society. And it must be said that he has had help. His fellow extreme nationalists across the globe have either been successfully elected (Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte) or are on the verge of making considerable gains (Frauke Petry and Marie Le Pen) and this has surely influenced Dutch voters to consider him as a viable option.
And herein is the big question: why is this happening?
Is it the fact that people have always felt this way and now feel that it is okay to suddenly proclaim that they really don’t like those Arab guys in the local factory; or is it because the citizens of the western world are now feeling a sense of not in my backyard (NIMBY), combined with a genuine fear that these people who are arriving from the Middle East and Africa are really plotting to take over the world?
I’m thinking it’s a combination of all the above, amplified by the rhetoric of the likes of Wilders and the constant influx of information by either social media or the traditional methods of press and TV. The news is no longer just a twenty minute presentation three times a day. It’s all day every day and this is like manna from heaven for those who practice the dark arts of propaganda. Like I stated at the beginning, say it enough times, and it becomes true. Of course this whole concept has been dissected so many times that it probably should be a new category in a book shop or library, but it takes on a whole new level when it is applied to states like the Netherlands.
It really shouldn’t happen there.
So we now face a situation where the chances are that the Dutch will go for a right wing government despite the fact that it could be detrimental to vast swathes of its population. And I am not just talking about immigrants. The standard line amongst the far right has been to target certain sections of society and insinuate that they are somehow illegal, unwanted or considered… untermenschen. And this is where the Dutch model is in such jeopardy. We see the openness towards the LGBT community, the aged and the disabled, and think if the immigrants are in the spotlight, once they have been removed, who is next?
But could it really come to this, or are we showing little faith in our Dutch friends to do the right thing? And is this flirtation with right wing politics really as dangerous as people think? Austria has experimented with a far right government in the recent past, but in the end they were nothing more than a populist leadership hamstrung by a political system that prevented them from pursuing a more controlling agenda. We need to look and learn from past experiences and ensure that democratic systems are secure enough to enable a right wing government to have its shot, but only allow it to operate within normal democratic parameters. It is believed that should the Freedom party win the election, the other main parties will refuse to work with them and victory or not, they need the support from somewhere. If it doesn’t come, the next party, most likely Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party (VVD), will have the initiative. Wilders has stated that if this should happen and he fails to get any support, he will call it an undemocratic set-up and thus the electorate will “revolt”.
Unlike most general elections though, the run in to this one seems somehow darker than, say, the US Presidential election and although the likes of Wilders and his party are probably using democracy against itself, we must rely on that very same system to ensure that his policies are held in check until the next time the Dutch go to the ballot box.