It’s Monday, February 20th and coming to you from Berlin I’m Alper for episode 7 of ‘Europe Was Left’.
The coming Dutch elections are dominated by the specter of Geert Wilders’s far right PVV (the Dutch Freedom Party). The PVV has been on the stage for about a decade now but this is the first election where they are leading in the polls.
Things should be looking up for them, but not everything is going as smoothly as it should.
Some repositioning from their direct competitor the ruling right-wing VVD and other parties has deflated Wilders’s poll lead from its all-time high of 35 to some 25 seats for our parliament of 150. Still huge but no longer unassailable by our current prime minister Mark Rutte.
Not having the electoral stamina to cash in on this early lead was to be expected but there are some other signs that Wilders is stumbling.
He bowed out of the first major television debate with the flimsiest of excuses. Additional parties had been invited to the debate than had been initially agreed upon because the field had narrowed. That change proved too much for Wilders and he refused to participate.
Then he bowed out of another debate by the same television channel because they had interviewed Wilders’s brother about his politics and their family ties. Wilders said this was a disgrace and again refused participation.
His brother does not much approve of Wilders’s extremist politics and has said so occasionally on Twitter over the past years. In the interview he said he’d like their family ties to be reinstated and told that he himself has been the target of threats from Wilders supporters. This is ironic since it is Wilders himself who is always paraded as the imperiled politician.
Two debates down, we are in a situation where he will be only in two major debates before we get to vote. One debate the day before the elections and the other two days before the elections. You would almost think that Wilders’s positions don’t hold up to scrutiny by his political opponents.
Wilders also had his official campaign start last Saturday in Spijkenisse, a town that is the epitome of the beleaguered white working class. For being the candidate who leads in the polls he didn’t manage to draw a huge audience of rapt supporters. Somewhere between 80 and 200 people showed up, about as many as the number of people from news organizations present to cover the event.
Dutch state broadcaster NOS tried to play up his support and opened the eight o’clock news saying that ‘unbelievable crowds of people’ were present. They were supposed to say ‘unbelievably small’ but found themselves too beholden to Wilders to be able to say the truth.
Flanked by his protection detail Wilders attempted to hand out fliers barely able to reach beyond the thicket of domestic and international press.
Wilders is under protection because he offended a bunch of dudes with small dicks ages ago but that doesn’t matter that much anymore. The protection itself has become inseparable from the entity that is Wilders. It is the source of his moral high-horse and his electoral appeal. He has admitted in private that his visible security detail nets him several parliament seats at least.
But threats to ethnically cleanse the Netherlands, such as Wilders has expressed, are not speech that deserves protection. During his last interview Wilders pedaled back from this position but even then: threatening to ethnically cleanse the Netherlands publicly and then backing off when pressed, is also not a speech act that deserves protection.
Yesterday world famous comedian Arjen Lubach aired a long segment exposing the emptiness of Wilders’s where none of his extremist statements are grounded in any kind of reality or backed by even an inkling of a plan.
Lubach’s segment was necessary. Dutch journalists, too afraid to estrange the angry old white man still buying their newspapers, have been lax and mostly absent when it comes to rebuking Wilders. A clear history and overview of the absurdity of Wilders’s position is useful both as a reference and to obliterate any votes he might get from people still susceptible to reason.
What Lubach doesn’t get though is that—well of course Wilders voters don’t watch his show—but more than that it is exactly the impossibility and unreasonableness of Wilders’s positions that makes him so attractive to a certain kind of voters. This is the quality that most makes him a fascist. Wilders’s positions do not need to be practical, or reasonable or anything else, the only thing they need to be is extreme, broad and damaging to elites, foreigners and other undesirables.
Fascists do not care that lots of treaties will have to be rescinded or the constitution will have to be cut up. The one in the White House doesn’t and Wilders won’t either.
I think Wilders is recusing himself from debates and interviews and any other kinds of public exposure that he can’t control because he is getting nervous. The coming elections are his last and best opportunity to seize power and become prime minister of the Netherlands. But even this best opportunity is still pretty uncertain.
If he doesn’t succeed this time and we manage to keep him out, he’ll have to while away another four years in opposition while people better than him govern the country. He can stand on the sidelines and shout things that are even more extreme—or try it, I’m not sure more extreme is physically possible anymore at this point—and spend the rest of his time collaborating with foreign powers and media.
What will be left of him after another four years? Not much I reckon. A decisive electoral defeat come March 15th will stop Wilders and after that we’ll be rid of him.
That’s all for this episode. Like Europe Was Left where you find it, keep the comments coming and talk to you soon.