By: Arthur Legger.
Today, at 13:20 hours and after 16 hours of manually counting the 9 million cast votes, the 9th of June 2010 Dutch general elections were finally no longer «too close to call». For the first time the Liberal Party (VVD), lead by Mark Rutte, an historian and a very happy bachelor of 43, did win: 31 seats against 30 seats for Job Cohen’s Social Democrats (PvdA). Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) added an unprecedented 15 seats and became third with 24 seats, wrong footing every analyst domestic and abroad. Jan-Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats (CDA) didn’t cause any surprise and were annihilated. Balkenende, prime minister for 8 years and 4 Cabinets, stepped down immediately after acknowledging CDA’s loss of 20 seats –leaving the party a shameful fourth position and an all time low of 21 seats.
Still, this outcome has been in the air for three months. The local elections in March showed that the Dutch were going for a further fragmentation of the political landscape and a sharp turn to the right with Wilders’ victories in Almere (5th city) and The Hague (seat of Crown and Government) and the Liberal’s mushrooming in nearly every other city. The polls handed the lead to Wilders at first and then, after a short interplay of Job ‘El Salvador’ Cohen, former major of Amsterdam and parachuted as partyleader to thwart Wilders, the VVD of Rutte gained momentum. Yet, the victorious election result of the Liberals might be historically, it’s far from revolutionary. It cannot be: the Liberals have been part of nearly every Cabinet in nearly every coalition over the past 50 years. And Mark Rutte has to form a coalition in the coming weeks. Unsurprisingly the VVD program is highly similar to that of their most fierce opponents, the Social Democrats. During the rowdy dowdy campaign everyone of the 19 competing parties stressed their uniqueness and their winning solution to the crisis. In reality all of their programs are designed for compromise and coalition. This includes the party program of Wilders’ Party For Freedom. The Hague was besieged by international media covering Rutte’s predicted victory and Wilders’ meteoric rise. Almost unanimously they concluded that Wilders’ program, expressly his uncompromising Islam critique and rejection of mass immigration, was radically different and extremely challenging to Dutch politics –a true revolution, albeit a negative one. Their conclusion, however, is wrong.
The program of the Party For Freedom was and is neither new nor radically extreme. During the early 1990ies Geert Wilders was VVD’s prodigy son and worked for years closely and loyally with Frits Bolkestein, the erudite party leader who in 1994 nearly succeeded in toppling the Social Democrats. According to Bolkestein mass immigration was a mistake and had to halt in its tracks; economic refugees were to be aided in their country of origin; multi culturalism proved to be highly problematic and costly; Islam might be a Trojan horse; Turkey was never to become a member of the EU (in 2002 he was the only EU Commissioner to vote against Turkey’s admission); and people residing illegally in the Netherlands should not receive financial support and their children ought not to attend Dutch schools. Bolkestein’s critique was chided by quite a few, but appreciated by most, including renown university professors, media moguls and leading magazines. His observations became part and parcel of VVD’s ‘rightwing’, in continuous competition with the party’s leftwing located in Amsterdam. In 2001 Pim Fortuyn borrowed most of Bolkestein’s opinions and was (posthumously) not only applauded by his 1,5 million voters but also by many influential former leaders of the VVD. What’s more, during a highly secret meeting a week before he got assassinated Fortuyn met Hans Wiegel, former VVD vice-premier and Minister of Interior, to negotiate his consent and collaboration, which he got. In short, ever since the early ‘90ies the notions which are at present solely linked to Geert Wilders, have been widespread in the Netherlands and have been carried by highly influential politicians, scholars and publishers. Leaving the VVD in 2005 Wilders merely had to handpick his selection.
In a European context, also, Wilders’ PVV program is not new or different. In building «F» at floor 4 at the European Parliament in Brussels the 5 PVV EU-parliamentarians work very closely with the European Democracy & Freedom Group, which lists for instance the Dutch Calvinist party SGP, Lega Nord, Mouvement Pour La France, UK Independence Party and the Danish People’s Party. Interviewed by me in March the leader of the EU Danish People’s Party, Morten Messerschmidt, stated that his party organization and his party program formed and provided «the blueprint» for all European parties such as Wilders’ PVV. In December 2009 the leader of the Danish People’s Party, Pia Kjaersgaard, stated to me the same: «for over 10 years now we have been the example, the blueprint, which Wilders’ PVV can follow and does». But also outside the EU Parliament the PVV of Wilders is outstripped: in Catalonia (Spain), curbing legislation against Islamic expressions such as the the burka and niqab and the building of mosques are currently implemented in cities such as Lleida and Reus (Tarragona). The same goes for Arhus in Denmark, which undid the obligation of serving halal food in schools and hospitals. In Flanders (Belgium), Paris (France), Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and Italy curbing legislation against the building of minnarets and the publicly wearing of burka and niqab are implemented. In comparison the PVV program is very modest and far from radical or revolutionary.
Clearly, the sponsoring, intellectually and financially, nationally and internationally, of Wilders’ Party for Freedom differs greatly from that of the other Dutch parties, with the exception of Proud of the Netherlands (TON) of Rita Verdonk, who as then VVD’s Minister of Immigration was responsible for the banishment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The regular parties are funded by the state, whereas the PVV isn’t. Wilders refuses subsidy on principal grounds and because he doesn’t want to reveal his backers for reasons of safety. Yet, although his decision has led to much gossip and suspicion he’s doing exactly what all other parties did until the law on party transparancy was implemented one year ago: the Liberals were heavily sponsored by Dutch international banks and business, the Social Democrats were and are completely intertwined with the European Socialist Democrats, Green Left is part and parcel of international green movements and anti-globalists, and so on. Geert Wilders is backed by groups such as the Tea Party and orthodox Christians in the US, and orthodox Jews around the globe. Probably it helps paying the bill of his lawyers and the organization of his party, but in the daily work in Dutch Parliament he and his 9 MPs function like any other elected party –only with a bit more discipline and zeal.
Still, the hunch of the foreign media that an alteration had suddenly happened in the Netherlands, and that the 9th of June 2010 Dutch election would show something revolutionary, Wilders’ PVV probably, was correct. But it’s not his party program that causes a revolution. Wilders causes the Dutch revolution. He is the revolution. Distilling from 160 years of scholarship on ‘Revolution’ I discern 6 crucial notions on what revolution is: 1) contrary to ‘change’ or ‘progress’ a revolution happens within a short time frame, a limited time continuum, which people understands as now; 2) a revolution is society’s sudden step away from accepted hierarchy or status quo into something uncertain or new; 3) revolution is not nice: it critically confronts moral parameters such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and in doing so is a-moral; 4) the litmus test of a successful revolution is that it fundamentally alters its context, may it be scientifically, socially or spiritually; 5) the notion of a revolution happening stops suddenly after which a new hierarchy sets in; 6) a successful revolution outgrows its originator.
Wrongfully or rightfully accused of nearly every evil imaginable Geert Wilders solely, in person and single handedly caused a fundamental alteration in Dutch politics and society, which fits the definition of a revolution. What did he do?
a) He stayed alive. Against all predictions, including mine, he didn’t crack over the past 5 years and remained undeterred even though all institutional and social forces did and do weigh down on him. Moreover, he refused to die and managed to outwit his assassins. He exhausted his opponents and by nearly winning the national elections he survived them spiritually and socially, showing the validity of a his alternate route.
b) Not the content of his critique is radically different or an extreme challenge to Dutch society, but his rhetoric technique and tone. His rhetoric perfections the technique of ‘framing’: the repetition of a word and a notion and the linking of ideas in such way that they become an inescapable logic; so much so that opponents, when debating the topic, are subconsciously and automatically using and applying Wilders’ logic and wording. An example is, for instance, that when Job Cohen was confronted with Moroccan juvenile delinquency he spontaneously named and shamed them in the same way as Wilders used to do –to Cohen’s utter embarrassment. Wilders’ tone is purely functional and doesn’t show any doubt, hesitation or mercy. In his voluminous indictment the public prosecutor of the Amsterdam Court recognizes and underlines these facts: mostly because of Wilders’ way of expression, his ‘framing’ and his tone, he has to face charges of hate speech and racism. Frits Bolkestein, a grand old aristocrat with a funny voice, said the same things in an even more political correct era and never had to face Court.
Wilders’ tone of voice, his rhetoric, infuriates his adversaries, it’s also the quintessence of his revolution: his way of expression has broken down the accepted hierarchy and forced politicians and public to step away from the status quo. Mostly in Parliament but also in interviews and columns he showed a complete absence of respect to accepted notions of how to communicate and to debate. His radically new tone, light-years removed from the pleasing and teasing Pim Fortuyn, caused impregnable bulwarks such as the Central Bureau of Statistics to brake down and to acknowledge that their calculations are Social Democratic biased. Wilders managed to crack the taboo of the financial costs of mass immigration. Finally the Dutch know it’s very costly: a net loss of between 7 and 15 billion Euro per year since 1975. Wilders rhetoric technique of ‘framing’ also succeeded in naming, blaming and shaming the Moroccans and their Islamic context as being most costly to Dutch society. But most crucially Wilders’ ridiculing and denigrating tone destroyed the notion of the necessity of a ruling by regents; the way the Dutch have been governed for nearly 400 years. Modern parliamentary democracy never fundamentally altered the perception that when appointed, by Crown and Cabinet, one enters the class of regents who in an almost lordly manner govern city and country. In the final television debate between the 4 most prominent politicians on the 8th of June (2,8 million viewers), Wilders showed his revolutionary rhetoric by bullying and humiliating prime-minister Balkenende in the same annihilating tone he had used for 5 years in Parliament, leaving Balkenende shattered and stammering –a naked emperor. If the definition of power is: «power perceived is power achieved» then Wilders tone alone has caused the complete crack down and fragmentation of hierarchy and power.
c) Wilders in person and expression embodies the third notion: he’s not nice, he doesn’t care whether he’s liked or not; he doesn’t care about the unsettling effect of his critique. Clearly, like every politician in every nation and time he spins his facts, but unlike a great many Dutch politicians his facts are correct. The facts Wilders lists are perceived by most Dutch as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, but like all facts they are, of course, a-moral. The facts Wilders unearthed and extorted are abhorred but also acknowledged by most political and institutional groupings. Hence, Wilders changed the Netherlands fundamentally.
d) It is of no importance that Wilders did not win the elections. As Morten Messerschmidt stated in his interview with me: «It’s not solely about the amount of seats, but about the amount of influence». Over the past 5 years Wilders has succeeded in gaining respectability of his rhetoric and credibility of his ideas: his peers in Parliament voted him ‘best politician’ twice, and all other parties, with expectance of the Party for the Animals (1 seat), have incorporated much of his critique in their programs and their daily governing of affairs. The fact that during the local elections in March Wilders suddenly stated a highly impractible proposal such as the ban of the headscarf in public places, did not stem from a cry for attention for his Islam critique, but from a fear that his opponents had paid attention too well. Moreover, for the first time in 25 years the vote of the non-Western immigrant did not hand the PvdA the victory over the VVD. Possibly and probably also the secular and integrated Moroccan started to ponder over the validity of Wilders’ critique. A vote for Wilders might have been a bridge too far, but the Liberals would have been acceptable –the Liberals who have not rejected Wilders, but singled him and his party out as the most eligible candidate to form a Cabinet with. In this respect also Wilders has succeeded to alter the Dutch context fundamentally.
e) As with every revolution also the one of Wilders seems to stop unexpected and sudden. Today, the day after the elections, he declared that all his convictions were open for negotiation and to be ready for coalition and Cabinet. Yet, Wilders merely shows to be truly Dutch and to stem from an age-old tradition of pliancy in Dutch revolutions: the Batavian Revolution of 1786, for instance, was exceedingly bloodless, profoundly civil and hideously undecided. But it caused the modern Dutch nation state the day after the Napoleonic nightmare had ended. Still, Wilders toppling of the old hierarchy doesn’t imply that he doesn’t appreciate his own. The Dutch writer Max Pam argues that Geert Wilders has to go for respectability and hierarchy to escape his assassins and to survive personally. Probably Pam is correct. But it seems that Wilders’ revolution goes on even when he is about to compromise for the sake of coalition.
f) His ‘framing’ rhetoric and anti-hierarchy tone makes school: regency is out of fashion as Job Cohen experiences the hard way. Wilders’ ideas are shared by at least 1,6 million voters. The 1960ies and 1970ies showed the braking down of confessionalism, rigid party discipline and vertical clientage (‘pillarization’); the 1980ies and 1990ies showed the gaining importance of individualism and, hence, of political fragmentation; and the Wilders-era shows the utter democratization of the well informed masses. Wilders himself doesn’t tweet or blog. But all his voters do. The internet assures that the unsettling facts of the Dutch society are no longer covered up. They need to be addressed. They have to be. Because, and a revolution in itself according to all analysts and polling bureaus, for the first time ‘the angry mob’ shows to have a memory: Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders they all embody the same worry in Dutch society. A worry carried by millions of Dutch. They’re not to be cowed, silenced and bought like in the ancien regime of pre-internet and Fortuyn. Contrary to all expectations, including mine, these elections were not first and foremost about the economy, but also, and to 1,6 million voters mostly, about Islam critique, halting mass immigration, the lack of integration, fear of Turkey becoming an EU member, safety and ‘Dutchness’. A successful revolution outgrows its originator.
In October the trial against Wilders continues. He might then be a member of Cabinet. If not, he’s heading the most powerful party in opposition. A conviction of Wilders because of his tone of expression might prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for his opponents. The initiators of the process, mostly Dutch-Moroccan Muslims and converted Dutch, ought to reconsider. They better check the core of Wilders’ critique which states the worrying fact that by Dutch law the confessors of a religion are completely free in their expressions, how insulting, stupid, discriminating, hateful and racist they might be. And that those who speak their mind without the pretext of a religion are constrained, censored and punishable before the law. It’s my educated guess that during this election many secular and integrated Dutch Muslims still abhorred Wilders’ tone and person, but finally got this fact. And if in years from now Wilders merely will be acknowledged for having successfully fought this rot in the Dutch system, and scorned for everything else, it will prove that his revolution was loud and limited, but vital.