Geert Wilders is one of us, say Indies immigrants

Geert Wilders is one of us, say Indies immigrants

12th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Geert Wilders is surprisingly popular with immigrants who came to the Netherlands from the former Dutch East Indies. The key, believes anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen, lies in the populist politician's own convoluted family history.

If you consider the evidence, says Lizzy van Leeuwen, Geert Wilders is himself a second generation immigrant. His mother was born in Sukabumi, in what is now Indonesia. His grandfather, Johan Ording, was a civil servant in the colonial administration and his grandmother, Johanna, belonged to a mixed blood family.

Could that have played a role in the development of Mr Wilders' preoccupation with territorial issues? "It's possible," says Ms Van Leeuwen. She knows of dozens of immigrants from the East Indies who have roughly similar ideas. But actual evidence? She admits there is none.

More significant is that people from the Dutch East Indies will immediately recognize Mr Wilders as one of their own. Despite the bleached hair. "I interviewed more than a hundred elderly immigrants. They see him as what they call an 'Indies boy'. As someone who tells the truth."


When the politician's grandfather came to the Netherlands on furlough in 1935, he found himself sacked from his job. He and his wife, who was used to having servants and living the life of an aristocrat, suddenly had to adjust to a new environment. Poverty and bitterness were their lot.

 AFP PHOTO/SCANPIX DENMARK/Jens Nørgaard Larsen The Ording family's experiences closely mirror those of the 300,000 men and women from the East Indies - including many of mixed blood - who came to the Netherlands after the Second World War, when the colony became independent.

Upon their arrival, their education and language skills were held up to much closer scrutiny than those of people born on Dutch soil. It wasn't exactly a warm welcome, stresses Ms Van Leeuwen.

"But because they tried to do their best and assimilate, they have been quiet about their problems and their frustrations, they saw themselves as perfect Dutch speakers and lovers of the queen. They were superdutch."

Silent generation

Things changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Dutch government began introducing 'guest workers' from Turkey and Morocco. The 'native' Dutch failed to see the difference between these new, mostly Islamic immigrants and the mixed blood families from the Dutch Indies.

Suddenly, the 'superdutch' were treated as foreigners. According to Lizzy van Leeuwen, their feelings of exclusion and betrayal at the hands of the Dutch authorities were never properly addressed.
To this silent generation Geert Wilders is nothing less than "a hero", she says. Because he offers a definition of Dutch identity that draws a firm line in the sand, excluding the Turks and Moroccans but including the East Indies community. Thanks to his outspokenness, they can finally break their own silence.

Latent racism

But within the East Indies community itself, not everyone agrees. Herman Bussemaker, chairman of the Dutch Indies Platform, says he doesn't know anyone who believes Mr Wilders is a hero. On the contrary, many immigrants from the former colony are alarmed by the politician's meteoric rise.
"They are afraid because the latent racism that is present in Dutch culture is only being reinforced by the actions of Mr Wilders. And most of them aren't white. So they are afraid that his actions will lead to more discrimination towards them as well."

That there is a trauma still waiting to be addressed after all this time - a trauma forgotten or ignored by most Dutch people - Dr Bussemaker doesn't deny. But that hasn't resulted in any strong right-wing leanings, he says. Rather, the political expressions of those frustrations "are spread from left to right".

Local elections


The Dutch city with the largest number of people from an East Indies background - The Hague - happens to be one of only two places where Mr Wilders' PVV party is planning to contest the local elections next year.

For the 'Indies boy', it may prove to be a valuable test of his standing with one of the Netherlands' most misunderstood communities.

Perro de Jong
Radio Netherlands


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