Wilders’ supporters - what do they want?
"I want to become prime minister." That's what Geert Wilders said after a private meeting with 200 followers in his home town of Venlo. "One day my party will be the biggest, and then it will be an honour to accept the prime-ministership."
According to a recent poll, Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) is the most popular party in the Netherlands. But exactly who supports this party is unclear. Two Volkskrant journalists tried to find out.
If there were elections today, the right-wing populist PVV would get 27 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. That, at least, was the outcome of a poll conducted by Dutch researcher Maurice de Hond a few weeks ago. This sudden rise of popularity is mainly due to the fact that party leader Geert Wilders was recently denied access to the UK.
But who really are the supporters of Geert Wilders? As the Freedom Party does not have members, the profile of his followers remains a bit unclear. The stereotype image is that of the low-paid and low-educated inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods who saw their familiar surroundings change beyond recognition by the coming of immigrants.
But a recent poll [TNS NIPO] reveals that the Freedom Party is also attracting increasing numbers of voters with a higher education. Thirteen percent of Mr Wilders' current followers have received higher education, in contrast to nine percent at the time of the elections of 2006. Also, it turns out that the average Freedom Party supporter is now earning more than before.
In a long article in the Volkskrant (20th February 2009), journalists Janny Groen and Annieke Kranenberg attempted to profile the typical Freedom Party supporter. They approached a number of people who wrote hate mails to Gerard Spong, the lawyer who filed a legal complaint against Wilders for discrimination and inciting hatred. 15 of them were willing to talk: some of them were indeed low-paid and lived in poor neighbourhoods, others lived in better parts of town.
Geert Wilders - Riding the hype
It's said that the turning point in Wilders' life came when he spent some time in Israel in the 1980s. To this day he maintains a strong bond with the country. Back in the Netherlands, he won a seat in parliament for the conservative VVD in 1998. He became party spokesperson on foreign policy.
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Fear of Islamisation is the dominant theme with all. Many of Geert Wilders' supporters are convinced that Muslim politicians have a secret agenda to Islamise Europe. Wilders, in their view, is the only politician who understands this and dares to speak about it.
In the poor neighbourhoods the stereotype image is not far from the truth. There is a general sense of frustration that the immigrants living there have no respect for Dutch norms and values. Daily annoyances about the deterioration of the living surroundings play a big part in this frustration.
The interviewees, all over 50, are annoyed by people who park their cars on the pavement and throw their garbage from the balconies of their apartments; and by children running wild through the halls and staircases of the apartment blocks at midnight without being kept in check by their parents. They feel threatened by groups of immigrant youths in the streets and mention the increasing crime rate in their surroundings.
"Recently, an old woman was robbed of her wallet", says 72-year-old Alida Kroep in the Volkskrant article.
All the interviewed agree that "Moroccan criminals should be sent back to their country of origin". Remarkably, however, Geert Wilders' supporters never fail to emphasise that they do not consider themselves racists.
"I do not hate these people", says Lisa Looper (57), "but they have to adapt themselves goddammit!"
The better educated Freedom Party supporters live in neighbourhoods where Dutch-Moroccan boys on scooters are rarely seen. The daily annoyances about deteriorating living conditions are absent here and the fear of Islamisation is more abstract.
Company director Joost Wildschut (37) compares Islamisation with Nazism. He believes in the existence of a conspiracy to Islamise Europe, as described in the book Eurabia by the Jewish-Egyptian author Bat Ye'or: "I think it's bizarre that there are separate hours for Muslim women in the swimming pool and a special financial system for Islamic ‘halal' mortgages. And it annoys me to see a Muslim woman wearing a burqa in the market." Qualified nurse Ger Dalen (53) states that he only wants to socialise with Muslims who embrace democracy, denounce the headscarf and view non-Muslims as their equals.
Many Freedom Party supporters feel that the growing influence of Islam causes them to lose more and more rights, in particular the right to express themselves. They harbour a deep suspicion against the established political parties who try to shut them up by dismissing them as racists, which in their own view they aren't.
To them Geert Wilders is the only politician who has the courage to withstand this and express what they think. That explains why they view him as a hero of free speech and why they are so furious about the pending legal prosecution of Wilders.
Freedom of speech
Something, however, does not quite add up with Wilders' new persona as a hero for freedom of speech. His supporters are angry because he is being brought to court for discrimination and sowing hatred and because he was denied access to the UK. But Wilders himself wants to prohibit the Qur'an and deny radical Muslim preachers access to the Netherlands.
According to Paul Schnabel, director of the Dutch Bureau of Social and Cultural Planning, this contradiction is not a coincidence. He says in an interview with the Volkskrant (23 February 2009):
"The issue is not the freedom of speech, but our freedom of speech. The idea that people from outside come here to tell me that I'm not allowed to say what I want, is unbearable." At the end of the day, says Paul Schnabel, it all boils down to one question: Whose country is this? "It's a matter of power. Who bows for whom? We do not want people from outside to tell us what we can do and what we can't. They have to adapt to our rules."
Mr Schnabel, by the way, believes that Geert Wilders merely says what people think and should not be classified as ‘extreme right'. "He does not play on the classical themes of the extreme right. He is for the emancipation of homosexuals and women and he is not anti-Semitic."
Head Photo: Geert Wilders showing his passport on his recent trip to the UK