The Netherlands is considered a left-liberal country, but in reality it is evenly divided between left and right. The elections of June 9 indicate a slight tilt to the right, which in itself is not a dramatic event: on many occasions in the past the right had a small majority. But media outlets are reporting the outcome of the elections as a huge change in Dutch society.
It is not. It changed ten years ago.
The unrest among Dutch voters has been visible since the rise of Pim Fortuyn, the amazing Dutch politician who was killed in 2002 by a radical leftist animal-rights activist. A couple of the main issues in the Netherlands (or Holland — the name Holland is used for only the two most western provinces of this small country) had been neglected by the traditional political parties, and Pim Fortuyn was the intellectual, emotional, and theatrical politician who was able to bring these two issues — immigration and the future of the welfare state — to the forefront of the political debate.
Holland is still struggling with Fortuyn’s legacy. He called for a stop to immigration of people from Islamic countries, and for a reformation of the expensive welfare state. Fortuyn, who was an openly gay man and proud about it, was worried about the very conservative values Muslim immigrants brought with them to Holland from their remote villages in northeastern Morocco. Fortuyn warned about the negative effects of a new group of immigrants who had left their countries for economic reasons, but didn’t understand — and even rejected — the values of the new country to which they had moved. The tolerance, the liberties, and modest riches of Holland were the result of its Protestant values and Judeo-Christian roots.
After many failed efforts to have his political ideas accepted by the established parties, Fortuyn started his own political movement. The polls at the time indicated that within six months his movement could draw one-third of the total electorate. It would mean an electoral revolution.
Fortuyn was about to become the first openly gay prime minister when he was murdered. His death is still an open wound in Dutch society.
Geert Wilders is the direct heir of Fortuyn’s message.
Wilders was MP for the VVD, the conservative-liberal party (as in classical liberal), and ran into trouble with his party’s leadership because of his strong opposition to the possible EU membership of Turkey. He considered Turkey an Islamic country alien to the core values of Judeo-Christian Europe.
For centuries, Holland has been a functional coalition of religious minorities. In the 16th century, various Protestant creeds united and fought the occupying Spanish Catholics. They established a small country of freethinkers and merchants, open to the world and tolerant of different opinions and ideas as long as the status quo between the provinces and the merchant families was left untouched. The division of many smaller parties is still a reflection of that basic situation.
In yesterday’s election, Wilders’ Freedom Party — despite heavy opposition from the leftist parties and the mainstream media — got 24 seats in the 150-seat Parliament. The VVD, the party Wilders left, became the biggest party, with 31 seats. The Christian Democrats, the solid centrist party that traditionally has been part of the governing coalition, was cut in half, from 42 to 21.