If it quacks, walks and talks like a fascist most likely it’s a fascist.
I grew up in the Netherlands at a time when tolerance, diversity, justice, freedom and equality were our main and accepted values. Perhaps vistas of the past become more beautiful in time, but everything in life changes over time and the country has also changed.
To elaborate : the Netherlands, with a GDP of $ 910 billion, with GDP per capita at $52,290 and a debt ratio of 48.70%, is a rich and civilized country with excellent quality of life. It is best described historically as a multicultural liberal society with a mature democracy. The country has a population of 17.1 million people, of which 25% are Christian, 6% Muslim, and 68% unaffiliated.
The history of religion in the Netherlands has always involved considerable diversity of religious thought and practice. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 recognized the independence of the Netherlands. Later during the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic was transformed into a leading political power in Europe thanks to global trading interests.
During this period, the Dutch East India Company became one of the earliest and most important national trading companies, the first-ever multinational corporation to be financed by shares, which established the first modern stock exchange. The company became the world’s largest commercial enterprise in the 17th century. The Bank of Amsterdam was established in 1609 to finance growing regional trade. It was, in fact, the first national bank, and it confirmed Amsterdam as a financial centre at the time.
During 17th and 18th century, trade, industry, the arts and the sciences flourished, thanks to some of the nation’s greatest luminaries, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Descartes and Spinoza. The Netherlands were arguably the most economically sound and scientifically advanced of all European nations.
The country was long celebrated by Anglicans, Protestants and Jews for its religious tolerance. The Dutch Republic in the Golden Age was the only society that tolerated religious dissenters of all persuasions in early modern Europe, despite being committed to a strictly Calvinist public Church.
This tolerance was mainly seen in the western and maritime province of Holland, and it varied. Even within Holland, there were marked differences between the religious policies of the various cities, with Amsterdam and Rotterdam, for instance, being more tolerant than Haarlem and Leiden.
The religious order of other provinces, like Overijssel or Groningen, was much closer to the model of the German Landeskirchen. In the south, a mainly rural Catholic population was governed by a small elite of Reformed office-holders on behalf of the States-General.
The Netherlands became a refuge for persecuted religious communities, such as the Huguenots from France and Puritans from England, as well as a home for many of these migrants. During the 17th and 18th century the part of first-generation immigrants in Amsterdam was nearly 50 %. The Jews had their own laws and formed a separate society.
But next to its artistic innovation and economic modernity, the United Provinces of the Netherlands also became known for their involvement with slavery and military repression in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, demonstrating that the country has never been shy about prioritizing profits.
Our history of tolerance, diversity, justice, freedom and equality are what I consider a “civilized” society. Welcoming refugees and freedom of movement are part of the mix. These two issues which are diametrically opposed to the extremist opinions of our national populists, Thierry Baudet and Geert Wilders, who are riding their 1930’s fascist surfboard.
Both Baudet and Wilders have the same aspiration of other national populists on the extreme right who have risen to power around the world (Narendra Modi in India, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jarosław Kaczynski in Poland, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey.)
This is reminiscent of the words Adolf Hitler spoke to fellow Nazis years before taking office “The constitution only maps out the arena of the battle, not the goal, once we possess constitutional power, we will mould the state into the shape we hold to be suitable.”
On the periphery of this disturbing European political spectrum are national populist politicians like Marine Le Pen in France, Mateo Salvini in Italy and Nigel Farage in the UK, but their influence and shelf life is still limited.
All these populists, left- or right-wing, require all-believing stooges with low intellect to follow them, people incapable of understanding the merits and consequences of their ideas or policies. They need a single adversary – like the “elites,” or the European Union — and the issues have to be simplified. Facts and truth are the biggest casualties of national populist lore as they exploit the underbelly of society with their empty slogans that fail to offer solutions to the serious problems of today and tomorrow.
Who are these people?
Thierry Baudet founded the Forum for Democracy “FvD” in 2016 and was elected in 2017 to Parliament as our own mini-Trump. He is a proponent of Dutch-first cultural, social and economic policies. He calls for less immigration, closed borders, and for the Netherlands to leave the EU.
In stark contradiction to achievements made in our modern society, Baudet believes in the return to the traditional male-dominated society and is known to have said “The reality is that women want to be overwhelmed, dominated, yes, they want to be overpowered.”
As one of Vladimir Putin’s little dwarfs in Europe, Baudet has called for better relations with Russia, opposed the EU association agreement with Ukraine, has talked about “climate change hysteria.” In his infinite wisdom has claimed there has been “no increase in extreme weather conditions,” and compared the Corona pandemic with the flu and is spreading doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Baudet followed Trump into the rhetorical sewers. He uses the same playbook and social media have also called his tweets misleading or, better yet, have pointed out that he is known to speak untruths and lies.
Following claims of anti-Semitism in 2020, the FvD split and in the turmoil many senators left the party, including all of the members of the European Parliament.
The FvD has a membership of 40,000 and is trying to attract a younger more intellectual, upper-middle to high-education and income voter base. In the latest election results, 25 % of the FvD voters were in the 18-34 age group. This is in line with the 24% registered by the largest party in the Netherlands, the VVD.
Geert Wilders first joined the liberal VVD, a party that since the 1990’s under the leadership of Frits Bolkestein opposed multiculturalism, immigration and EU integration. In 1997, Wilders was Frits Bolkestein’s assistant, today a eminence grise in the VVD who still supports him. This change in direction in the VVD gave many Liberals cause to leave the party and move on to D66, the country’s liberal pro-European party.
In 1998, Wilders got elected to parliament for the VVD but left the party when his extreme views were not shared. He went on to found his anti-Islam/anti-immigrant /anti-EU party in 2004, which he later renamed Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV. It is, in fact, a one-man show without members or democratic norms or membership, relying solely on outside donations from American, Israeli and other extreme right conservative circles.
The supporters of Wilders are mainly the uneducated and low-income voters who only look at the skin of the balloon he has painted in bright colours. But in all reality Wilders resembles a worn vinyl gramophone record from the sixties, no longer listenable, one we have moved to the attic.
As with Trump supporters, Wilders’ base should put aside the fairytales and take a closer look under the hood. They would see what a caricature Wilders has become of the “brown” 1930’s-style core, which cannot be trusted.
The brown rot
Both the FvD and PVV have a common opponent, namely the left to centre-left-wing establishment which, in their poisonous nationalistic view, have damaged the fabric of society.
Nevertheless both parties are racist and use xenophobia, incitement and hate. In doing so, they are similar to Anton Mussert’s NSB, which picked up 8% of the vote at the 1935 elections and then openly collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation.
NSB membership grew to 100,000 in that period and it was well represented in the civil servants ranks. Mayors appointed during the occupation by the Germans were all NSB members.
They were the kind of mayors who confiscated my birth house in Soestduinen during the war, in order appropriate its many paintings, which appealed to the local mayor, and house a group of German nurses who definitely enjoyed their stay.
During WWII, Dutch companies were not unwilling to cooperate with German companies, and they profited handily. As a sign of the times the NSB formed the Nederlandsche SS (Department XI) in September 1940, the equivalent to the Allgemeine SS in Germany.
During the NSB rally of 27 June 1941 in Amsterdam, Seyss-Inquart and Mussert spoke of the necessity to invade the Soviet Union. Between 20,000 and 25,000 Dutch citizens volunteered to serve in the Heer and the Waffen-SS.
At the same time the largest right-wing newspaper of today, De Telegraaf, which today is normalizing Thierry Baudet, Geert Wilders and other extreme-right figures, collaborated with the German occupiers and published anti-Jewish articles and pro-German texts by order of the Germans.
Most other newspapers in the Netherlands refused to do so during the war. As a result, De Telegraaf was condemned to a thirty-year ban on publication after the war. But we are a country that believes in the consensus model and this ban was lifted in 1949 already, because the collaboration with the Germans had taken place under severe pressure.
The truth is not always pretty, and irony is not dead. Today everyone’s family member was a member of the Dutch resistance. But the sad truth is that for years the Dutch government, with the support of the courts in the Netherlands, ignored calls, to return Jewish art and property stolen by Dutch collaborators and transported directly to Germany for sale, to the legitimate heirs.
Both FvD and PVV have similarities with the NSB in some areas. They are both populist ultranationalist parties that worship the will of the “people.” The stimulate what was once called “gesundes Volksempfinden.” They gloriofy the past and portray our society as being in crisis because of immigration and the loss of our national (Christian / white) identity.
Both Baudet and Wilders are anti-parliamentarian and show a disdain for the institutions. In the process, they attack the independence of the courts and deplore human rights. With their opposition to the European Union they seek to “reclaim the Netherlands.”
Baudet’s aim is to destroy and reshape society. He uses the term “Boreal world” as a way to glorify the Nordic (Aryan, Germanic) culture, in his words: “Because we are the party of the rebirth. Of the Renaissance.”
Having lived through the 1960s, and being aware of the history of Christianity, I can safely say that I can do without Baudet and Wilders’ admiration for “dominance in the Judeo-Christian tradition.” We have separation of church and state, and personally I am delighted about the changes that have led to a much more open society and diminishing role and influence of the church. Some churches are even being turned into bookstores.
The same can be said about our multicultural liberal society, which has more advantages than disadvantages, despite some difficulties in the area of integration and education that must be addressed.
As to the refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, let us be clear: Any father, mother, brother or sister in similar circumstances would attempt to bring their children, husband, wife, sister or brother from a war zone to safety and is obliged to do so.
To place this in perspective: Today, there are 65.6 million people who have been forcibly displaced, of which 50 % are children. One-third have fled abroad. Refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan account for 17.2 million. Since the war began in Syria, 5.5 million people have fled the country and another 6.3 million are internally displaced. From this total, 12% of Syrian refugees and 7% of the Afghans live in the West.
During Angela Merkel’s term in office, which will soon come to an end, she showed great courage and moral leadership by welcoming the refugees during a crisis that serves as a good example of our globalizing world.
Like Germany, we in the Netherlands should have welcomed refugees in a magnanimous manner and shared the burden of the EU in an equal manner as our human dignity requires. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is now entering his fourth term and has been a general disappointment, as has been his position towards the European Union.
Contrary to the traditional EU, authoritarian tendencies have lately been emerging and normalized in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, evidence that Central-European post-Communist countries have failed in building a viable kind of democracy, with freedom of the press and an independent judiciary. The cancer of authoritarianism is fueling hatred towards refugees and minorities and has led the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland refugees for relocation and share in the refugee burden.
The erosion of democratic values, institutionalized corruption, hatred towards refugees and human right violations raises serious questions about the wisdom of Enlargement of the European Union and the validity of their full EU membership.
The xenophobic expressions and the attacks on the press made by PM Viktor Orbán, former liberal turned autocrat, in Hungary and the attacks on the Constitutional Court in Poland are worrisome. These situations show the differences in culture between “traditional” Europe and “new” Europe and must be cause for self-reflection and, if deemed necessary, for proceeding with a two-speed EU.
Instead of building walls around countries, we need fewer borders and more bridges, since walls only imprison us. Another reason to be open-minded is that in Europe our populations are aging and our demographic pyramid is rapidly inverting. So there’s all the more reason to welcome refugees who are mostly well educated and will contribute to our society in an open and positive manner.
Wilders’ intolerance and aversion to Islam, his xenophobic, anti-European views have attracted international attention, as did his peroxide blonde bouffant hair style and his conviction by the courts for discrimination given his hate speech and incitement at a rally in The Hague calling for “fewer Moroccans.”
Baudet and Wilders are both a warning sign against the dangers of extreme right-wing demagoguery that is part and parcel of the epidemic of nationalism menacing our liberal society. These forces, which Baudet and Wilders encourage, are filled with hate and fear. They are like a malignant tumour and recall another demagogue from Europe’s darkest past in the 1930s.
John F. Kennedy once said: “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Indeed, the only conclusion reasonable people can reach about Wilders is that his plans are discriminatory and infringe on fundamental rights, particularly his “de-Islamization” measures which include closing mosques in the Netherlands, banning the Quran, closing Islamic schools and internment without trial. These measures are dangerous and disturbing and, together with stopping immigration from Muslim countries, illogical as well, given our history.
These measures are additionally a breach with freedom of education, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and equality before the law. All of these are fundamental human rights and have been laid down and guaranteed in the constitution.
The views of both Baudet and Wilders are repulsive and undermine our institutions, our freedom and the rule of law. It is not surprising that the Norwegian mass murderer Breivik referred to Wilders in his writings more than thirty times. This testifies to Wilders’ popularity in extreme right and Fascist circles.
It seems Wilders’ small mind and spirit are so saturated by hate and intolerance toward Islam that he can no longer distinguish between moderate and radical Islam. But Islam has many faces, just as Christianity and other religions do.
But Baudet and Wilders’ views are not limited to Islam. They also advocate leaving the European Union and abandoning the euro and a return to the Dutch Guilder.“ A key point of principle,” they suggest, “is that the Netherlands outside the euro has the freedom to adopt the policy stance it wants.”
The idea is utopian. Their nationalism is blinding them to the fact that since the 1970s the Netherlands has not had an independent interest policy. The Dutch Guilder was always connected to the German Mark and followed the German interest policy, with the a brief exception in 1983, when the Guider was devaluated with devastating results.
But both these propositions are, for a country like the Netherlands and most for EU countries, a fool’s errant. These unrealistic and dangerous policies would isolate the country and have a negative impact on the economy, competition and living standards.
We live in an integrated global market, in which everything is connected and controlled by the main economic power structures. Globalization and liberal societies are here to stay and have shown their ability to reduce barriers between countries and address some of the problems like unemployment and poverty. They create growth and jobs and have major advantages for developing countries.
It goes without saying that de-islamisation and anti-Europe positions “benefit Wilders and Baudet privately, financially and politically. Wilders exploits his police protection by playing the victim of the same forces he purposely antagonizes and by the same token receives financial support from extreme right-wing circles.
In 2017 Wilders’ promise of a “Populist Spring” in Europe fell once again short of his own expectations. Wilders usually implodes before election day. His balloon popped in 2018, and in 2021 it didn’t even take off due to lack of clean oxygen. There is a silent majority that understands the dangers of Baudet and Wilders represent for our society.
Nevertheless Wilders, Baudet and their stooges, given their views on the corona pandemic, are a danger to our public health. For our democracy in the Netherlands and Europe, they are a destructive political force, a force which must not be normalized but taken seriously and resisted at all levels.
The new leader of D66, Sigrid A.M. Kaag, understands this and was unequivocal in her election debate with Geert Wilders. She stood her ground eloquently and rejected any government alliances that would include FvD and PVV, thus creating a de facto cordon sanitaire.
PM Mark Rutte did the same and stayed on course, but he also pushed the Centre again more to the right and moved again closer to Wilders his positions. In the past he has used what he calls “good populism”, but there is no “good populism” or “good Nationalism”, they are both deplorable and similar to a malignant cancer. But using populism and nationalism is nothing new to the VVD our main Liberal party.
The result of the Dutch election of 2021 which 82,6 % of the electorate voted the highest turnout since 1986 shows that the right-wing bigots of Wilders PVV and Baudet FVD were rejected by 87 % of the electorate and this outcome represents the choice for reason against fear politics and insanity.
But nevertheless, Wilders who came into parliament in 2006 with his one-member PVV party, based on his hostility towards Islam, is still one of the three major parties and is having now after 15 years 17 seats in parliament being 11 % of the vote, which is a significant percentage in a country with multiple (18) political parties in parliament.
Taking both populist parties together, Baudet and Wilders still received a fair percentage of voters (17%,) equal to 25 seats in parliament. An intolerable and shameful result given the 1930s lessons of history, a time when the “brown” and “black” shirts ruled our streets.
To exclude Baudet and Wilders from any government participation and support by means of a cordon sanitaire is the logical and sensible decision for now and the future.
But make no mistake about it: This result suits Baudet and Wilders since they can only limit themselves to opposition in parliament. Government participation and the necessity of really taking charge would not be in their interest, given the risk of losing their popular support and not having the organization or the qualified people to participate in serious and responsible government.
So common sense prevailed the Netherlands and the country pulled back from the brink with regards to the EU. The whole picture must also be seen in the light of the recent experiences made with Donald J Trump’s authoritarianism and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s repression in Turkey. Both men tried to limit freedom of press and the independence of the judiciary.
It is tragic to see how the democracy in Turkey, designed and developed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is being destroyed by Erdoğan. Oddly, the words of Atatürk are as true today as when they were spoken.
These assaults on democracy are compounded by the Brexit insanity of Nigel Farage now realized by Boris Johnson, which will have a very negative impact on younger generations.
Brexit is a rather grotesque experiment with turning back the clock back 40+ years in a world that has greatly changed. The decision to go through with it is already splitting the country. There are signs of economic deterioration with prices rising faster than wages, a downgrading of the status of the economy, and the pound losing value.
As Lord Heseltine said at the time, “With Brexit, Britain has lost more power and influence than in any other day of my peacetime life.”
Obviously the last four years with Trump in the White House was a wake-up call for Europe. His playbook failed. The positive trend continued when in France the Fascist Marine Le Pen was soundly beaten in 2017 by Emmanuel Macron, who embraces free-market policies and sees the urgent need for the strategic autonomy of the European Union.
It’s worth remembering how her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, embraced the term the espace boreal in 2005, just like Baudet does today
“Une Europe fermée au tiers-monde, qui par sa démographie va nous submerger. Un espace en harmonie, parce que chrétien, humaniste, au niveau de vie plus haut qu’ailleurs.
(“A Europe closed to the Third World, which ,by its demography, is going to submerge us. A space in harmony, because Christian, humanist, with a higher standard of living than elsewhere.”)
It’s the same Jean-Marie Le Pen, admired by Baudet, who stated that Hitler was elected democratically and the Holocaust was just a mere detail of history, He was convicted for that statement. Obviously, upbringing, or lack thereof, leaves its traces. But all the cosying up to Vladimir Putin and Trump didn’t help Putin’s dwarfs Le Pen or Wilders.
A second term for Emmanuel Macron in 2022 will hopefully lead to the long overdue reform of labour-market regulations, tax-rates and fixed inequalities in the pension system. It should also intensify European integration and increase European autonomy.
The re-election in Germany of Angela Merkel in 2019 further strengthened the German-French cooperation, which is driving integration and the strategic autonomy of the European Union.
The results of recent elections also shows that Socialism is struggling to retain its influence in Europe. The old tired ideas don’t work anymore, they are simply old wine in new bottles. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, who recently relinquished Labour leadership, is this type prehistoric political leader who wanted to take Britain back to the Stone Age with his high taxation and dreams of large scale nationalization.
The good fight
Despite the positive results in keeping nationalism and the extreme right at bay has only just started and must be seen as structural. The struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is happening on several continents. The fact remains, though: These autocrats and demagogues have no answers or are unable to deliver any solution for the problems they are facing. In Europe their purpose is to limit the further integration of the EU with the primary objective to divide and destroy the European Union.
They seek to use democracy from within and create fascism, so we must stop being politically correct but must alternative facts, namely lies, and call this populism by its rightful name, that is, demagoguery or civilized fascism.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that the EU brought us freedom, tolerance, solidarity, and rule of law during sixty years, which I turn generated economic benefits, peace and stability. This is our common future. By working economically, politically and militarily together we are stronger.
Until the recent election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the USA, our political climate was severely influenced by Donald J. Trump, who called the international order into question and undermined democracy by attacking the American government from within. For four years, he and his administration and handlers did their best to hollow out the institution of the Presidency. This threatened the not only the stability of the USA, but also the transatlantic relationship, the European Union and NATO. The alliance, which took decades to build and has brought us peace and stability over the last 70-plus years has, was seriously undermined by his actions.
It’s not the first time the roads of Europe and the US have diverged. Under George W Bush, the trans-Atlantic relationship was severely tested with the differences on the invasion of Iraq. But, crucially, the shared values were never questioned.
Angela Merkel has been a remarkable political figure in the storm. She formulated the only conclusion possible when she said: “We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” In 2017, she also noted in 2017: “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.”
The last statement was in fact a line in the sand. The global order belongs to the past and the future of US leadership is in question. It was a turning point that suggested that the days of delusional EU subservience towards the US and acting as a US subsidiary are over. Despite our shared values with the US today, it would be best to follow the mantra “cooperate when we agree, be independent when we must.”
Driving a wedge into the trans-Atlantic relationship has been a supreme goal of the Soviet Union and its successor system since 1945. Trump enabled Vladimir Putin’s strategy of undermining the cohesion of Western Liberal society.
We, the people of the EU, must strengthen and protect our liberal society and minimize our dependence on the US. In time, perhaps, sanity will return and the US will be ready again for its leadership role, which is required for a stable world order. Meanwhile, however, China and Russia are ready to take advantage and fill the vacuum that has appeared.
In traditional Europe, which was the founding impetus of the European Union, we must use this historic opportunity to rebalance and reinvigorate EU integration through closer coordination of financial, economic, defense, social and health policies in the member countries, in order to correct the structural imbalances within the common area.
Correcting these imbalances requires ending the illusion of continuing national sovereignty by establishing the principle of collective responsibility. This will move the integration and consolidation process forward. It must include a transfer of sovereignty to European institutions in order to impose effective fiscal discipline and guarantee a stable financial system.
Full political, monetary and fiscal union is the antidote to pernicious nationalism.
The past is gone
The election of Joe Biden offers an opportunity to work on mutual understanding with our American friends. But our world has changed, and it’s unrealistic to think the transatlantic unity will ever be fully restored.
In 2003 , George W Bush turned away from Europe due to disagreements on Iraq, the ICC, Climate Change, etc. His successor, President Obama, and his VP Joe Biden, pivoted to Asia and cancelled the missile defense. However, in Ukraine, and with Iranian and Russian sanctions, the US needed our help again.
We Europeans should be clear-eyed about the internal situation in the US. We must consider the possibility of disengagement and have no illusions about Joe Biden. This moment gives us the opportunity for dialog and renewal of a friendship based on shared values.
There are clear disagreements. Europe, for example, must not get sucked into a contest between China and the US for global hegemony. It should remain open to co-operation with China or Russia when its interests are affected.
The EU should be pragmatic and use its influence to ensure that both China and the US use their power with restraint. The triangular relations between the three powers can have positive elements and also some elements of hostility. Other areas of disagreement are Israel of the Palestinian territories, Guantanamo, ICC, the Digital Services Act, Nordstream2 and Russia.
President Emmanuel Macron is right in thinking that the EU needs to re-prioritize its strategic interests and cannot be reliant on the US and UK. It vindicates President de Gaulle’s claim that the UK was not an organic part of Europe, which is why he vetoed UK membership in the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963. The days of the “Empire” are long gone, but Brexit has revealed a Britain pining for a glorious past and now standing on the sidelines, having isolated itself. Our world has greatly changed in the past years and winter is on its way.
UK membership of the EU, despite the positive and important contributions made by the British civil servants in Brussels, has, over the years, only delayed and frustrated the development and integration of the European Union. It can now progress with new-found dynamic.
William J.J. Houtzager
Editor Marton Radkai
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|Christopher R Browning||Ordinary Men|
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|R. Po-Chia Hsia, Henk Van Nierop||Calvinism and Religious Toleration in the Dutch Golden Age|
|Timothy Snyder||The road to unfreedom|
|Jason Stanley||How fascism works|
|@DrJHAmsterdam||Zijn FVD en PVV te vergelijken met de NSB? Voor een belangrijk deel wel.|