Racist tide in the Netherlands encounters opposition

Wednesday, 6 januari 2016

This article was written for Doorbraak, where it is published already in an illustrated version and with even more hyperlinks. It is also a blog piece on Libcom. By the way, happy and subversive new year to all of you 🙂

The Netherlands is experiencing a wave of racist, sometimes openly violent, actions and street mobilizations, mainly against refugees and the sheltering of refugees. Street mobilizations of an intimidatory character have occured where municipal councils debate whether to establish an AZC (Asielzoekerscentrum, centre for asylum seekers) or an emergency refugee shelter in their city or town. Small scale violence against houses where refugees live occur repeatedly. Meanwhile, official politics talks about the issue of refugees in a way that portrays them, not als people trying to escape the horrors of war and persecution, but mainly as ‘fortune-hunters’ who only come to the Netherlands to find jobs and social security.

Combining street mobilization with political activity thorough parliamentary channel is Geert Wilders, leader of a party that is both the smallest and in some sense the biggest in the coun try. The smallest, because it has only one member, Wilders himself. The biggest, because he attracts more voters in opinion polls than any other. And it is setting the debate, with mainstream politics shifting mnore and more to the racist right under its pressure. The fact that Wilders was again elected Politician of the Year a few weeks ago in a well-publicized opinion poll on public broadcasting is telling.

The role of Geert Wilders and his Party of Freedom, the PVV, in encouraging this scapegoating of refugees, is absolutely central in what is going on here. This man started out as a right wing liberal, member of the VVD, the right wing liberal party, on and off in government. He split off from the VVD around the issue of allowing Turkey into the EC. Het was strongly opposed, on the grounds of his antipathy for everything Islamic. He built a strong following for himself, and later his PVV,  around the issues of Muslim-bashing and by me4ans of feamongering against refugees. Exclusionary proposals, like the idea of a tax on people wearing headscarves and banning the building of mosques, accompanied his rise to fame and infamy. From 9 of the 150 seats in the main chamber of parliament in 2006 he rose to 24 seats in 2010. In that year, a right wing coalition government was formde by the VVD and the CDA Christian Democrats. Wilders’ PVV officially tolerated this government, holding it almost to ransom as far as refugee policy was concerned. When thios government decided even stronger budget cuts. Wilders, fearful of losing support because of his accomodation to unpopular austericy policies, blew up the relationship. The government fell, as did Wilders’ support, at least for a short period of time. He gained 15 seats in the elections of 2012.

But he rebuilt his support by even stronger playing his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-refugees cards, combining this with anti-EU rhetoric. His language became ever more shrill. He reached for the lower depths just before municipal elections in 2014 by asking a crowd of supporters: “Do you want more or less Moroccans?”, “less, less, less!”  bellied the crowd. This mobilisation of open hatred against people because of ther origin shocked many people and led to anti -racist mobilization, and to some dissension within the PVV himself who thought Wilders had gone a little bit too far. But it probable helped him consolidate a hardcore base of racist support as well. And he was beginning to encourage  this support to take to the streets and squares, not just in poll stations and online media.

Already in September 2013, the PVV organized an antigovernment rally around the time of Prinsjesdag , the yearly announcement of the new government budget. Around 1500 people showed up. Among them, numerous extreme right wing activists from the various fascist and neo-nazi groups.  Wilders showed no sign of objection to this kind of support on the day of the rally. Did he not see the Nazi salute, the fascist symbols? Neither did he protest when some of his supporters tried to attack left wing demonstrators holding their own mobilization against the gocvernment and its right wing policies.

The fascist dimensions, not just amongst many of Wilders’supporters but in his whole method of operations, are becoming clearer. The PVV is not just an electoral right wing party. It is stoking the racist fires outside the polling stations as well. It attacks Muslims and refugees. Art the same time it attacks any policical force standing in their way and standing up for refugees and migrants, however meakly, as being part of the ‘left wing, multicultural elite’ that has, in Wilders’ view to be smashed.. Attacking ethnic minorities, attacking ‘Islam’ – i. e. Muslims –, attacking the Left, attacking a supposedlyLeft-dominated establishment, in often violent language – the parallels with other fascist forces of yesterday and today are getting clearer. The distance between Wilders on one side, and other European extreme right wing forces, are diminishing as well. In November 2013, Wilders received Marine Le Pen,  the leader of the French Front National, in The Hague. Antifascists protesting this get-together of fascist leaders were attacked by riot cops.

This is part of the context for what started happening in 2015 and is still going on. While the number of people reaching the Netherlands, escaping the horrors, for instance, of the Syrian war and of the Eretrean police state, rose during the summer and autumn, there was a mixed reaction. Firsdt, there was an outburst of empathy and generosity, especially after the television pictures of the Syrian Kurdish toddler, washed ashore in Turkey after he drowned while trying to cross the Meditterranean, touched many hearts. Soon, however, the atmosphere shifted back to racist mode. Wilders announced his campaign ‘Kom in verzet!’, calling for resistance against any intention of autiohorities to establish refugee centres like AZCs. In small letters, he called for the resisn tance to be ‘peaceful’. But the stress was on the resistance. And peaceful it was not.

And the ‘resistance’ came. In Oranje, a small village where authorities wanted temorary housing for a large number of refugees, an angry crowded blocked a bus ful of refugees, only relenting when people realised that there were children inside. Also, the car of the vice minister co-responsible for the decision, was blocked by one of the protesters. In Steenbergen, things got even uglier. During a hearing held by the municipal authorities, people tried to shout down a very courageous woman who a stand in support of refugees. She had already received a stone through her window, and was put under police protection afterward. The shouting against her did not only consist of racist anger. She was, in fact, quite explicitly sexually threatened by participants of the municipal the hearing. A new depth of violence was reached in Geldermalsen  , on 16 December. The municipality prepared a decision on short notice to build an AZC housing 1400 refugees there. Quickly, opponents hung banners in the town with “Nee tegen AZC”, “No against AZC”.  One of the banners that appeared was a banner from Identitair Verzet, a small fascist group of recent origin that is very active in the anti-refugees mobilizations.

At the evening of 16 December, the municipal council of Geldermalsen met to debate the issue, with citizens’input. In the meantime, a large crowd of many hundreds of people assembled to protest the coming of the AZC. Estimates vary from several hundreds to up to 2,000 people marching. A sizable group – many dozens, possibly a hundred or more – attacked the fences around the city hall, threw heavy fireworks and stones against the building. Streetfighting ensued between the racists of the crowd and the riot cops. Fourteen people were arrested. They came from Geldermalsen themseves, and nearby towns and villages, thereby showing that the racism that exploded on the streets in Geldermalsen is not a matter of a few fascist instigators from afar. Racism has a local base. Fascists are building on that base: both in Steenbergen and in Geldermalsen, the presence of NVU activists has been noticed. The NVU, Nationale Volksunie, is an openly neo-nazi organisation that has been around since the 1970s. Its leader now openly boasts of its members being active around the mobilizations against establishing AZC.

Meanwhile, Wilders keeps on calling for “No AZCs!” before, during and after events like that in Geldermalsen. He refuses to distance himself of the violence of what are, in effect, mainly his own supporters. And tboth in Geldermalsen and in Steenbergen, authorities are takingdown the original plans for housing refugees of the table, replacing them with either a plan for a much smaller shelter, or postponing any descussion for the time being. Racist pressure clearly contributes to this results. Wilders has reasons to be pleased.

The picture is getting clearer as time progresses. Racist agitation from above, through Wilders’ words, interacts with racist street action. The interaction is informal but very clear. The whole phenomenon appears more openly as what it has been in a more hidden sense already: as a form of fascism in its early stages. The visible presence of fascists from Identitair Verzet and the NVU is only a symptom of the deeper problem. The whole picture shows what kind of right wing wind is blowing these days.

And thesee are scary days. There have been an number of violent attacks on refugees themselves, and on migrant communities and their buildings more generally. On 9 October, a gang numbering around twenty masked people attacked an temporaty refugee shelter in Woerden  with eggs and firework. On 17 December, in Pannerden  there was an attack on a home where a family of migrant origin was living. Agauin, the weapon of choice was heavy firework, which has a very scary effect. The family included children. A note was found which showed a photo of Geert Wilders, and a text stating amongst other things: “This is only the beginning”. Onp 19 december people of the Identitair Verzet group uccupied a mosque in Dordrecht. One of the banners had the text “Minder, Minder”, which means “less, less” – a clear reference of the slogans at Wilders’ performance just before municipal elections in 2014, mentioned earlier in this article.

The interaction between widespread popular racism, fascist activist groups, and Wilders’ hate-mongering is getting clearer. All these things point to what is clearly a rising fascist tide in the Netherlands. Efforts of Pegida, a extreme right wing outfit masquearading as a decent group of ‘concerned citizens’, worried about ‘Islam’, to hold marches in Utrecht and Rotterdam, are part of that tide. Fortunately, these efforts have been opposed relatively succesfully by antifascists, under the slogan “Laat Ze Niet Lopen” , an antifascist initiative. The slogan means “Don’t Let Them Walk”. Four times they tried to walk, with about 150 people at their largest efforts. All these times dozens, sometimes hundreds, of antifascists countermobilized, yelled at them, tried to block them and so on.

Large police forces kept ‘order’, not allowing antifascists to interfere too succesfully, but also giving nazis less space for the violence against opponents they would love to instigate. Police ‘neutrality’ is a scam, and the whole idea that there can be such a thing as a ‘legitimate’ fascist street action deserving ‘protection’ is ridiculous. Yet, police ideas of ‘public order’ sometimes clash with fascist ambitions. This may change as fascism gets stronger, better organized, gaining more legitimacy in the eyes of official public authority. This makes the rise of Wilders and his PVV even more dangerous: tghey can give fascism exactly this face of legitimacy that openly nazi groups and outfits like Pegida still lack.

The new year threatens to show ongoing trends in the same direction. There will be another Pegida effort, in Apeldoorn on 17 januari, and in Amsterdam on 6 February. And this week, a new temporaty shelter form refugees is opening in Kaatsheuvel. Opponents have been hanging banners, like in Geldermalsen. Especially horrible is the attitude of autorities with respect to children bicycling alongside that shelter on their way to school for children with special needs. Volunteers will accompany the children, to reassure parents who appear worried about the ‘risk’ these refugees pose for their vulnerable children  In this way, the whole idea that refugees are dangerous is, again, officially recognized as ‘understandable’and thereby reinforced. In this way, racism gets a recognition we should not let go unchallenged, to say the very least.

Is there a fighback going on against this tide of racism? There is, as became apparent already with the anti-Pegida-actions. There have been encouraging demonstrations in solidarity with refugees, in Den Haag on 1 November, in Nijmegen on 21 November. Both attracted sizable crowds of many hundreds of demonstrators, refugees themselves prominent among them. Both had a militant and at the same time a sometimes almost festiove atmosphere. Both point to the possibility of pushing back the fascist tide an at the same time buildling ties of solidarity between people form different background and origin – ties of solidarity that are of the utmost importance.

Peter Storm

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