Author: Christina – Irene Karvouna
By hearing the word “populism”, automatically everyone’s mind goes to the idea of “the people”. However, over the last years this term seems to have acquired a quite different meaning, mainly due to the multiple challenges that appeared in the European continent – financial recession, unemployment, immigration crisis, environmental / energy problems – to name just a few.
Undoubtedly, populism in the Netherlands has gained more and more ground over the last decades and this is a fact that shouldn’t surprise us. Populist groups are known for their attitude against immigration, their “anti-establishment” views, their concern for protecting national culture and local traditions and have a quite pessimistic mentality towards the European integration and the European Union in general which is also known as the phenomenon of “Euroscepticism”. Nowadays, lots of demonstrations regarding “Nexit” had been witnessed – that is to say the Netherlands’ withdrawal from the European Union. The rapid rise in popularity has gone hand-in-hand with the use of the social media and thus, a great appeal of theirs is evident to young but also to the elderly people.
The most popular populist political party in the Netherlands, is the “Partij voor de Vrijheid” (PVV), founded in 2006 by Geert Wilders. In the 2010 parliamentary election, the PVV won 24 seats, which made it the third largest party in the country and gave it a key role in keeping the minority government of Mark Rutte, who is currently the Prime Minister, in office.
Geert Wilders follows a similar path to that of Marine Le Pen in France, by adopting belligerent rhetoric against the EU’s values and policies, especially on free trade and free movement of citizens, while stepping on the rapid growth of Islamic Radicalism; becoming an exponent of extreme xenophobic and anti-Islamic discourse. With this particular strategy, Geert Wilders succeeded in rallying around him the part of society that feels cut off from the traditional political system, as well as the voters who consider that both the centralized decision-making in Brussels, as well as their nature, harms seriously the Netherlands.
Besides all above mentioned, an even more extremist populist party do exist; the Forum for Democracy (FvD), founded in 2016 by Thierry Baudet and Henk Otten. During the Covid19 pandemic Wilders and Baudet have been sowing great doubt about the seriousness of the virus, while claiming that “the statistics cannot be trusted” and the government is deliberately destroying people’s livelihood.
The question still remains: how is it possible a purely liberal country to flirt so vehemently with populism? With the answer probably rumbling in the historical evolution of the Netherlands, from a deeply conservative and religiously driven society of Protestantism and Catholicism, to the European paradise of liberalism. G. Wilders boldly declares that the Netherlands is alienated from the way its society has evolved, blames the alienation on the traditional political system, while simultaneously he is making a cunning dribble by putting dependence on Brussels into the equation.
To put it in a nutshell, in a country that flourished socially and economically without relying on nationalist crowns, G. Wilders came to inspire them in the part of the electorate that is most affected by the changes brought about by the country’s unfavorable macroeconomic cycle of the crisis, in full harmony with the rise and partial victories of populism at the international level (BREXIT, the rise of the French and Italian extreme right), alongside the action of radical Islam.