Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party won the Dutch elections last week. In a parliament of 150 seats, he won 37. Runner-up fusion party GroenLinks/PvdA (Green-Labour) came in second with 25 seats, while the ruling conservative VVD party won 24 seats.
A couple of years ago Wilders’ party seemed irrelevant. The PVV was destined for a place in opposition and a new neo-fascist party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), had appeared to take its place from 2017 onwards.
The FvD even won the Senate elections in 2019. All this has changed now. Why?
The PVV always revolved around its leader, Wilders, who was also the party’s sole member. The FvD tried to establish a party movement. The FvD’s leadership clearly stands in a fascist tradition, but its broader membership base was not ready yet to build an openly antisemitic and “scientific racist” party. After its election win, the party suffered from a series of internal crises.
Last summer, the fourth government led by former VVD leader Mark Rutte collapsed. The VVD pressured its coalition partners to make increasingly more concessions on the matter of refugees, even limiting the right of children escaping war to find refuge in the Netherlands.
By making the government collapse on this point, the VVD sought to make migration the primary topic for the elections and intended to form the next government with the far right.
A month later, the VVD broke its commitment not to form a government with Wilders. In this way, they legitimised the racist politician who in 2017 was sentenced for hate speech due to his call for the ethnic cleansing of Moroccan-Dutch people.
Suddenly Wilders had an opportunity to govern, and his supporters felt emboldened.
Wilders was further mainstreamed by the media, which portrayed him as moderate. His alleged abandonment of the explicit demand for “de-Islamisation” was an example of this.
But in his election programme, named “Dutch people back in first place”, Wilders still called for the removal of “Islamic schools, mosques and the Quran”.
At the same time, Wilders’ racism towards Muslims and refugees became more and more mainstream. Most right-wing parties have embraced the same agenda.
Prime minister Rutte, who now aims to become the leader of the warmongers of Nato, brokered a deal together with Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni with Tunisia. The agreement would make it possible for European states to deport some refugees to north Africa.
Meanwhile, the Greens and the PvdA participated in the elections with a joint list. They hoped to counter their respective electoral decline by joining forces.
This worked, but only on the basis of moving even more to the right. The alliance leader Frans Timmermans, for example, compared Hamas’ resistance against the Israeli occupation with a “death cult”, contrasting it with a Western “culture of life”.
Other left wing initiatives all suffered severe losses.
In the next weeks and probably months the PVV needs to see whether it can form a government.
Its prominence will turn the spotlight on its other racist candidates as well as Wilders. Forming a government will take a lot of time because all parties now need to appear as if they oppose governing with Wilders. But it could result in a Wilders-led government.
For the Dutch ruling class, Meloni’s government serves as a reassuring example.
The left is in a difficult position, but there are now openings to unite different social movements against the far right. In different cities thousands of people took to the streets in the days after the elections. Rank and file networks in the trade unions are relatively weak, but the movements around climate justice and Palestine give confidence that the left is able to mobilise a lot of people