The World from Berlin Wilders, Not Islam, 'Is Holland's Biggest Problem'

Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam Freedom Party party did well in Dutch municipal elections on Wednesday. Still, despite the attention the populist party attracts, it still has a long way to go if it wants power on the national stage, say German commentators.
Police watch over opponents and supporters of Dutch politician Geert Wilders gathered outside a courthoue where he was being tried in January on charges of inciting racial hatred. The posters read "Freedom Yes, Islamization No" and "Geert Akbar" ("Geert is Great").

Police watch over opponents and supporters of Dutch politician Geert Wilders gathered outside a courthoue where he was being tried in January on charges of inciting racial hatred. The posters read "Freedom Yes, Islamization No" and "Geert Akbar" ("Geert is Great").

Foto: PETER DEJONG/ AP

General elections in Holland aren't scheduled until June. But municipal polls on Wednesday may have provided a peek at how the populist, anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders' might fare. And for many, the glimpse is cause for some concern.

Election results show that Wilders' party came out in front in the town of Almere and finished in second place in The Hague, the only two municipalities -- of 394 -- where his party put up candidates.

"Today Almere and The Hague, tomorrow the whole of the Netherlands," Wilders said Wednesday night, according to the AP. "We're going to take the Netherlands back from the leftist elite that coddles criminals and supports Islamization." Given the weak showing by the Christian Democrats and the Labor party -- which shared power in a national coalition until it collapsed last month over the country's Afghanistan deployment -- Wednesday's vote could signal that the Freedom Party may be a key player in June.

Wilders, 46, is known for his outspoken anti-Islam and anti-immigrant views. He has called for headscarves to be banned in public buildings, compares the Koran with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and wants to see "urban commandos" provide "additional safety" on city streets. He is currently facing charges  for inciting hatred. On Friday, he is in Britain for a showing of his controversial, anti-Muslim film "Fitna."

In Friday's newspapers, German commentators express disappointment at Wilders' success but add that his party doesn't have the manpower yet to act on the national stage. At the same time, they also see it as a ominous sign, worrying that the troubles there might soon find their way to Germany:

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"If nothing happens to prevent it, the PVV will get the highest or second-highest number of votes in the June parliamentary elections. That is bad news for the Netherlands. Aside from hatred for Islam, Wilders has little else to offer this country. Like all populists, he has no interest in solutions. He only lives off people's fears -- fears of the other, the dangerous, the uncontrollable. Likewise, no one need thank him for pointing out that something has gone very wrong with the Netherlands' integration policies."

"What should one think of a politician whose thoughts and behavior can be boiled down to the single sentence -- "Islam is the cause of all our problems" -- and who tries to convince people that their problems would be easily solved if Islam were finally banned and as many Muslims as possible were thrown out of the country?No, Geert Wilders is the last thing Holland needs. Instead, as has often been said in the last few days, this man is Holland's biggest problem."

"Still, he's there, and he can't be simply wished away. The fact that people vote for him shows how clever he is and just how much the trust between average citizens and the established parties has been shattered."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"Things that happen in the Netherlands tend to repeat themselves in Germany and other western European countries after a certain delay. … Will that also be the case when it comes to the conflict with Islam? If so, we have rough times ahead. Since the assassination of the politician Pim Fortuyn and the film maker Theo von Gogh, the Netherlands has been embroiled in a debate about integration and Western values, which has dramatically transformed the country's political landscape."

"The results of the Dutch municipal elections reflect a pan-European trend. The Swiss recently voted against the construction of minarets, while the French are looking for a way to ban the wearing of burkas in public and are talking about 'national identity.' These three countries have the highest proportions of Muslims within Europe. And, in all three countries, a growing number of citizens seem to feel that society is headed in the wrong direction. They feel that domestic values and ways of life are being threatened. The Netherlands is an important seismograph because the problems there are more severe and because changes take place more quickly in a relatively smaller country. Germany might also have something similar in store."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung, whose front page bore a smiling Geert Wilders with a taped-on Hitler moustache, writes:

"The rise of the PVV really is worrisome. It had it's breakthrough in the 2006 parliamentary elections, when it won 6 percent of the vote. Then, in the EU elections of 2009, it jumped to 17 percent. And now it is charging into the city councils of Almere and The Hague. … Still, this story of an unstoppable rise is a bit misleading. On the one hand, the victory in Almere was much closer than it seemed it would be beforehand, and the PVV got significantly less than the 30 percent that predictions said it would. On the other hand, the PVV was already strong in The Hague and Almere, so they can't really be taken as a reliable predictor of how things stand elsewhere."

"Likewise, we should also keep in mind that the PVV only took part in two municipal elections -- and not just for strategic and PR reasons. The fact is that the PVV just doesn't have the manpower to compete on the national level. Even the two leading party candidates who ran in the Almere and The Hague elections were already members of the party's faction in the lower house of the federal parliament."

"Even if the party confirms the poll numbers by winning 24 of the 150 seats in the parliamentary elections in June, no one knows where the party -- which is lacking in local and regional structures -- is going to find the necessary representatives. Moreover, the PVV would also have a hard time finding enthusiastic coalition partners. And these it needs because the Dutch political landscape is getting to be about as fractured as it can be."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"For decades, the Netherlands has enjoyed a reputation for having an especially open and tolerant society. So, how can it be that, all of a sudden, a majority is won by a man who points to Islam as the country's biggest problem and calls for an immediate halt to allowing immigrants into the country? Of course, there are some people in the Netherlands who really do vote for Geert Wilders because they support his anti-Islam statements. Still, Wilders gets the lion's share of his votes from people who feel that he is the only politician they can still trust. Wilders scores points not only with his xenophobic slogans, but also because he defends the Dutch system of early retirement and calls for a serious war on crime . And, more than anything, he wins people over with his criticism of the traditional parties. For years, the two big coalition parties in The Hague, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, have been more concerned with coalition in-fighting than with addressing the country's problems."

"People in Holland are also feeling insecure and look to the future with concern. With his black-and-white policies, Geert Wilders offers them simple approaches to solving problems. Now, the rest of the parties will have to face the challenge of finding genuine alternatives before the parliamentary elections in early June."

-- Josh Ward
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