Make the Netherlands great again: Dutch Nationalism and Isolationism

, by Can Yildiz, Translated by Ivan Danević

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Make the Netherlands great again: Dutch Nationalism and Isolationism
View of the Binnenhof, seat of the Dutch Parliament, and the skyline of the de facto capital - Gravenhage (short: The Hague)

The Freedom Party, or Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), has lead the political discourse and has impacted the policies of the other parties for years. After the last election of the „Tweede Kamer“, or the second chamber, the directly elected House of the Dutch bicameral parliament, Europe could shortly sigh with relief: the Freedom Party did not win overall majority. Now, however, the Forum for Democracy, or „Forum voor Democratie“(FvD), has gained in popularity, a party which demands a referendum on EU-membership. Where do these nationalistic tendencies stem from in the otherwise open Netherlands?

Actually it is a paradox: how is it that a country which prides itself on its openness and tolerance as well on its long tradition of immigration, partly a result of its colonial history; a melting pot of cultures and people, a country which in social and political questions has often taken the leading role, has in recent years increasingly reverted to nationalism and isolationism?

This may leave outside observers baffled: the Netherlands is internationally renowned as an ebullient and peaceful nation of bicycles and cheese. What is precisely the reason for the great success of the EU sceptics and right-wing populists in the Netherlands?

The two determining and significant events are undoubtedly the religiously motivated murders of Islam critics Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn in 2000s. These assassinations were the first politically or rather religiously motivated murders in the Netherlands for centuries and have caused uneasiness in the population, which traditionally hasn’t been bound by taboos and constraints on the right of free speech.

The assassinations ignited a debate about the role of Islam in this Western European country: does this religion belong to Dutch society? What is the attitude of the Muslim population to free speech, or the fundamental rights in a democratic society? As in other countries, this debate morphed into an emotionally-charged discourse on identity, nationhood and tradition, which continues to this day and has found its most prominent European representative in Geert Wilders. In the meantime, the party has taken a lead in the polls and has a good prospect of winning a majority. Since the last elections, the PVV has continued to slip in the polls, while the Forum for Democracy, which has a similar political stance and calls for a Nexit-Referendum even more explicitly, makes headway.

We shouldn’t, however, misinterpret the angst among the Dutch people: the country is open-minded and culturally varied, in which the cohabitation of the most diverse of people, for the most part, works flawlessly. Still, we shouldn’t ignore the partially justified concerns: it is true, for example, that antisemitism and homophobia are particularly widespread among Muslims. The latter was in particular criticized by the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn. The political climate in Amsterdam, a city of diversity and freedom, has changed in the last decades and the number of violent offenses has increased.

Nationalism and populism are, however, not the right answers to these developments and are not the way the Dutch have historically responded to social challenges. They have managed their problems and challenges rationally. If the Dutch could master the seas, they will also unite the people in the country and will be able to deservedly call themselves a tolerant and an open country.

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