As Goes Holland . . .

Geert Wilders’ local-election victory is the harbinger of a wave of right-wing populism that will soon sweep Europe.

Europe has just found its Scott Brown. His name is Geert Wilders. He's never posed in the buff for Cosmo, but he does sport bleached blonde hair. He's the energetic 46-year-old head of the anti-Islamic Dutch Party for Freedom, which won big victories in two local races in The Hague and Almere on Wednesday. Just as the election in Massachusetts testified to the strength of the Tea Party, so the results in the Netherlands signal that right-wing populism is making a comeback in Europe.

The Dutch have general elections in June. Wilder's Freedom Party might capture the lion's share of parliamentary seats-forcing the Christian Democrats to form a coalition with him. Wilders has run a disciplined operation, always ready to capitalize on the mistakes of his opponents. The current coalition government with the Social Democrats has dissolved over opposition to Dutch participation in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Dutch want no part of it. It will also be interesting to see how long other European countries continue to participate in it.

Despite the hostility to fighting in Afghanistan, tempers are flaring over Muslims at home-one million, to be precise, in a country whose total population is about 16.5 million. Wilders's spiritual predecessor Pim Fortuyn, a politician and author, was assassinated in May 2002. Wilders himself faces numerous death threats, but he, accompanied by a posse of bodyguards, has now jetted to Britain to show his brief anti-Koran film Fitna in the House of Lords (Wilders compares the Koran to Mein Kampf and wants to ban it). His party program is simple and clear. Among other things, he floats the idea of deporting Muslim immigrants from Holland, which has traditionally thought of itself as a tolerant place. That's changing. In that regard, Europe is changing as well.

According to the British Guardian, he announced immediately after his victory, "The leftist elite still believes in multiculturalism, coddling criminals, a European super-state and high taxes. But the rest of the Netherlands thinks differently. That silent majority now has a voice." Indeed it does. As Malte Lehming of the Berlin Tagesspiegel observes, "Whether its France (headscarf debate), Switzerland (anti-minaret vote), parliamentary successes in Italy, Denmark, and Norway-the rightwing populist movement is setting the tone, dominating the political agenda."

For decades, European elites have artificially tried to suppress the debate about the construction of the super-state condemned by Wilders. But a demographic decline, the surge in Muslim immigration, and the economic crisis have combined to upset the carefully laid plans of Europe's stewards. The looming bailout of Greece has only added fuel to the fire, particularly in Germany, where the retirement age was raised to 67. Meanwhile, Greece pays its civil servants up to 14 months pay per year and allows them to retire at 59.

Wilders' fiery statements play well among the aggrieved voters who resent what they see as the takeover of their country, both by anonymous European elites and foreigners. Wilders himself put it this way, "today Almere and The Hague, tomorrow the whole of the Netherlands. This is our springboard for success in parliamentary elections. We are going to take the Netherlands back from the leftist elite that comforts criminals and supports Islamisation."

By early summer, Wilders might even end up prime minister of the Netherlands. It would certainly come as a shock to its neighbors. (Britain has already tried to deny Wilders entry once.) But the cold, hard truth is that the post-World War II dominance of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats across Western Europe is finally coming to an end. New parties are popping up as the ice sheet of the Cold War melts away. And if Europe continues to drift aimlessly, it may find that the popularity of rightwing populism is hardly confined to the Dutch. It would ironic if what ends up uniting Europeans is not a yearning for the brotherhood of man, but, rather, a fear of what Wilders apocalyptically describes as a "tsunami of Islamization."

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.