AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands— A correspondent for the German press agency DPA heard a disturbing echo in the language used by the most famous and infamous politician in The Netherlands this week.
Geert Wilders, the peroxide-blonde populist who first made his rep and got elected to the Dutch parliament by denouncing Islam, baiting immigrants and deriding the European Union, was speaking to a group of supporters at a local election rally in The Hague.
“I am asking you,” he said, “do you want, in this city and in The Netherlands, more or less Moroccans?”
The crowd shouted back a thunderous answer: “Less! Less! Less!”
Wilders asked the same question about the EU: more … or less?
“Less!” the crowd shouted. “Less! Less!”
The echo the DPA correspondent heard, and wrote about, was of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels in his famous 1943 speech at the Sportspalast asking the Germans crowded into the stadium if they were ready to wage “total war.” “Yes! Yes!” they shouted.
When Germans start likening you to a Nazi, you know you’ve struck a nerve, and that, of course, is exactly what Wilders set out to do.
The performance caused outrage in the Dutch-Moroccan community, amongst fellow politicians and Dutch celebrities alike. But Wilders continued to garner enthusiastic support from his loyal following, and those who’ve watched his career closely see a familiar pattern.
“I’m a little surprised that people feel that he’s crossed the line this time around, as he’s been saying this for years,” says Haroon Raza, a criminal law attorney who was involved in a hate speech and discrimination case against Wilders in 2010. “A few years ago on the BBC program Hard Talk he literally said ‘it is a big problem if a majority of the population of the big cities consists of non-Western immigrants.’ The interviewer asked him, ‘do you mean people of color?’ He said he did.”
Wilders told the Dutch national news service NOS he had been referring to the criminal elements within the Moroccan community, whom he wants to strip of the Dutch nationality, and of the need to better control the country’s borders. “If we can win back that small part of sovereignty from Europe, than we can decide ourselves that people cannot come to The Netherlands as easily. That, combined with the expulsion of criminal Moroccans will hopefully lead to [less Moroccans].”
Wilders’s diatribe in The Hague got him just the sort of international attention he wanted.
Raza thinks there’s a criminal case that can be brought against Wilders for hate-speech. “This is clearly illegal,” he says. “He will have to be prosecuted and he will be proven guilty. But, you know, then he will have to pay a fine or something and say: ‘Look, I’ve fought.’ He will turn it into political gain by saying, ‘I am a martyr for freedom of speech.’”
According to the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office over a hundred reports for discrimination or hate speech have been filed against Wilders already and the police speak of over 500 complaints. On the Internet a Facebook page was set: ‘I file a report against Geert Wilders’, that has garnered more than 83,000 “likes” as of this writing, with the number growing all the time.
Raza, who is of British-Pakistani descent, sees Wilders’ game as fundamentally threatening to modern values not only in The Netherlands but across Europe, where far-right parties are grabbing new attention and growing numbers of votes. “If today someone stands up and says the exact same things about Jews, Hindus or Buddhists, I would be equally upset,” says Raza. “I believe in our democratic state of law, I believe in equality as a man of law and as a human being. If someone, whether it is a man with a big beard and a little hat or a Moroccan who says something about Jews or if it’s someone with a blond head of hair who says it on a stage on election night, I will be equally upset. All those developments are extremely dangerous. Whether it is white against Moroccan or Islamist against Jews, the antagonizing is very dangerous.”
Wilders, in fact, is putting all of his political effort into the European Parliament elections coming up in May. Although he was speaking this week during local elections, his PVV party only fielded candidates in two cities, and lost in one. His chances of serving in any sort of coalition government in The Netherlands are slim to none after he brought down the last one he supported. But his diatribe in The Hague got him just the sort of international attention he wanted. For Wilders, “Less! Less! Less!” was “more, more, more.”
Wilders is forging a European coalition with France’s right-wing Marine Le Pen and the Belgian Vlaams Belang party. Its front man Filip Dewinter has already expressed support for Wilders’ statement. Indeed, this all looks like one big dress rehearsal for Wilders’ grand entrée to the European political stage.
For their part, the Moroccans and descendants of other immigrants in the Netherlands and in Europe cannot help but worry. Whether Wilders seriously means to try to oust them or not, he is creating an atmosphere of hate and fear, or perhaps, to echo a favorite phrase of the Nazis, nacht und nebel, night and fog, the plan to eliminate all those people who might endanger “German security.” Goebbels would have understood perfectly well.