On the 12th of March, Geert Wilders was campaigning for municipal elections on a market in The Hague, accompanied by a camera crew. He asked a passer-by what he expected from the PVV. As a reaction Wilders answered that if it would be possible, he would make sure that The Hague would be ‘a town with less expenses and, if it’s possible, less Moroccans.’ The statement was recorded and would cause a lot of uproar in the week to follow.
The following day nearly all political leaders condemned the statement. Up until the 12th of March Wilders and the PVV had focused on the Islam, labelling it a ‘political ideology’ which should be expelled from the Netherlands. With the above statement, Wilders clearly focused on one particular ethnical group, a clearly racist stance. However, Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not condemn Wilders’ for his statements.
A board member of the Dutch labour party from Moroccan descent, Fouad Sidali, compared Wilders with Adolf Hitler. On Twitter, Sidali directly drew the comparison between Jews and Moroccans. Later on, he withdrew his tweet, but the comparison was made. The party leader of the PVV in The Hague left a debate when a comedian made jokes about Wilders and Hitler.
On the 19th of March, the PVV came second in The Hague municipal elections, although they had hoped to become the biggest party. They did not win either in Almere, the only other community where they contested the elections. The PVV gathered in The Hague to wait for the results. That evening Wilders gave a speech which was broadcasted live on national television. At the end of the speech he turned to his audience and asked: ‘Do you want more or less Europe? Do you want more or less Social-democrats? Do you want more or less Moroccans?’ “Less, less, less!” was the answer from the audience.
Although most people condemned Wilders’ statement of the 12th, they held on to the possibility that he had misspoken or it was a slip of the tongue. With the speech on the 19th this was no longer credible. Wilders was now accused of racism and inciting hatred. Again, Prime Minister Rutte did not condemn Wilders’ statements, but he told the press that Wilders left him with ‘a bad taste in the mouth’. Nearly all political leaders excluded future cooperation with Wilders’ party and accused Wilders of racism. So did, for the first time, the liberal party of Mark Rutte.
The reactions from within society were much stronger. The next day the police received hundreds of complaints. National news agencies deleted Wilders’ statements, which rarely happens. The GroenLinks youth organisation and a lawyer set up a foundation to provide help filing complaints against Wilders. GroenLinks distributed t-shirts to support the Moroccan population in the Netherlands and to highlight the first article of the Dutch constitution (“everyone is equal, regardless gender, nature or religion”). The following Saturday the annual anti-racism demonstration was attended by several thousands of people – a lot more than usual, and it was clear that they came to show their abhorrence of Wilders’ statement.
Apart from condemnations and possible law suits, Wilders had to face another problem: on the 20th of March Wilders lost a well-respected MP, followed by another MP the next day. The uproar spread to the regional and local factions of the PVV and over the next three days another eight PVV-representatives left the party, including the head of list for the European elections.
Wilders did not back down or withdraw any of his words. In fact, he blamed the media for subjecting his statements to such scrutiny. But, probably the worst for Wilders, the PVV lost about twenty per cent of its support in the first poll released following the remarks.
The consequences for Wilders and his popularity are difficult to predict. If the public prosecutor decides to charge Wilders, the PVV-leader will be in a difficult position. However the political consequences appear to be limited; there were no further resignations last week and he seemed to restore order in his party. His voters do not seem to care so much that Wilders lost several representatives, with polls stabilising in recent days and the threat of the party imploding having receded for now. Indeed they hardly knew them, since for most voters the PVV is Wilders and as long as he continues to represent their discontent with society they will continue to support his party. Wilders himself never has and never will back down on any of his statements, on the contrary, he is always moving forward.
With the upcoming European elections we might see more provocative statements like these, as Wilders seems to have found a new niche to attract the attention of the media. As the PVV is very eurosceptic, we even might find the PVV winning these elections. But Wilders’ radicalisation could have a negative impact on the planned cooperation between him and France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen. Le Pen’s party has just triumphed in the French local elections, while Wilders lost them. Marine Le Pen is on the path to becoming more moderate, Wilders is doing just the opposite. They have seem to switched roles: the once anti-Semitic Front National is becoming more part of the establishment, while the PVV, which always has always acted within the limits of the law, is now possibly overplaying its hand. The right-wing populist landscape has changed once again.