An issue that has been the subject of some heated discussion in the Netherlands over recent weeks is how to, or whether to, engage in public debate with the far right political parties like the Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders and Pride of the Netherland (TON) of Rita Verdonk. For those who may not be familiar with it, the PVV is a party that bases its political outlook on what it says is the need to ’secure a future’ for the ‘indigenous peoples’ of these little country and Europe as a whole. In other words, its raison d’être is a racial and discriminatory one: to advance the case for what we call ‘white’ people, and therefore by definition to oppose non-western immigration and policy measures to protect the rights and liberties of all those who don’t come from the racial groups it supports. This is reinforced by the fact that, until now at least, the party has no members, the leader of the party, Geert Wilders makes all decisions on his own, even parliament members of his party have nothing to say about policies of their movement.
The PVV also promotes a number of other policies, some of which are also race-related, and some of which are presumably intended to resonate with those who favour traditional or semi-mystical or xenophobic views of the Dutch people. It seeks a withdrawal from the European Union, deportation of immigrants who commit crimes, the restoration of traditional weights and measures, and so forth.
The PVV has been able to gain some electoral ground in the Netherlands, albeit only in certain settings and locations. It entered the European Parliament for the first time at the elections earlier this year, and it has been eligible to be able to gain seats on some local councils. The approach of all the established parties in the Netherlands has been to denounce it and to oppose its policies as racist, discriminatory and unacceptable.
One thing we all know, or at least should know if we have read and understood European history, is that the extreme right in politics makes use of economic uncertainty and in such a setting sows the seeds of racism, intolerance and bigotry, and that this can translate into major social unrest. It is I believe the duty of our societies to protect the values and principles that we have taken from the 20th century experience with fascism. However, when we encounter those who don’t share those values, what do we do? Do we ignore them? And if we take them on, do we allow them a public platform so that we can debate them?
I confess I am not sure what the correct answer is. I am uneasy about parties such as the PVV (Geert Wilders) and TON (Rita Verdonk) being given the respectability that an appearance on a prominent political television programme may suggest. On the other hand, I also hope that those who appear with them may be articulate enough to demolish them and their views. I think I shall be watching the programme, but will probably do so with a deep sense of uneasiness.