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Netherlands: Dutch Immigration (Part 5) -- Holland's New Fortuyn?

Anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders Opinion polls in Holland say if elections were held today right-wing politician Geert Wilders would win 26 out of 150 seats in parliament -- which would give him control of its second-largest block of seats. Wilders' call for a crackdown on Holland's radical Muslims and a five-year ban on immigration has found favor among many voters in the aftermath of the murder this month of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The leading suspect in the killing is a Moroccan radical, and many in Holland blame the murder on what they see as lax immigration laws and timid politicians. Some in Holland are already comparing Wilders to Pim Fortuyn -- the radical right-winger who soared in popularity in 2002 on an anti-immigration platform before being gunned down by an animal-rights activist. Wilders and Fortuyn share more than a common position on immigration -- Wilders too is living under a death threat. Wilders recently gave RFE/RL an interview at the Dutch Parliament in The Hague. Wilders defended his stance against immigration and tried to contrast himself with other right-wing politicians also jockeying to step into Fortuyn's shoes.

The Hague, 29 November 2004 -- It's the bright crop of dyed-yellow hair that visitors first notice about Geert Wilders. There is nothing banker-like or lawyer-like about this politician.

But that's the point. Holland was tranquilized for decades by bland leaders. Now, politicians have to look out of the ordinary in order to convince voters they're different from the status quo.
"But at the end of the day, nothing really changes. I [said]...radical mosques should be closed. It's not happening. I said that radical imams should be extradited. It's not happening."

In the days since controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder on 2 November, Wilders has moved firmly to the political right wing. He left the center-right liberal party -- the VVD -- and now stands alone. If he actually did win 26 seats in parliament, as recent polls indicate, he'd have to find 25 other people to fill them.

"I left the liberal party because I did not believe the course they were trying to take," he said. "They wanted to go to the middle of the political spectrum, while I wanted to go to the right of the political spectrum -- the more conservative side."

He says he's tired of what he calls empty talk -- but no action -- on immigration. He says politicians debate about restricting inflows, but that the number of immigrants coming to Holland -- around 40,000 a year -- is not falling. Nor, he says, are officials taking action to curb inflammatory sermons in radical mosques, where some clerics urge followers to reject Western values.

"At the end of the day, the policy is not changing. We had a debate last week in the Dutch parliament about the terror threats we see today and the murder of Mr. Van Gogh. All harsh words were said -- not only harsh words but also that things would change. But at the end of the day, nothing really changes. I [said] during that debate that radical mosques should be closed. It's not happening. I said that radical imams should be extradited. It's not happening."

Measures such as closing down mosques and immediately halting all immigration remain controversial in Holland, where respect for free speech and the rule of law is highly cherished. Many say they would like to put an end to things like Islamic hate speech -- but only within the context of the country's constitution and traditions. They say Wilders' approach is overly simplistic and radical.

Wilders says he's not motivated by anti-Islamic or anti-immigrant sentiment. Instead, he says his proposals would enable the country to better help the more than one million mainly-Muslim immigrants already living here: "When you look at all the [national statistics on people who commit] criminal acts, of domestic violence, [or who are most] dependent on social [welfare] schemes, [the] people from non-Western countries -- mostly Muslims -- are heading those lists. And I believe if you want to make a real effort and focus our policy to help those people to get off the top of those lists, then we should stop immigration."

He winces at any comparison to farther-right Dutch politicians like Michiel Smit, the Rotterdam city councilman who's co-founded the fledgling New Right party. Like Wilders, Smit's group is calling for an immediate halt to immigration. But Wilders says that -- unlike New Right -- he does not favor a "Dutch-first" policy and has nothing against peaceful Muslims already living in the Netherlands.

"I see myself more as a conservative and certainly not as extreme right," he said. "My aim, if I am talking about being tough on radical Islam, if I am talking about trying to stop immigration for some time [is] to make [immigrants] who are already here [the same] as citizens like other people who are moderate and abiding by the law. There will always be a place for these people in the Netherlands. I don't want them out of my country. I want them here, but I want them to behave like those in a democracy should behave."

Voters have plenty of time to consider Wilders. Barring a crisis, the next election is three years away.

(This is the last of a five-part series. Part 1 in the series looks at the death of multiculturalism; part 2 explores the price of political correctness; part 3 speaks with Dutch people about their hopes and fears concerning immigration; and part 4 looks at how the international war on terror has found a negative echo in Dutch society.
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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.