I am sitting in a cafe, one among several dozens situated around Rembrandtplein in the city center of Amsterdam, typing up this post-2017 election opinion piece. To my left two Russian ladies discuss what attraction in Amsterdam to visit next. The whole place is bustling with tourists. Plenty locals too. If you had lived in the 1950’s in Amsterdam and were asked to guess which of these people where tourists and which were natives, pointing out all the white people in the room back then would have sufficed. Fast forward seventy years or so later and you most certainly will have a harder time figuring out who’s who. There’s really no telling, without talking to people first. Amsterdam’s DNA is no longer just white. With over 170 different cultural backgrounds, the new natives in Amsterdam aren’t that easy to distinguish from those who are visiting the city from outside the Netherlands for business or pleasure.
For those around the world that for many years looked towards the Netherlands — and particularly its capital Amsterdam — as an example of a country where broadly supported liberal values ensured a climate of tolerance for people from all walks of lives, and with many cultural backgrounds and religious affiliations, this country I call home must have lost some of its luster, with news that neo-fascist sentiments have been growing uncontrollably, and mostly unchallenged, the past ten to fifteen years. As incredible as it may seem, a great deal of this toxic societal rot has been both channeled and cultivated by one person in particular: the politician Geert Wilders. (Infamous for, among other things, wanting to ban the noble Quran, comparing the noble book to Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, and threatening to remove all mosques from the country, once in power.) With his political party — without irony called The Freedom Party (PVV) — he not only succeeded to gather an increasing amount of seats in the Dutch parliament during the past thirteen or so years, but far worse, he managed to influence almost all other political parties and their politician, who tried to stop his advance, not by opposing his hateful views towards what I call the New Dutch, but by matching his rhetoric and, without him ever being part of any government in the last decade and a half, carrying out parts of his political program.
But in the last few years something incredible has happened. Like a flower pushing its way through a crack in the concrete pavement, a fierce and fearless opposition to this neo-fascism has emerged in Holland at last. And the ones heading the counter-attack against the reemerged fascist monster, are the beleaguered New Dutch themselves.
Dutch general election, 2017
Like Cinderella at the ball, after weathering an endless slew of assaults from neo-fascists, their colluders in the media, and most mainstream political parties, we the New Dutch managed to elect last week on March 15th during the Dutch general election of 2017 three of our own people into the heart of our democracy, the Dutch parliament.
During election day it fairly quickly became clear that the turnout would be significantly higher than the previous election. In fact, when several days later a majority of the votes were counted, the turnout for the Dutch general election 2017 was one of the highest in history, settling down just above the 80% mark. I got up early that day, and headed straight to a polling station near me to cast my vote. One week before election day, around half of the eligible voters in Holland still had not made up their minds which party to vote for. Me, and other people like me, who the last fifteen years have been cast out by the white establishment, knew exactly who to vote for. For the first time we had a real choice. Not having to settle for a choice between the lesser of two evils, but finally having the opportunity to vote for people who understood us, who know what are hopes, dreams and ambitions are. People who don’t treat our existence in this country as an aberration. People that look like us, and for whom our interests weren’t an inconvenience, but something worth pursuing, worth striving for. I, and al lot of those New Dutch I keep harking about, we choose the only people we felt will could truly represent us. We choose DENK (Think).
DENK, the political wunderkind that would not shut up
To tell you the story of DENK, the new political party that has become for us, the New Dutch, a hope in troubling times, we need to go back almost three years in time.
On November 13th, 2014, after a brawl about (false) allegations made by the minister of Social Affairs and Employment claiming that Turkish-Dutch muslim organizations are hindering integration of Turkish-Dutch citizens, two members of parliament — both from Turkish descent, and like the minister part of the same political party — were kicked out of the Labor Party (PvdA) fraction in the House of Representatives, and subsequently out of their party completely. The two decided not to relinquish their seats in parliament, but to make good out of a bad situation. In February 2015 they started their own political party. They called it DENK .
A week before the elections the neo-fascist Geert Wilders was asked in an interview which of his colleagues in parliament he disliked. His answer was telling:
“If you ask me who my worst opponents are in the House of Representatives, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. None of those weaklings I really hate, except for that Kuzu. Him, I truly detest.” Geert Wilders
‘Kuzu’ here, is Tunahan Kuzu, the Parliamentary group leader of DENK. When one of the most influential figures of the neo-fascist movement in contemporary Europe says he ‘detest’ you and what you are standing for, you know you are doing something right.
DENK has shown to be a very effective communication machine, with excellent organizational skills, and an extraordinary political acumen for such a young organization. They proved to be masters of social media. Knowing that mainstream media will not be helpful in presenting their message in a fair and unbiased way, they decide to bypass a large part of the various media platforms and reach out directly to their target audience. Using snappy videos on the web, that almost without exception immediately went viral, they attracted quickly a large following online. No other political party has the same reach on social media as newcomer DENK. But offline too they managed to stun friend and foe, creating a nationwide grassroot organization that is growing faster than that of its mainstream political rivals.
Their efforts were rewarded last week. Following the election results — that officially will be announced on Tuesday March 21st 2017 — of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament, 3 seats are to be reserved for wunderkind DENK. And I beg for forgiveness, gleefulness is not an attractive trait, but like a page out of a Shakespeare play, the same night that DENK, and all its supporters, were beside themselves with joy, the Labor Party (PvdA) — the party that tried to silence the founders of DENK — wept hot tears for what is considered to be the biggest loss in Dutch parliamentary history. They got decimated on election day, losing 29 seats, going from 38 seats to only 9 seats.
Your kids are gonna love it!
So, what does all this mean? How will a mere three seats stem the rise (and rise) of neo-fascism in the Netherland, in Europe? Especially considering that, in contrary to the jubilant news reports in the West and other parts of the world that the advance of neo-fascism has been halted in Europe, the boogieman is bigger than ever. Yes, Geert Wilders did not get as many votes as predicted, but his political party (PVV), has since last week’s election gained five more seats in parliament, giving him a total of 20 seats in the House of Representatives. The neo-fascist PVV is now the second biggest party in the Netherlands. And many experts have stated that other large political parties are but in name a PVV-equivalent.
In real life, unlike a fairy tale like Cinderella, after a happy ending what follows is hard work. Hard work the coming years to consolidate this win, to grow, to establish alliances, to build upon this success locally. We already have a political party called NIDA (Call/Vote) that is making headway in local municipalities, and has its mind set on growing from the bottom up into greatness. Another new political party like Artikel 1 (named after Article One, a reference to the opening clause of the Dutch constitution), that did not manage to secure a seat in the Dutch parliament this time around, is a political force that we will see breaking through during the municipal elections in 2018. And there are so many initiative that are supported by both new and old natives in Europe, like for instance the civil rights movement Movement X, that is fighting social exclusion, discrimination and racism in Belgium and Holland (the ‘X’ here hinting at Malcolm X, on of the fiercest fighters for radical equality).
What I would like to say to those fellow citizens in Holland and the rest of Europe that got stuck in the 1950’s: this is our home, we are going nowhere! You can bemoan our presence in these lands all you want, but with our without your help we will forge a better future for our and your children, and we will drag you into the 21st century kicking and screaming, if need be.
Like the character Marty McFly(Michael J. Fox) in the 1980’s cult hit movie Back to the Future said, when he accidentally got zapped back into the white-bread 1950’s, and used this opportunity to introduce a new music genre (rock ’n’ roll) to a bewildered audience: “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it”.
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