‘MANY PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE PVV’S CORE ARGUMENT’
In 2016 Geert Wilders was convicted – but not punished – on grounds of inciting hatred. The case demonstrates how deeply polarized The Netherlands has become: some praise Wilders for being a defender of freedom of speech, others dismiss him as a racist and a populist.
But the divide isn’t new. Wilders and his PVV [Party for Freedom] entered the Dutch political scene in 2006 and have been causing controversy with their outspoken views on Islam and immigration ever since. However, this could be the first time Geert Wilders wins the largest share of the vote in a national election, begging the question: why are so many people voting for him?
Personally, I’m one of those people who didn’t see Brexit or President Trump coming. So to find an answer to my question, I met up with Patrick Jimenez Quinayas (28) at a pub in Leiden for a chat about Wilders, populism and identity politics. Patrick is a longtime PVV-supporter, activist and self-styled “radical nationalist”.
For a PVV-supporter, Patrick is a bit unusual: although he’s lived in the Netherlands for most of his life, he was born in Colombia and adopted by Dutch parents.
By day, Patrick works in advertising. The job is a stepping stone to thinking about politics, says Patrick: “Advertising has everything to do with identity. Products have traits – like colour – that inspire emotion, associations. People are similar: when people look at someone else they have a certain pattern of thoughts about them. I say Italian, you say pizza and mafia. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Patrick, the popularity of right-wing politicians last year took me and many others by surprise. If we believe the media, ‘angry white men’ are at the root of this movement. Why are people angry?
“We at PVV are radical nationalists. Me too, because I am not Dutch. We’re against the multicultural society. It doesn’t work; it’s not that people can’t all be friends but there is no sense of society, no cohesion. People are angry because they know it doesn’t work, they want their country back. Don’t forget that until very recently, The Netherlands was mostly a white country. In the last forty or fifty years that changed dramatically.”
PVV is not only against immigration, it’s also strongly opposed to Islam. Why?
“I’m against Islam because it is so violent. I have seen ISIS videos, I have seen decapitations, hacked off hands, everything. In the West we don’t seem to realize that the Sharia law that legitimizes such brutality is at the core of the Islamic religion, it is inseparable from Islam. Punishments like beatings and chopping off hands are common in Saudi Arabia and Iran too. If you are in favour of universal human rights, you are against Sharia law – if that’s the case, congratulations, you should be on the PVV’s side.”
“Many people – including people who support the PVV – don’t understand the PVV’s core argument, because it is something of a contradiction in terms. To protect human rights you need to limit a human right, the freedom of religion. You need to understand that point very well to be able to argue for it.”
“A lot of people support Wilders for the wrong reasons, they just happen to live in a neighborhood with lots of Moroccan immigrants and they don’t like them, because of the color of their skin or because they don’t like seeing the satellite dishes on the rooftops.”
Let’s take a step back. You said you don’t consider yourself Dutch?
“No, I was born in Colombia, I was adopted. I’m not like you – you can see I’ve dark skin, my face is like that of people there. This brings me to an unpleasant topic. We believe that every person has an ethnicity and that ethnicity is important: it is your blueprint. Your DNA tells you many things about yourself, even things you don’t consciously know.”
“Therefore foreigners are still foreigners, it doesn’t matter if they’re second or third or fourth generation. If you look Chinese but were born in the Netherlands, people will take one look at you and say: he’s Chinese. In the eyes of the native population that will never change.”
Why not? People adapt to new circumstances all the time.
“We don’t believe that someone can ‘become something’ they’re not. When I see these naturalization ceremonies on tv, all those foreigners receiving Dutch passports and being told they’re Dutch now – it makes me laugh, it’s an illusion. You can adapt to another country to be sure, by learning to speak the language for example. But if you go to Japan now and get a Japanese passport does that make you Japanese? You’ll still be a Dutch person in Japan.”
What do you think of Donald Trump?
“I never expected he would win. It was an almost heavenly surprise when I woke up in the morning and saw that he had won. I have been a fan of his for a long time, I read all his books. He will be a great leader because he’s doing this because he loves his country, he doesn’t care about his own popularity. All these Hollywood film stars don’t want to be seen working with him, but he doesn’t care about all that.”
“Wilders is a bit like Trump. He defends the national interest: no more globalization, we want autonomy. That’s why the PVV wants to leave the European Union. All economic interests aside, it would be very good if we left because then we could organize the country ourselves.”
Why is the nation state so important?
“The country is the best thing that can happen to a population. Your country is the most beautiful thing there is – a national flag, a national song. It makes a people strong and united, gives them an identity. Even in medieval times we had countries and it worked perfectly. But now the West has been weakened.”
¨Because non-western immigrants have come to live here and they’ve been welcomed with open arms, no questions asked. The Second World War has created a holocaust trauma. That’s why you can’t be critical of other people because that’s supposedly dangerous. People could get excluded and that could lead to horrors.”
“That’s a myth, but people draw parallels between Jews then and Muslims now. You’re not allowed to say anything about Muslims because if you do then one day they’ll be put into camps and killed. That’s the kind of thing people make up.”
Godwin’s law says all debates end with somebody bringing up Hitler.
“To some extent Hitler was the perfect nationalist, until he decided to expand the Third Reich. If only he had kept his Third Reich in Germany and in Austria then that would’ve been fine with me. It was what the German people wanted, a strong Germany.”
Hitler killed a lot of people in Germany and Austria.
“That’s not really the problem, nationalism isn’t the problem here. Murdering people and invading other countries is crossing the line. A nationalistic country should respect the nationalism of other countries.”
I disagree. To me nationalism seems to imply that your country is better than other countries. If that’s the case, why shouldn’t you invade them?
“Hitler believed in race theory, that some people are superior over others. That’s dangerous because you can’t prove any of that. I don’t think it should be about race, nationalism should be about a people coming together as a national unit. You can be black and still feel Dutch, although it should be said that there are groups who can adjust to a new country better than others. Germans look more like Dutch people so it’s not as difficult for them. There is ethnic recognition between them.”
“But overall it is very difficult. I think by now it has been proven that moving large numbers of people between countries doesn’t work. Look at the French banlieues. They will never truly be part of French territory again.”
What do you think Wilders will do if he becomes prime minister?
“Realistically, I don’t expect much to change. Wilders wants to forbid the Quran, for example. I think in theory that should be possible because like Mein Kampf the Quran is discriminatory and incites to violence against unbelievers. But in practice, it’s impossible to uphold such a ban. What is Wilders going to do … have every household searched? I have four Qurans on my shelves, too.”
“Of course, we will want to leave the EU and the rules for immigration will become stricter, but it’s not like the PVV will force people to leave the country if they don’t want to. But we could ask the immigrants if they would consider going back in exchange for a one-time payment. I think most Moroccans would be much happier in the Moroccan sun, don’t you?”
You talk a lot about identity. Since you weren’t born in the Netherlands, do you think this is also because of your personal experience?
“Of course. I’m not ashamed of that. I admit I’m hopelessly divided. I’m Colombian, but I never lived there and when I go there people can tell I don’t fit in. I just have to deal with it.”
“It sounds unpleasant, but the solution is not to present people with an illusion that they could become something they’re not. Because of my history, I’m more aware of the drawbacks of globalization – when you move people around for no reason you just create an identity crisis for them. I don’t want to do that to people.”
If you could, would you turn back the clock on your own history?
“If I had a choice I would not have been Colombian, I would’ve just been Dutch. A purely economic choice, though I do like this country a lot.”
“Adoption happens with the utmost love from the Dutch parents and that’s admirable, I have so much respect for that. But I’m against the concept of adoption, because you remove a child from his natural surroundings and put him or her in a strange environment. In the early years that doesn’t bother him but later on, when the questions come, there is nothing you can do about it.”
“I mean, it never bothered me because I don’t feel like I need to repair the damage. I’m lucky because I know my Colombian family, I know my mother. It is natural that you start to interest yourself in your own culture and country at a certain age, but I started that quest so early that I have always been and always will be myself.
But I know other boys from Colombia, and they’ve never been there and they don’t speak any Spanish – imagine, if they ever meet their mother they won’t be able to talk to her.”
Patrick finishes his fourth beer and we step outside. The streetlights are on, glimmering on the surface of the frozen canals. I check my watch: we have been inside for three hours.
Before he leaves Patrick shows me a drawing of his alternative for Zwarte Piet [Black Pete] on his phone. Krampus, he says. Krampus looks like a Satyr from Ancient Greece, with a long tail and hair on his shins and a grinning brown face. He’s wearing purple velvet shorts just like Piet.
Patrick drew the design himself: “I’ve been showing this to everyone,” he says, “it’s the perfect solution to the debate – Zwarte Piet can’t be racist anymore if he’s a monster. But people don’t seem very interested.”
“It’s a good idea,” I tell him, “but I think Krampus might frighten the children.”
Patrick and I shake hands and I watch him set off on his bike to nearby Leiderdorp, where he lives. I walk in the opposite direction, across the bridge. I think about how neither of us comes from Leiden originally, since he and I were both born on different continents altogether. What are the odds we should have met here at all?