The Dutch right-wing Eurosceptic Party for Freedom (PVV) has retained its influence in Dutch politics and has gradually established itself as the main face of Dutch conservatism.

While its results in the May 2014 European Parliament elections were illustrative of a slight downturn in electoral support compared to its 2009 showing and it did not emulate the recent success of populist counterparts in France and the United Kingdom, it nonetheless earned a respectable four seats in the European Parliament and will provide the core of the anti-EU alliance within its confines.

Over the course of the last two years, the PVV has displayed a clear interest in elevating its international profile and shed its reputation as a notoriously selective and pedantic party regarding its choice of European allies.[1]

However, while on the surface there has been an increased alignment between the positions taken by Geert Wilders on a variety of geopolitical issues and those adopted by other populist party leaders such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage, it is doubtful whether the trickle-down effect has started to work its magic among the lower-ranked affiliates of the party.

Notably, in April 2014 Wilders played to the tune of a number of CEE parties such as Hungary’s Jobbik and Bulgaria’s Ataka, by voicing sharp criticism of the EU’s handling of the Ukrainian crisis and expressing opposition to the imposition of sanctions against Russia.[2]

Granted, Wilders has not been implicitly supportive of Putin’s foreign policy approach, though some analysts have put him in the camp of the politicians who would welcome a stronger Russia to counterbalance the EU’s pro-globalization agenda.[3]

Still, the endorsement of Russia’s current regime, even if indirect, by the party leader, is quite unlikely to find much sympathy among the majority of PVV members.[4]

Between November 2011 and June 2013, I conducted a number of interviews with regional party leaders and former Dutch parliamentarians as well as a defector from Wilders’ party. One common theme that emerged over the course of the discussions was that the “Russian sphere of influence” and the long Russian shadow had almost irredeemably affected the mentalities of Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania in a markedly negative fashion, which was a key factor behind the PVV representatives’ universal opposition to the EU membership of states from the Eastern side of the continent.[5]

It seems safe to say that emphasizing the desirability of “Russian values” over Western European ones is one rhetorical exercise that is likely to be avoided by Wilders, even if most of his allies from the anti-EU alliance would see no reason to stay clear of “Christian value” comparisons between the EU and Russia in favor of the latter.

Given the current state of the Russian-American relations, any pro-Putin noises made by Wilders (even if quite cautious and not overly conciliatory in comparison to the other populist parties) would also seem to run counter to the strong support for the United States in the geopolitical realm professed by the PVV, which is one defining component of the identity of the party.

This pro-Americanism is not only typical of the party leader, but has also been successfully internalized by the majority of Wilders’ party colleagues.

Responding to my hypothetical question regarding the desirability of a strong EU at the expense of a strong United States at some point in the future, the vast majority of PVV respondents saw a hegemonic USA as closely in line with Dutch national interests, with some such as Barry Madlener being rather perturbed that anyone could suspect that the PVV would show preference for the EU over the United States.

It is certainly interesting to ponder whether Wilders’ sustained interactions with figures such as Marine Le Pen, who have exhibited clear pro-Russian leanings, will play a part in affecting Wilders’ worldview on this matter and in the long run put a dent in his (and ultimately his party’s) pro-American attitude.

I brought up the topic of the United States and the special place it seems to occupy in the heart of many PVV members, because it relates in a roundabout way to the previously identified theme of the PVV members’ suspicion of Eastern European mentalities and behavioral norms.

The PVV (which, as hinted in the preceding section, rejects any strong bonds between Europeans based on putatively shared whiteness) occupies a comparable position within the Dutch political spectrum to the “American Third Position” that tends to have somewhat “white nationalist” leanings.

Swain and Nieli depict white nationalism in the United States as being situated “somewhere between the mainstream right of American Conservatism, and the older racist right of organizations like the American Nazi Party”.[6]

Similarly, the PVV is located to the right of Dutch conservatism, but is generally spared the label of extreme right.[7] For example, Mark Steyn who has criticized the Western world’s policies on multiculturalism and is among the popularizers of the term “Eurabia”[8] is a prominent representative of “third position” politics and has written the foreword to Wilders’ most recent book on Islam.[9]

By the year 1990, European immigrants are deemed to have reached an almost complete assimilation into United States society and since then discussions of white racial identity have dislodged those on white ethnic identity among the proponents of the anti-globalist third position.[10]

Thus, it has to be pointed out that while the PVV endorses US conservatism and is highly sympathetic to the country’s unflinching commitment to foreign policy realism, this does not necessarily mesh well with its views on the cultural compatibilities of different European nationalities as members of Dutch society.

Race has been characterized as not having been bestowed the status of a “formal policy category”[11] in Dutch political discourses and tends to be “inherently subsumed, repressed under the coverage of cultural and religious references”[12], though the autochtoon (indigenous) vs. allochtoon (descendant, in full or in part, from immigrants) distinction serves a somewhat similar purpose of juxtaposing “in-group” vs. “out-group” members.[13]

Critical scholars of Dutch society have tended to portray the overemphasis on racial distinctions as a “US issue”.[14] The PVV makes sure to tread carefully around any racial polemics (focusing instead of inter-ethnic differences between white Europeans from the West and the East), which is actually one aspect that brings it closer to mainstream Dutch society discourses than to those of its ideological allies within the “third position” camp of US politics.[15]

In conclusion, the PVV (and especially its charismatic leader Wilders) will have a difficult time reconciling these differing ideological strands and defining the party’s relationship to the Eastern European “out-group”.

Wilders’ increased receptiveness to expanding the PVV’s network of allies and his willingness to tentatively plant his foot in the pro-Russian camp, could continue to put him at loggerheads with some of his own party members, who reject pragmatism with regard to coalition-making and cling to the original conception of the PVV as an autonomous party that is not to compromise when it comes to aspects such as “Eastern” (presumed to be non-liberal) values.

One testament to the existence of such sentiment is the opinion of former PVV parliamentarian Wim Kortenoeven who in June 2013 expressed some degree of disillusionment with the PVV’s policy orientation due to the PVV’s abandonment of some of the early principles on which the party was based (non-alliance with anti-Semitic and “white nationalist” leaning factions) upon, referring to Wilders’ courting of the Front National at the time.

The degree to which the anti-EU coalition in the European Parliament could further rock the boat within the PVV party ranks remains to be seen, but the PVV party leader will have to put his charisma to full use in steadying the ship.[16]

Notes

[1] The PVV is known for its secretive nature and its party members are bound by strict guidelines when it comes to interacting with politicians from other parties as well as giving interviews to domestic and foreign journalists.

[2] Escritt, Thomas and Anthony Deutsch. Dutch rightist Wilders blames EU for Ukraine crisis; hints at UKIP alliance (Reuters, 17 April 2014).

[3] Faith, Ryan. I Know You Are a Fascist, But What Am I? (The Economist, 19 April 2014).

[4] “Western cultural mores” are regarded as superior to Eastern European ones by the vast majority of PVV politicians.

[5] My interviews with Barry Madlener, Patricia van der Kammen, Daniël van der Stoep and Wim Kortenoeven.

[6] Swain, Carol M. and Russ Nieli (eds.). “Contemporary Voices of White Nationalism in America” (2003), p. 1.

[7] Rodrigues, Peter R. and Jaap van Donselaar (eds.). “Monitor Racisme &  Extremisme – Neggende Rapportage” (“Monitoring Racism and Extremism – the ninth report”) (2010), p. 140-141.

[8] Kaufmann, Eric. “’Eurabia? : the Foreign Policy Implications of West Europe’s Religious Composition in 2025 and beyond’ ” (2008), p. 1.

[9] Wilders, Geert. “Marked for Death – Islam’s War against the West and Me” (2012), p. 1.

[10] McDermott, Monica and Frank L. Samson. “White Racial and Ethnic Identity in the United States” (2005), p. 246.

[11] Essed, Philomena and Sandra Trienekens. “’Who wants to feel white?’ Race, Dutch Culture and Contested Identities” (2008), p. 55.

[12] Ibid, p. 63.

[13] Ibid, p. 55.

[14] Ibid, p. 64.

[15] Müller, Anne Ulrike. “Far Away So Close: Race, Whiteness, and German Identity”, in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power” (2011), p. 622.

[16] My interviews with Wim Kortenoeven in March and June 2013.