Most Turks have heard of Mr. Wilders because of his extreme Islamophobia, labelling the religion as a fascist ideology, and his outspoken opposition to Turkish membership of the EU. This time though Mr. Wilders is not bashing Muslims. His party, the Party for Freedom (PVV), has set up a website where Dutch citizens can anonymously register their complaints about workers from Eastern Europe. The PVV accuses these migrants of many problems with nuisance and pollution and especially the stealing of Dutch jobs. Information on the website claims Romanians, Bulgarians and especially Poles are criminal threats.
This latest show of Mr. Wilders´ infamous xenophobia has triggered a big debate at home and abroad. The main reason for most of the excitement is not only the content of the campaign which is considered to be outright discriminatory towards fellow Europeans. The huge outcry is directly linked to the fact that Mr. Wilders´ party supports the present Dutch government of Liberals and Christian Democrats. Without his help, the centre right coalition led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte would not be able to survive in parliament. In other words, what Mr. Wilders says and does are not the extremist actions of a marginal party that could be discarded easily. They have an immediate impact on the perception of the government in the Netherlands and in the rest of Europe. That is why the opposition parties and, surprisingly, also the ruling Christian Democrats, have called upon Mr. Rutte to distance himself clearly and openly from Mr. Wilders´ initiative. Several Eastern European governments and the chairman of the European Parliament have done the same, calling the complaints website inappropriate and running against some of the core values of European integration. Till now, the Dutch prime minister has refused to do so, saying his task is not to comment on each and every move by Mr. Wilders and underlining that this approach is not backed by his government. The truth is he needs the support of the PVV in drafting new plans to drastically cut the national budget to comply with tough European rules Mr. Rutte has pushed for himself in Brussels.
As in the past with most of his other provocations, Mr. Wilders is a master in magnifying certain real problems and putting all the blame on a specific ethnic, religious or national group. He did the same with Muslims and Greeks before. Now he tries to profit from the growing uneasiness among many Dutch people with the presence of foreign workers, while unemployment among the local population is growing. Of course he does not mention the fact that many Poles do the dirty and low paid work that most Dutch do not want to do anymore and that problems with housing and criminality are often caused by the illegal practices of Dutch landlords trying to profit from the need of most migrants for cheap accommodation.
An interesting aspect of Mr. Wilders´ latest manoeuvre is that it shows the problem European populists have in keeping the attention and the votes of their electorate. Opinion polls and journalistic research show that many potential followers of Mr. Wilders and his colleagues in other European countries are getting tired of the Islam bashing that made up such a huge part of the original attraction of these parties. Mr. Wilders is clearly looking for other scapegoats and apparently he thinks he has found them in the peripheral countries of Europe. First he blamed the Greeks for being lazy profiteers that should be expelled from the EU. Now he has insulted the Poles for being criminals occupying the jobs of honest Dutch workers.
A growing number of his compatriots are getting fed up with Mr. Wilders´ cheap blame games. The centrist religious newspaper Trouw called Mr. Wilders´ campaign a shame and commented: “A black tulip is the blackest possible public relations for the Netherlands.” Let´s hope that the conclusion of today´s outrage is that Islamophobia, racism and discrimination should be condemned each time someone tries to manipulate public opinion by appealing to these despicable instincts -- independent of the fact whether the victim is a Turk, a Greek or a Pole.