On Weibo, the topic ‘following the elections in the West’ has recently become increasingly popular. “The American elections have ended, and Trump is now running the country from Twitter. The French and German elections are coming up next,” – an account named “Following The Elections in the West” (hashtag: #关注西方大选#) says.
Besides the elections in Germany and France, the Dutch elections are also a topic of discussion. Dutch politician Wilders, called Wéi’ěrdésī (维尔德斯 or 威尔德斯) in Chinese, has become a recurring subject in the Chinese media, that represent the results of the Dutch elections as the precursor for the other elections of Continental Europe.
Geert Wilders is the leader of the Dutch right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), which is expected to win many votes in the upcoming elections in the Netherlands. With his plans to “de-islamize” the Netherlands and his anti-EU and anti-establishment stance, Wilders is winning over voters who feel alienated from the ruling political class.
ALL EYES ON EUROPE
“This Dutch man, who is crazier than Trump, wants to change Europe.”
“Why do we need to closely follow the Dutch elections?”, one Shanghai media source recently wrote on Weibo: “Because after the shock of the 2016 Trump election and Brexit, all eyes are now on Europe. And on the one hand we have Le Pen (勒庞), the leader of the right-wing National Front (FN), and on the other hand, we are now approaching the Dutch elections where we have the Dutch right-wing party of Wilders, who just might become the next prime minister.”
The heightened media attention for European politics with a current focus on the Netherlands and Wilders is noticeable in Chinese state media, with official media such as Global Times and Xinhua writing about it.
In late February, Chinese state tabloid Global Times featured a column about Wilders, which was also shared on Chinese social media platforms Weibo, Baidu forum, and on WeChat. It is titled: “This Dutch man, who is crazier than Trump, wants to change Europe” (这个比特朗普还要疯的荷兰人要让欧洲变天了).
“These days, the whole western world is focused on the Netherlands like never before,” the article starts: “Because within a month the big elections will take place and the potential big winner is an unusual political party that opposes practically everything that mainstream European thinking stands for.”
The article quotes Wilders in saying: “The Islam is not a religion – it is an ideology that has sprung from a backward culture. And this ideology might be scarier than Nazism, as the Koran is even more violent and more anti-semitic than Mein Kampf , and it needs to be shut out.”
STRONG ANTI-ISLAM STANCE
“If Wilders’ Freedom Party really wins the Dutch elections it will be a worse nightmare for the EU and Europe than Brexit was.”
The Global Times article argues that if Wilders’ Freedom Party really wins the Dutch elections, “it will be a worse nightmare for the EU and Europe than Brexit was.”
One of the reasons mentioned why it would be “nightmarish” for Wilders to win, is because of the Freedom Party’s strong anti-Islam stance and its proposals to shut down mosques and stop serving halal food in the canteens of Dutch schools.
The Global Times explains this by writing: “They think that Islam is the greatest threat to Western civilization. [They think that] If you let Islam take root in Western countries, then Europe will be Islamized decades later, and Western civilization will be completely destroyed.”
The article continues: “Of course, their stance has greatly angered followers of Islam all across Europe, but when these religious people fight back, they actually precisely do what the Freedom Party expects. Like in 2009, when Geert Wilders came to England for an interview and over 40 Islamic people went to the streets carrying banners that said that ‘Islam will dominate the world.'”
The article argues that Wilders “represents himself” as a “victim of Islamic violence” – as he cannot leave his house without bodyguards by his side – but that his provocative way of speaking has also led to him facing legal actions within the Netherlands. He was found guilty of inciting discrimination when he asked a roomful of Freedom Party supporters if they wanted to have “more or fewer Moroccans” in the country.
RISE OF THE RIGHT
“The Dutch Freedom Party is not alone, but is part of the rise of other far-right political parties across Europe: this is their year of patriotism.”
Besides his strong anti-Islam stance, another reason why the article says a win by Wilders would be disastrous to Europe, is because of his anti-EU position. This stance comes from the belief that the corrupt nature of the EU organizational structure and the incompetence of the ruling authorities in Brussels have led to the immigration crisis and the financial crisis in Europe.
The column points out that the Freedom Party has greatly gained in popularity in the Netherlands since its establishment in 2006. The Greek debt crisis, the refugee crisis, as well as last year’s Brexit and the election of Trump, have all contributed to its popularity.
The Global Times finally argues that the Dutch Freedom Party is not alone, but is part of the rise of other far-right political parties across Europe, such as the National Front in France. “This is their year of patriotism,” they write.
“The current mainstream media are worried and anxious about the rise of the right-wing forces, but they can only pray that the Europeans won’t be as stupid as the Americans,” the column concludes, also adding: “We the Chinese people just want to say that whatever American, UK, or even French, German, Dutch, or Russian drama, etc., there is, let’s not make this a drama that includes China.”
THE WILDERS EFFECT
“It is relevant to note that the Netherlands can be regarded as the leader of European political trends.”
Besides Global Times, Chinese media outlets Xinhua News and Sina recently also wrote about Wilders. China’s Sina News published an article on March 1st titled “Is Holland the first domino stone to collapse on the European continent?” (荷兰 欧盟倒下的第一张多米诺), and Xinhua‘s article is titled “The Dutch elections are nearing, will populism win?” (荷兰大选在即，民粹主义会得势吗).
Both articles suggest that parties such as the Freedom Party win support because of their anti-immigration and anti-EU tendencies, but that voters of Wilders do not necessarily want him to actually lead the country: “People may vote for Wilders as a protest vote,” they write.
They emphasize the role of the Netherlands on the European continent: “It is relevant to note that the Netherlands can be regarded as the leader of European political trends,” Sina News says, looking back at political trends in the 1960s and 1990s.
Xinhua also brings up the so-called ‘Wilders Effect’ (威尔德斯效应). The ‘Wilders Effect’, also mentioned by Tom-Jan Meeus on Politico.eu, implies that the harsher Wilders is criticized (e.g. by the mainstream media or ruling politicians), the better his chances of winning are.
Even if Wilders comes out as the big winner in the upcoming elections, the chances of him forming a governing coalition are slim as few other parties are willing to govern alongside Wilders after the elections. However, it is precisely the rejection of Wilders that testifies to his accusations that “the political elites disregard the will of the people.”
Although Chinese state media emphasize the dangers of Wilders’ popularity and “the rise of the right,” Chinese responses on Weibo and other social media platforms reveal that many netizens seemingly support the far-right Dutch politician.
CHINESE NETIZENS RESPOND
“Supporters of Islam need to reflect on why it is that all over the world in developed nations people like Trump are receiving the support of the people.”
On Weibo, one Chinese blogger recently wrote about Wilders: “The populist Geert Wilders promises (..) to make the Netherlands ‘great again.’ His ‘Freedom Party’ (自由党) might win more seats than ever before. He is often called the “Dutch Trump”, as he is just as opposed to muslim immigration as the new American president. He also has no trust in the media and loves to send out tweets.”
The post continues: “This ‘Dutch Trump’ wants no more acceptance of immigrants or refugees from muslim countries, as Holland is becoming ‘Islamized’, [he wants to] prohibit the wearing of Islamic headscarves in public places (..), to let the Koran classify as a banned book, a closure of mosques and Islamic schools, the Netherlands should get out of the EU, criminals with a dual citizenship have to be deported, income taxes have to be reduced, people should receive pension at 65 (..).”
In response to this post and the state media articles, many netizens write that they agree with Wilders’ ideas about Islam and that it can be viewed as an ideology, saying: “Isn’t he right about this?”
One Weibo user (@乡梦天地) writes: “Is Islam still a ‘religion’? Perhaps it has deteriorated and has become an ideology that serves a religion. In a normal country, religion is often used as a way to serve the ruling class. But now, it seems that the ruling class is serving religion instead.”
Other Chinese commenters say that “the religion of Islam is an obstruction to the development of society.”
“I have been to Holland and the streets are very ‘green'”, one person says (‘green’ being slang to refer to ‘islam’). “Europe has reached a crucial moment of life or death, turning right is a final opportunity to save themselves,” one commenter (@传捷天下) writes.
“Supporters of Islam need to reflect on why it is that all over the world in developed nations people like Trump are receiving the support of the people,” another person responds.
Several netizens say: “There is nothing wrong (没毛病) with what [Wilders] says, it is the truth.”
One person even says: “It would be a blessing for the Netherlands if he were to be elected.”
People responding to the post on Weibo say they look forward to him winning the elections: “I support Wilders becoming the prime minister of Holland!”, one Guangdong-based English tutor writes.
WHAT’S THE FUSS?
“Europe is like a domino game. When one right-wing party comes up, others will follow. When one country leaves the EU, others will also leave the EU.”
But there are also netizens who worry about the rise in popularity of politicians such as Wilders: “Hasn’t the rise of populism already entered a point of no return?”
Like the Global Times column, they also see the rise of right-wing parties as a global trend rather than a European one (“全球右转是个趋势”). Some of them write that “the rise of the right” is a “dangerous trend.”
One France-based Weibo user (@欧洲行-私人订制) writes: “Europe is like a domino game. When one right-wing party comes up, others will follow. When one country leaves the EU, others will also leave the EU.”
But precisely this anti-EU stance is what many other netizens also appreciate in Wilders. When Wilders announced that a Dutch ‘Nexit’ referendum would follow after the Brexit, some Weibo commenters said: “Getting out of the EU might be the only way to save yourself,” although others said that organizing a referendum over such a crucial issue is “much too risky.”
There are also many commenters who do not understand what the fuss is all about: “Holland is such a small country,” a Baidu user writes. One Weibo commenter (@TOAac) also says: “So what, Holland? What will happen in Germany and France is what really matters.”
According to the latest polls, Geert Wilders has now fallen behind the conservative VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the first time since November 2016. But until the results come out of the Dutch elections of March 15, nothing is sure.
“In the end, this all is a choice that has to be made by the Dutch voters,” one Baidu netizen concludes.
Chinese (state) media about Wilders:
Global Times (环球时报). 2017. “这个比特朗普还要疯的荷兰人要让欧洲变天了 [This Dutch Man Crazier Than Trump Wants To Change Europe]” (In Chinese). Global Times, February 21 http://global.sina.cn/szzx/article/20170221/00bf33efd2851000.html [2.3.17].
Sina News (新浪). 2017. “荷兰 欧盟倒下的第一张多米诺 [Is Holland the first domino stone to collapse on the European continent?]” (In Chinese). Sina News, March 1 http://finance.sina.com.cn/stock/usstock/c/2017-03-01/doc-ifyavwcv9263847.shtml [2.3.17].
Xinhua (新华). 2017. “荷兰大选在即，民粹主义会得势吗? [The Dutch Elections Are Nearing, Will Populism Win Power?]” (In Chinese). Xinhuanet.com, February 16 http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2017-02/16/c_129481542.htm [2.3.17].
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