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Newsletter #16 — Focus on The Netherlands

Each month, we highlight the Reset! members' projects or activities in one specific country through current news. This month, we put the spotlight on The Netherlands. On November 22nd, the country’s general elections took place. As in many other European country in recent years, a far-right party won this election: Geert Wilders’ The Party for Freedom (PVV). We interviewed Steven van Lummel, artist and founder of cultural hotspot PIP in The Hague, which has many artistic branches such as two record labels, a book publishing agency, and an online TV channel, as well as Amsterdam-based freelance journalist and cultural manager David Wouters. They both explained to us the implications of this political change, along with the complex situation the country finds itself in, and the consequences this could have for independent cultural organisations.

In July 2023, the Dutch government, which had been led by the right-wing conservative Mark Rutte since 2010, collapsed after a disagreement between the coalition parties over immigration policy. This political upheaval led to a snap election in November 2023. The campaign for the latter followed in the footsteps of several other European elections in recent years, which have mainly focused on immigration issues –ironic when it is the argument for the fall of the government. And again, despite Dutch society being rocked by numerous social and economic problems, such as an unprecedented housing crisis, healthcare, or cost of living, a discourse focused on immigration and anti-Islam hate speech was promoted –a now global phenomenon in Europe.

On November 22nd, 2023, the Party for Freedom (PVV) and its long-time leader Geert Wilders won the most seats in Parliament, 37 out of 150. “It's a hard pill to swallow,” explains Steven van Lummel, “we look at ourselves and think we have failed,” David Wouters corroborates and underlines the “sense of shock” that followed the election. This election and its results now open a long period of negotiations to form the next Dutch government coalition.

David insists that this coalition could take weeks, even months, to form, not necessarily around but with Wilders and the PVV. Which party will work with the Islamophobic and racist PVV? Will Wilders give up some of his demands in order to make his way into the Catshuis? “How much compromise there has to be, who will be the victim of that and how that will affect the cultural sector and ultimately if the coalition will hold,” is central to knowing what the future of The Netherlands will look like, according to David. Only time will tell, but these results are already bad news for social rights and progressive values in Europe. The latter are absolutely abhorred by Wilders, who is campaigning for a Nexit (contraction of the Netherlands and exit, i.e. leaving the EU). This is highly unlikely, but the will and the rhetoric are still quite striking.

Regardless of the exact composition of the coalition, the threats to the cultural sector are worrying, and it would probably be the last area to be saved in the political compromises. At the moment, the PVV considers culture to be "for the left-wing elite", and its manifesto states that it wants to end all public funding for culture. Needless to say, this would be devastating for independent cultural organisations like PIP, which receives 10% of its funding from the public purse and "helps so many people and certainly gives us room to manoeuvre in our activities," says Steven. The activities of PIP and so many other cultural spaces could be further targeted by an increase in the ticket tax from 9% at present to 21%; “Such measures, if implemented, could further imperil a struggling cultural sector post-Covid,” points out David Wouters. In addition to these –for now– programme lines, the PVV is also advocating the dissolution of the Dutch Public Broadcasting System (NPO), the country's largest media enterprise.

These various attacks on culture and the media form a dark horizon for The Netherlands, in which it will become increasingly difficult, if not a struggle, to be an independent cultural and media player. In times of an already tense situation for independents, especially in terms of access to spaces, this election comes as a turning point. Even though there is no certainty about the next government coalition, Steven van Lummel remains hopeful and affirms: “Every fight for culture is worth fighting.”

 

Links to go futher:

Far Right Win in Dutch Elections Shows How Quickly the Right Is Rising in EuropeTruthout

Far right’s Geert Wilders seals shock win in Dutch election after years on political fringeFrance 24

Samenwerken met een ondemocraat is schadelijk voor de democratie (Collaborating with an undemocrat is damaging to democracy) – De Correspondent

Geert Wilders and Europe’s lurch to the far rightThe Guardian