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How a working-class Dutch town veered right


Today, Dutch voters go to the polls in national elections that could have far-reaching implication for the rise of neofascism in Europe and beyond. In the English-language edition of Der Spiegel, Alexander Smoltczyk investigates the changing political loyalties of Almere, a Dutch city of 200,000 people outside Amsterdam. Long a stronghold of the social democratic party, Almere has drifted rightward in recent years, with many residents telling Smoltczyk that they plan to vote for Geert Wilders. As Smoltczyk’s article shows, the factors driving this shift are strikingly similar to those driving supporters of Trump and other neofascist candidates: increasing economic insecurity created by neoliberal capitalism, which is instead blamed on immigrants and people of color. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

If a model railroad enthusiast were hired to design a city, Almere is what the result might look like. There are car-free areas of the city that are named after flowers, fish species or cinematic legends. There are networks of bicycle and bus routes along with small community centers on seemingly every corner, dedicated to gezelligheid, the Dutch take on communal well-being, with billiards, bingo, folk dance and even half-marathons, depending on one’s proclivities. It’s a place where every neighborhood has its own library, church and shopping mall, and where senior citizens buzz around silently on electric scooters. The buses are on-time and cost nothing. Everything seems to work well.

Why, then, is there so much anger? Why are so many people in this ideal city so upset about everything? So upset that they already voted to make Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) the biggest party on the city council? They are likely to do the same on Wednesday, when the the Netherlands holds parliamentary elections - a vote that many in Europe are watching with deep concern.

What is it that the people of Almere want?..

Riny van Boxtel, 69 years old, used to work as a de-boner in an Amsterdam slaughterhouse. He moved to Almere, just a half-hour’s drive away, 37 years ago after starting a family. As he does every morning, Van Boxtel is standing on the Almere market square with his friend Jan Hoefakker, 72, a former firefighter. Both were once classic constituents for the social democratic PVDA.

“When I go back to visit East Amsterdam, people say to me: ‘Oh, a Dutchman - we haven’t seen one of those in a long time.’ There are so many Turks and Moroccans there. But I speak to everyone here. There’s such unease. Normal people don’t even dare to say some things. But Wilders says it. I estimate that 80 percent of the people think the same way he does. Something has to change. I’m willing to give him a chance for four years.”

Image: The PVV party room at Almere City Hall. Via Der Spiegel.