Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.
Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.
Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.
In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.
Baudet has winked at the alt-right with calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.
He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”.
Forum shared first place with Rutte’s liberals in the 2019 midterm elections, winning 16 percent support. Its popularity has since fallen to a low of 3-5 percent while Baudet’s rhetoric became more extreme.
He claimed all other political parties were in cahoots with the EU to “destroy” the Netherlands; argued a British “deep state” was working to undermine Brexit; called for an investigation into George Soros, a financier, philanthropist and frequent target of conspiracy theorists; and questioned Russia’s culpability for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over southeastern Ukraine in which 193 Dutch nationals were killed.
Coronavirus hasn’t helped. Most Dutch voters credit Rutte for his steady and pragmatic leadership. Baudet initially criticized the government for not taking the pandemic seriously and then accused it of overreacting. He has said he wouldn’t take a COVID vaccine.
Dutch support for the EU is up while immigration has receded from the headlines, depriving Baudet of political oxygen.
Rutte’s party is faraway the largest in the polls with 26-28 percent support, which would give it 41 to 45 out of 150 seats in parliament. General elections are due in March.
With Baudet on the way out — he could still stand in the next election — it looks like Forum will follow the fate of previous right-wing splinter parties.
The Pim Fortuyn List placed second in the 2002 election only to wither after the assassination of its namesake and leader. Former immigration minister Rita Verdonk’s Proud of the Netherlands polled as high as 10 percent when it launched in 2008 but never won seats in parliament.
Only Geert Wilders has managed to hold his Freedom Party together, with support hovering between 10 and 15 percent — by shunning internal party democracy altogether.