Britain could “liberate Europe” for a second time in a century by voting for Brexit on June 23, triggering a “patriotic spring” across the continent and an outpouring of populist discontent against Brussels, Geert Wilders, the right-wing Dutch populist, has claimed.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Wilders – a fiercely nationalist, anti-Islamic politician whose Party for Freedom is currently topping the polls in the Netherlands – said that the populist “genie was now out of the bottle”, and could never be put back in.
“Like in the 1940’s, once again Britain could help liberate Europe from another totalitarian monster, this time called ‘Brussels’. Again, we could be saved by the British,” he said in his heavily fortified office in The Hague where an oil painting Winston Churchill and a Telegraph front page of Margaret Thatcher hang on the walls.
“If people see that a country can leave, and the lights do not go out, there is not a war, and a country does not go bankrupt, but even flourishes. If Britain proves that this theory can become a reality, it would have an enormous effect.”
Like in the 1940’s, once again Britain could help liberate Europe from another totalitarian monster, this time called ‘Brussels’
Predicting that a Netherlands referendum on EU membership would swiftly follow a Brexit, he added that David Cameron was running a “stupid” campaign by attempting to scare the British into staying in Europe.
“I hope that a lot of people like Mr Cameron will continue saying the most stupid things. It helps a lot,” he said, “People are not stupid any more. They know they are being frightened by fear-mongers.”
For years Mr Wilders has been widely reviled as an extremist and a demagogue, however with anti-immigration and anti-austerity sentiment rising from Athens to Amsterdam, he now believes Europe is showing itself ready to embrace many of his populist ideas.
Not so long ago, Mr Wilders acknowledges, such dreams of a populist revolution would have remained just that – dreams – but as in America, where Donald Trump has caught the establishment flat-footed with his brash appeal to discontented grassroots, Europe’s populists are suddenly ascendant.
A first major victory could come on May 22 in Austria where the right-wing, anti-immigration Freedom Party is poised to win the country’s presidency – a largely ceremonial post, but a win which, if it comes, Mr Wilders believes would be hugely symbolic.
I hope that a lot of people like Mr Cameron will continue saying the most stupid things. It helps a lot. People are not stupid any more. They know they are being frightened by fear-mongers.”
“Just like a Brexit, a Freedom Party victory would be an enormous incentive for people all over Europe to see that we are not parties on the fringe of politics, that we are not only the biggest party in respective countries but even provide the head of state, the elected President.
“It’s a reality and you’d better face it and deal with it. This will be the future in many European countries,” he adds, pointing to the French National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, who on current polling predictions will reach the second round run-off in next year’s French presidential election.
In Italy – where a Mori poll earlier this month showed 48 per cent of the population said they wanted to leave the EU – the populist Five Star movement topped polls for the first time this week and is threatening to win political control in Rome.
Populist sentiment is also rising in former eastern European states like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic which have been angered by Brussels’s reaction to the migrant crisis, including trying to impose immigration quotas and criticising moves to close external EU borders.
“The eastern Europeans have already experienced what it is like to live under totalitarianism, they know what Moscow rule meant. Nobody knows that better than the Poles, the Czechs the Slovaks and the Hungarians,” he says.
“So they know, when they see another totalitarian monster – this time it’s dressed up a little differently; this time it’s called Brussels instead of Moscow – but it still wants to take their national sovereignty and identity and change their country. And people are saying: ‘enough is enough’.”
A populist success in Austria, if it comes, could also open the door in the Netherlands to Mr Wilders whose Party for Freedom (PVV) is currently leading polls in the Netherlands thanks to a blend of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric and sweeping populist economic promises.
Holland’s establishment parties have already publicly ruled out working with a Wilders-led coalition even if Mr Wilders heads the largest party after election day in March next year – a promise that Mr Wilders dismisses as unworkable since if would require a six or seven-party coalition to keep his party out of power.
Like Donald Trump, who is equally reviled by the establishment, Mr Wilders (who shares Mr Trump’s bouffant hair, as well as a desire to clamp down on Muslim immigration) believes that if he wins big enough then the other parties will be forced into practical accommodations.
“Don’t forget, a few years ago, everyone in Holland said ‘we will never deal with Wilders and his crazy party’, but then there were elections, we had a good result and – like [the Danish People’s Party] in Denmark – we didn’t take part in Government, but supported a minority govt.”
“I think I could be, would be and I want to be the next Prime minister of the Netherlands,” he adds, promising his party would push both for a return to the Guilder, an end to Muslim immigration and a swift referendum on Dutch EU membership. The recent 62% ‘no’ vote in a Dutch referendum rejecting an EU-Ukraine trade pact – a vote widely seen as a vote against Europe – gives him a mandate, he believes.
However before he can dream such dreams, Mr Wilders – who will speak at Donald Trump’s Republican convention this July – must first clear himself of charges of inciting racial hatred against Holland’s Moroccan population.
Don’t forget, a few years ago, everyone in Holland said ‘we will never deal with Wilders and his crazy party’, but then there were elections
This is the latest in a long line of controversies. Mr Wilders was refused entry into the UK 2009 for alleged Islamophobia, a decision later overturned by the courts, but now lives under 24-hour armed guard after being placed on the ‘kill lists’ of several Islamist terror groups.
He continues to campaign against what he calls the “Islamisization of western Europe”, but all rejects violence – although he has been blamed indirectly after his anti-Islamic ideas were cited approvingly in the ‘manifesto’ of Anders Breivik, the anti-Islamic Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in a gun attack on a youth camp in 2011.
Mr Wilders, who wants to ban what he calls the “fascist” Koran, tax headscarves and deport all dual nationals who commit crime as well as fund a scheme to encourage Moroccans to return to Morocco, was cleared on another set of anti-Islamic hate-speech charges in 2011.
However in October he will stand trial again for promising to “take care of” Moroccan numbers in the Netherlands after asking supporters at a 2014 rally if they wanted fewer Moroccans in Holland and smiling as they chanted “fewer! fewer!” in reply. If convicted, he could face a year in jail and fines of up of €7,400 (£5,755).
Mr Wilders is unrepentant, branding the trial “ridiculous”, before reeling off a long list of contested statistics which he says prove Moroccans are disproportionately involved in going on overseas jihad as well as domestic criminal activities in Holland.
“Why can’t you ask people if they want more or fewer Germans or Belgians or Moroccans? I said it for a reason – because when it comes to crime and terrorism, Moroccans are the number one problem.”
It is a long history of provocative remarks that has turned Mr Wilders into one of the most divisive figures in Dutch – indeed, European politics – but extremism is a tag he disputes, citing his own history of publicly rejecting fascist parties and condemning violence.
“If one in four Dutch people saying they will vote for my party, it’s ridiculous to say we’re divisive or extreme,” he contends.
The genie is out of the bottle, and the genie will never go back in the bottle. A democratic non-violent revolution is on the radar – a ‘patriotic spring’ is coming
Like Marine Le Pen, who expelled her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen from the party in a bid to shift the French Front National away from its racist, anti-semitic roots, Mr Wilders has sought to broaden his party’s appeal, capitalising on Europe’s economic malaise and deepening anti-EU sentiment.
There are those who believe the political centre will continue to hold – that Britain will vote ‘remain’, that Marine Le Pen will be crushed in the second round, like her father in 2002 and that Austria will reject the Freedom Party’s easy promises – but that certainly doesn’t include Mr Wilders.
He now believes that his long-promised populist revolution is now within touching distance, and that it will be democratic, starting with Austria’s presidential election.
“This is an exciting time,” he says, “The genie is out of the bottle, and the genie will never go back in the bottle. Things are changing, and changing very fast. A democratic non-violent revolution is on the radar – a ‘patriotic spring’ is coming.”
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