In coverage of European far right politics it’s important not to sensationalize the already sensational. The vulgarity of an event —such as the recent English Defence League protest in London— should not be used to cultivate a false sense of urgency that the far right is poised to overtake mainstream public opinion. To do so is to jeopardize public trust, future credibility, and potentially cause social unrest. However, the social consequences of underreporting or understating the significance of sensitive events such as these are also real. Due to the increased presence of small yet stable right-wing parties throughout Europe, there is arguably now also a greater risk of public apathy towards instances of right-wing discrimination. How to best understand and respond to rightwing politics that appear to be challenging our general conceptions of what or whom should be classified as the political far right, right-wing, or even centre-right, is becoming an increasingly complex and important discussion for European politics. Recent political events in the Netherlands appear indicative of both the change and the challenges presented by this shifting European political landscape.
Four members of the Dutch right-wing anti-immigration party, the Party for Freedom (PVV) were recently photographed wearing an emblem linked with National Socialism to a sitting of the Dutch parliament. The MPs, including one of PPV party leader Geert Wilders’ top advisors, Martin Bosma, wore emblems of the Prinsen flag. In 1937, Queen Beatrix prohibited the flag because of its connections with the National Socialist movement in the Netherlands. Dutch Neo-Nazi groups such as Volksunie and Stormfront still use the flag today[i]. Supporters of the Dutch monarchy (House of William of Orange) first carried the flag during the 80 Year’s War with Spain (1568-1648). The flag was re-appropriated by Dutch National Socialists during the 1930s as a symbolic expression of their desire to return Dutch society to the “pure” and more prosperous time of the 17th century[ii]. The 17th century is often referred to as the Dutch “Golden Age” and is the era in which the Prinsen flag was made.
The Dutch media has interpreted the PPV MP’s actions as a defiant response to criticism of the party’s recent “anti-austerity” rally during which several party members also wore the emblem. It is also important to note that several PVV supporters were spotted at the rally carrying Prinsen flags and giving the Nazi salute[iii]. So far the PVV has refused to offer an apology or explanation for the continued use of the flag by the MPs despite its well known connections with National Socialist movements. Speaking after the initial criticisms of the rally, Mr. Wilders only commented that, “it goes without saying” that his party does not support anti-Semitism[iv]. This is a disappointing and inadequate response from a public servant. Regardless of what the PPV might wish the Prisen flag to represent, the flag’s continued links to National Socialism are hurtful and relevant. To pretend otherwise is disrespectful. This is also not the first time the PVV has been made aware of the Prinsen flag’s history. In 2011, the Dutch media discovered that the flag hung throughout the PVV main offices. The revelation sparked public outrage and the flags were promptly removed[v]. Compared to 2011, the response here has been notably more subdued. While public fatigue with the PVV’s intentionally inflammatory political tactics is understandable, a growing apathy towards the party’s offensive actions is potentially just as problematic and perhaps more consequential than the PVV itself.
In the Netherlands, postcodes —which are comprised of four numbers followed by a combination of two capitalized letters—still specifically exclude the combinations SS, SA, and SD, because of their historical connotations to the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War[vi]. This is a powerful and moving testament to the importance of respecting how historical symbols effect us, and to how by understanding them we can take better care of our societies. To continue to enjoy the privileges of public office the PVV should be made to publically explain and apologize for it’s continuing provocations with the Prinsen flag. Such mobilizations of historical symbols are not without intended meaning. While the flag’s popularity with the PVV is not likely because of its connections to National Socialism, it almost certain that the party is similarly attracted to the flag as a symbol of the return to a more “purely Dutch” Holland. This sentiment is dangerous to the harmony of Dutch society and is need of further public discussion. It is not difficult to discern just who for the PVV, a self-described anti-immigration and anti-Islam party, does not belong inside this fictional yet precariously powerful symbol of a “better” Netherlands.