Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Dutch group combats Wilders' rhetoric online

  • Olaf Paulus van Pauwvliet, Liesbeth Jongkind, and Eltine Kampen have spent several evenings debating online with potential Wilders voters (Photo: Peter Teffer)

It was a big shock to Olaf Paulus van Pauwvliet when he found out that two of his friends were planning to vote for the Party for Freedom (PVV), of the anti-Islam and anti-EU politician Geert Wilders.

“They live in a nice affluent suburb, and are never bothered by Muslims – if you should be bothered by Muslims in the first place,” said Paulus van Pauwvliet.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Geert Wilders election poster (in black and white) (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Their political disagreement led to an “unpleasant” conversation, because he did not respect his friends' opinion. “If your opinion is not based on knowledge and fact, then I do not respect that,” he said.

The incident was the main reason for Paulus van Pauwvliet to join a group of Dutch citizens who want to prevent Wilders' party from becoming the largest in Wednesday's (15 March) elections.

Instead of protesting or canvassing for a rivalling political party, the volunteers decided to seek out potential PVV voters and try to persuade them with facts.

It is inspired by a Swiss initiative from last year, which claimed that it helped to stop the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party from winning two referendums. The Dutch volunteers called themselves Operation Libero, the same name used in Switzerland.

Operation Libero

Since 1 March, at least two of a group of eight have met every evening in a co-working space in Amsterdam to go online and participate in debates with Wilders' sympathisers, on social media and on websites with a predominantly right-wing audience.

EUobserver met with them on the last night before the elections of the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

Liesbeth Jongkind was motivated to participate because of the election of Trump in the United States. “I had not expected that, and I don't want us to say that here too,” she said.

A third member of Operation Libero, Eltine Kampen, described the initiative as “a chance to do something instead of watch from the sidelines”.

All three are worried about populism, and have focussed only on Geert Wilders' party. While some other political parties also use populist strategies to a degree, they are mostly worried because Wilders “threatens the freedom of individuals the most,” said Paulus van Pauwvliet.

“I'm very worried about populism in general, that facts are no longer sacred, about the spinning and the messages of hate,” said Paulus van Pauwvliet, a copywriter during the day.

While it is unlikely that the PVV will join a coalition, since most parties excluded working with it, he is worried about the signal that would be sent internationally if Wilders' party ends up as the largest.

According to the last aggregate of six polls, published on Wednesday, Wilders is predicted to receive between 19 and 23 seats, behind prime minister Mark Rutte's Liberals, who are expected to receive between 24 and 28 seats.

However, until recently, the PVV was leading in the polls for months.

Paulus van Pauwvliet noted that there is no evidence that they changed any voting intentions, but that he cannot imagine they haven't.

“I can't be sure, but the potential of our method is great,” he said.

One indication that they struck a cord, they said, was that websites that tailor to a conservative audience, actively tried to discredit them.

“Even Geert Wilders has mentioned us”, said Paulus van Pauwvliet.

On the day Libero began, 1 March, Wilders called the initiative an “infiltration” against his party, “desperate” and “pathetic”.

By mentioning the initiative to his 802,000 Twitter followers, he gave it more publicity, as well.

They also published a guidebook online for any Dutch citizen who wants to join them. While they have no statistics on how many did, they believe that private initiatives to counter populism have popped up thanks to them.

The debaters in Libero disagree that they are online trolls, as some have called them, because they do not fabricate discussions.

They also wanted to emphasise that they have no party affiliation, or any funding.

“We were allowed to use this office for free, and Olaf pays the beer out of his own pocket,” said Jongkind, referring to the canned beers Olaf Paulus van Pauwvliet had brought.

Bursting bubbles

The initiative is supposed to outlast the elections, the three of them said.

“People should not be afraid to enter each other's bubble and have a normal conversation,” said Jongkind, who added she has developed more of an understanding for why people vote Wilders.

They said they have not yet received any requests from France, where presidential elections are coming up in April and May.

But they are in touch with an initiative from Germany, which seeks to the prevent anti-Islam party, Alternative for Germany, from passing the 5 percent threshold in the Bundestag elections after the summer.

Dutch anti-Trump protesters turn on Wilders

Some 2,000 people protested in The Hague against the US travel ban for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, but also threw in some anti-Wilders slogans.

EU relieved by Dutch centre-right win

EU leaders breathe sigh of relief in phone calls and tweets after Dutch centre-right comes ahead of anti-EU party in "quarterfinal" elections.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives