Geert Wilders: Trump & Putin put interests of their nations first, European leaders to do the same
The rise of the political right is being felt across Europe and the Netherlands is no exception, where controversial politician Geert Wilders, a veteran of the game, took second place with his party in this year’s elections. Will his radical policies now make it into the Dutch and the European mainstream? Geert Wilders was our guest.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Geert Wilders, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us one more time. In the Dutch election in March, you were tipped to win, but that didn't quite happen. Was that a clear sign to you that the Dutch people don’t really like the changes you're proposing?
Geert Wilders: No, exactly the opposite. We were actually one of the winners, we got 30% of votes, we had 15 seats in the Dutch parliament before the elections, but after the elections we came up with 20 seats. The party of the current Prime Minister Rutte has in fact lost many seats. We became the second biggest party, so we were one of the biggest winners of the elections at the end of the day.
SS: You criticise the elites, the establishment, but you’ve been part of Dutch politics for 20 years, aren’t you the elite and the establishment?
GW: That’s a good question. You know, it’s not about how long you’ve been in politics but what you propose to do. I think the Dutch politicians and government should listen to the Dutch people. But they don’t. In Holland it’s not like ‘America First’ or ‘Russia First’ but ‘Holland Last’. When it comes to the European Union where we are the biggest net contributor, we pay our taxpayers’ money to the southern European countries, or when it comes to the mass immigration the Dutch electorate have made a very bad deal. What I propose is that we listen more to the people. And the people want the sovereign and strong Netherlands. Let’s work with other countries if they see fit and share our interests, not let’s not be as stupid as the today’s policies.
SS: After the elections in France and the Netherlands, right-leaning parties, like yours, had a strong showing. French president Macron and German chancellor Merkel even started talking about serious reform of the EU. Will you be content with the reform they are proposing?
GW: You know, when European politicians or people in favour of the European Union talk about the European reform, what they actually mean is not reform but more European Union. And indeed parties like mine want the elections. As I told you, we are the second biggest party in the Dutch parliament where we have thirteen or fourteen parties. And Marine Le Pen’s party, as you’ve rightfully mentioned, has become the second party in France. FPO (The Freedom Party of Austria) has become the second biggest party in Austria and is probably going to govern as well. In Germany we saw the Alternative for Germany party become the third biggest party. Our voice of millions of Europeans is getting stronger today and we don’t want more European reform, we want more national sovereignty. We want less European Union. And my party wants [the Netherlands] to leave the European Union. We believe that we can only be sovereign and in charge of our own front door when it comes to immigration if we are outside the European Union. We want to become a strong sovereign nation again.
SS: Your party is called ‘The Party for Freedom’ and you talk about freedom all the time, but at the same time, you’re suggesting closing mosques all over the Netherlands and making Islam unattractive. How does this go along with the freedom that you’re promoting?
GW: Well, that’s a very good question. Actually I believe that Islam and freedom are incompatible. Look at those countries where Islam is dominant today and you’ll see a total lack of freedom, civil society, rule of law and a lack of both individual and collective rights. I believe, the more we fight against the islamisation of societies the more we preserve our freedom. So I fight for freedom and I called my party ‘The Party for Freedom’ because I want my family, my children and my grandchildren even in 50 years [from now] to be free citizens. If we become more Islamic one day it will change our freedom for the worse.
SS: What about the freedom of practicing your religion? You talk about your children and grandchildren, but you never know, one of them may marry a Muslim one day or turn into Islam, you great grandchildren may be Muslim… What about their freedom of practicing their religion? It’s a choice, right?
GW: Well, our constitution, as you’ve fairly mentioned, talks about the freedom of religion. But I believe Islam is not a religion but more of an ideology, a totalitarian ideology that wants to dominate over not only people’s personal lives but the whole society. One of the examples I usually give to show that Islam is more an ideology and not a religion is that when you want to leave Islam the penalty is death. You are not free, as it is in Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism, to leave. This is a token of a totalitarian ideology. Yes, we have the freedom of religion in the Dutch constitution. But if we see Islam not so much as a religion but as a totalitarian ideology that, once again, doesn’t want to assimilate in our society but to dominate it, it goes against the freedom of women, homosexuals, Christians and Jews, press. So if you want to have society that is free you have to have less Islam.
SS: I’m not advocate of Islam, I’m Christian myself, but I think what you’re talking about is a very narrow following in Islam that may be called Wahhabism or extreme Islam. But I don’t think that applies to the majority of Muslim people. And the same thing can be said about Christianity - if you go really deep into the Bible it goes against gays and women rights… It’s really about how you read religion. Anyway, you’ve been saying that there’s no such thing as moderate Islam. But at a conference in Italy in September you said that “many individual Muslims are moderates”. Who are these moderate Muslims if there’s no moderate Islam according to you?
GW: Listen, I make a distinction, as I always did, between the ideology and the people. And, indeed, there’s no moderate Islam, there’s no European Islam or this kind of nonsense. There’s only Islam of the Quran, of the life of [the Prophet] Mohammed and that is the only Islam we know. Unfortunately, it cannot and it will never be changed. Extreme Islam is a pleonasm, it means exactly the same. On the other hand, you have the people. And I do believe in moderate people. And indeed I do acknowledge that there are many Muslims around the world who are moderate. But unfortunately, and this is one of the differences of Islam from Christianity or Judaism, today we see societies where Muslims are in large numbers or even the majority and there is a total lack of freedom and democracy whether you talk about more liberal countries like Egypt or tougher ones like Iran, the Sunni Muslim country… Even in my own country, the Netherlands, we have almost one million Muslims today. The leftist liberal institutions like the University of Amsterdam have made a survey and it proved that 11% of the Dutch Muslims - more than a hundred thousand people which is twice the amount of the Dutch army - stated that they are willing to use violence in Holland for their beliefs, for Islam. We don’t see that in any other religion. This is what we are importing in the West today. We don’t see terrorist acts being committed on a monthly and sometimes on a weekly basis all over Europe in the name of Christianity or Judaism. Indeed, not every Muslim is a terrorist but unfortunately most of the terrorists in Europe today are Muslims. We can be politically correct and ignore it. But I think, it’s a lot wiser to address this issue.
SS: The Islamist terror threat to Europe is of course very real. But don’t you think that measures like this (closure of mosques and a tough crackdown on Muslims) could work the other way round - increase the risk of terror attacks rather than reduce it?
GW: No, exactly the opposite. We have to stand up. We don’t have to call every Muslim a terrorist, that would be ridiculous. I would even reject such a suggestion. But we should not import Islam. On the contrary, we should de-Islamise our society. The Quran has more anti-semitism in it than ‘Mein Kampf’ by Adolf Hitler, for example. We should see it for what it is. Not all people are bad people. On the contrary. But this ideology is a dangerous ideology. When I was still a free man and wasn’t protected by the diplomatic police 24/7, when I didn’t have threats from Al-Qaeda and other organisations in my head I travelled throughout the Middle East and I went to almost every Islamic country. I met a lot of friendly and hospitable people. But I saw that the influence of Islam on almost every Arab and Islamic country was devastating. People weren’t free. There was terror even within the Islamic world, let alone in the countries that are importing Islam. We should do one thing: define who we are. We are not an Islamic country. Our continent is based on Christianity and Judaism, on humanism. And Islam should not become dominant here at the end of the day.
SS: Like you said, your opinions on Islam have landed you on the al-Qaeda hit list. I know you are surrounded by security 24\7, you live in a safehouse - does all this isolation get to your head? A politician has to be close to the people - I can imagine that being detached from everyday reality isn’t good for that?
GW: Listen, last election my party out of thirteen parties in the parliament won one third of votes and we became the second biggest party in Holland. We’ve been only existing for ten years. It never happened before that a relatively new party became the second biggest party in the parliament. We are not detached, we’re maybe attached even more [to people] than any other party - look at the outcome of the democratic election. It’s not easy, I fight for the freedom of my people, for the freedom of the West as I see it and in this process I’ve lost my personal freedom. Let me tell you, if I criticised Christianity or Judaism, though I don’t, I wouldn’t be on the hit list, wouldn’t lose my personal freedom and people wouldn’t try to murder me. And that’s exactly my point. I’m not the only one. There are other people, organisations, journalists and politicians who criticise Islam and they get into the same trouble. Moderation is far to reach for in Islam.
SS: The refugee problem spiralling out of control has got Europe questioning one of its greatest achievements - open borders - do you feel the Schengen zone has to go and the free movement of people across Europe with it?
GW: That’s the only way to get rid of the Schengen zone. The only way is that we have to stop immigration from the Middle East or Africa. If you think that the refugee crisis that we’ve seen over the last few years when all the so-called asylum seekers came to our part of the world, was bad, I would say, you haven’t seen anything yet. If you look at the figures from the United Nations you will see that there will be a quadrupling of the inhabitants of Africa. Africa is inhabited by one billion people today and by the end of the century this figure will grow up to four billion people. Surveys proved that over one third of these people would want to emigrate most probably to the richer part of North Africa and to Europe. So if we don’t wake up, stop Schengen, become masters of our own house and be in charge of our frontiers we will cease to exist. I’m not exaggerating. If you look at the numbers, we’re facing the existential problem today, worse than any economic problem we faced before. It’s the existential problem of whether we will exist or not by the end of the century if we don’t start defining our border controls and deciding for ourselves who we let in our house and who should leave it, like all normal people in Russia or elsewhere. We don’t have that in Europe. We only know the policies of open borders and at the end of the day it won’t be our house anymore.
SS: Wouldn’t closing the Schengen zone actually destroy the European Union?
GW: It won’t be a bad thing to me. I’m very much against the European Union. I’m a lot in favour of Europe, I think we should work together with other European countries in areas of common interest, for instance, in the internal market or counterterrorism, economic ties. I would really want to cooperate. But we don’t need an institution like the European Union where mostly unelected people, like old European commissioners are deciding for our democracies what to do. If you talk about immigration, Brussels is in charge of our immigration rules today. National governments have transferred most of immigration policies to Brussels so we’re not in charge of our front door any more. So it would rather be a good thing, not bad, if the institution called European Union is eroded.
SS: You’ve said that ‘hysterical Russophobia reigns in Europe and in the Netherlands’. Why is that, doesn’t Europe have enough problems without this being drummed up too?
GW: A very terrible thing is happening in most European countries. On one hand, they criticise the American administration, make fun of Mr. Trump. I’m not defending Mr. Trump and all the things he does. But 99% of politicians criticise one of the superpowers of the world, the United States of America. On the other hand, the same politicians criticise the other superpower of the world called the Russian Federation. I think this is very unwise from a mature political point of view and from the economical point of view. I think we need both friendship with Russia and transatlantic partnership with the United States of America. Indeed, you see a European trend to criticise Russia, to blame it for almost everything that goes wrong in the world. That’s very bad. We cannot only afford it and it’s often not substantialized. Of course, I also have some criticism towards Russia and the United States. But it’s in our interests, as we and Russia have lots of things in common, to be allies, not enemies.
SS: You’ve said that you want to create ‘an alternative’ to this Russophobia. What is it going to be like? How do you make this alternative appealing to the political elites?
GW: Allies should be able to criticise each other as friends when it’s needed. Of course, when it comes to the terrible terrorist attack against my fellow countrymen, the shutting-down of MH17 plane, or other things there’s a lot of criticism or asking for cooperation towards Russia. But we also have so much in common with Russia on other aspects. We have the same kind of culture, we are Christians, a big part of Russia is Orthodox Christian. We have the same problems when it comes to the future of immigration. We both have had bad experience when it comes to terrorism. We have the same kind of experience that Russia had in Moscow or in Chechnya in the past. We shouldn’t only criticise but we should cooperate. I’m very happy to have been invited by the Russian ambassador to visit Russia and the Russian parliament in the beginning of the next year. I will be happy to meet your government, to exchange some critical remarks and, also, get a better understanding. Russia is not our enemy. I believe, Russia is our ally and we should invest in better relations.
SS: The media has been calling you ‘the Dutch Donald Trump’. What do you make if this comparison? Do you feel you have many things in common with the American president?
GW: I have respect for Mr. Trump on some aspects. And I don’t have respect for what he does on other aspects. I still believe if I were American I would have voted for Mr. Trump and not for Mrs. Clinton. But I am not an American. I am a Dutchman and I am responsible for the policies of my country despite being in opposition today. So I am not to be compared. But I think the strength of Mr. Trump and, also, Mr. Putin is that they believe that the interests of their countries go first. Mr. Putin goes for ‘Russia First’, for the interests of the Russian people. Mr. Trump does the same for his own country. I wish that we had in Europe and in my country, the Netherlands, the leader who would say, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Putin, ‘Holland First’ or ‘Europe First’. And we don’t have that.
SS: I want to talk a bit about the EU’s relations with the United States. Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks the EU has to rely on itself from now on, as the partnership between the U.S. and Europe is cracking under Donald Trump. Do you see a reliable partner in the current U.S. administration?
GW: I don’t think this is that bad. I believe, European politicians misuse it saying that the relations with the United States of America are bad. They complain about bad relations with the U.S. or Russia only to be able to say to their people that we need more European Union. But, please, don’t be fooled by the politicians like Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Macron, the President of France, who says that we need to have a stronger Europe. We even get the European Army today. But we don’t need any European Army. The politicians make people afraid of bad relations with Russia or with the U.S. only to enforce supranationalism of the European Union. That’s the real reason and something I don’t subscribe to.
SS: The EU during the Obama years followed American policies closely - but now that there’s a difference of opinion with Trump, will the U.S. lose its influence over Europe?
GW:I think, America is an important ally to Europe. The Americans are our friends as Russian people should be. But, of course, there are different administrations. And even though some people may criticise or applaud the measures the American administration takes, we cannot afford bad relations with both America and Russia at the end of the day. What many politicians do by criticising only the Russian and the American administrations is very irresponsible. America is an important ally and Mr. Trump is the president of an important country. So is Mr. Putin. And we should have good relations with both of them.
SS: Mr. Wilders, thank you for being with us. We were talking to Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Party for Freedom, discussing the pressing issues Europe is facing today.