The racist far right has made a frightening breakthrough in local elections in Holland. Supporters of Pim Fortuyn, who put forward anti-immigration policies, took a third of the vote in the country's second city, Rotterdam.
They are now the largest single party on the council. The far right also took 19 percent of the vote in Eindhoven, the fifth largest city. Across the country the far right Liveable Netherlands organisation more than quadrupled its number of council seats to 333. The party is now hoping to make significant gains in the Dutch general election in May.
The shock results show the far right can tap into the discontent across Europe, even though it is generally leading people to look to the left. Pim Fortuyn's election breakthrough follows a similar success for a maverick hard right candidate in the German city of Hamburg last year. The far right forces have also picked up support in elections in Denmark, Switzerland, and Flemish areas of Belgium.
Jörg Haider continues to be a significant force in Austria, despite losing some support over the last year as his Freedom Party has been part of the ruling coalition led by the Tories. Holland's far right has cashed in on growing anxiety over job security But the alienation from the mainstream parties is about more than the immediate state of the economy.
The Social Democrat led coalition has been in power for seven years. Before that the Christian Democrats (Tories) ruled for 70 years. There is a deep feeling that politicians have little to offer ordinary people. Last week's local elections had the lowest turnout on record. The far right was able to tap some of the cynicism, and there was no credible left wing alternative in the elections.
Liveable Netherlands is a federation of local parties-Pim Fortuyn stood his own candidates in Rotterdam after falling out with other national leaders. It played down hardened fascist ideas (held by some of its activists) and presented itself as respectable. That was true even over its immigrant bashing. Fortuyn played on the fact that he is gay to claim that he opposed 'Islamic immigration' because Islam is a 'backward culture'.
The parties of the ruling coalition are responding by promising tighter immigration controls. That will only feed the far right. The votes captured by Liveable Netherlands are far greater than its active support.
The majority of people are sickened by its scapegoating. The far right can be stopped if confronted with united mass opposition from trade unionists, anti-capitalists and socialists. It is a good sign that all the anti-racist groups have come together to call a demonstration against the far right.