A Prosperous Dutch Village Hopes For A Right-Wing 'Bit Of Revolution'

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The village of Volendam, north of Amsterdam, enjoys almost full employment. It overwhelmingly supports the far-right, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party.

If you book a tour of old-fashioned Holland, the guide may take you to Volendam. It's a picturesque village north of Amsterdam, with cobblestone streets, tulips and a little old lady selling the local delicacy, smoked eels, from a kiosk at the end of the pier.

Volendam is a small but prosperous place, with waterfront homes and sailboats tied up at the docks. There's almost full employment, and very few immigrants. About a dozen people NPR stopped on the street all used the same words to describe their town: Hard-working. Traditional. A good place to raise kids.

It's also a stronghold of the Netherlands' far-right Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders. He's famous for anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. He promises to pull the Netherlands, one of Europe's most prosperous countries, out of the European Union, if he's elected this March. And he's leading in the polls.

"It's the same as [Donald] Trump. We never expected him to be U.S. president. But a little bit of revolution also here in the Netherlands is not wrong," says Theo Stirk, who owns a fish-canning factory in Volendam.

When you hear about populist movements, the stereotype might be America's Rust Belt, where Trump carried the vote, or old mill towns in the north of England — many of which voted for Brexit, the British departure from the EU.

But some of the same political ideas are gathering support in Volendam.

It's a bit of a contradiction for the Dutch, who've long defined themselves as open to the world — as history's naval explorers and international bankers. The Netherlands welcomed and took in Jews more than 500 years ago, after the Spanish Inquisition. The world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia, used to be a Dutch colony.

But many Wilders supporters in Volendam say globalization has gone too far.

"The Netherlands' economy is founded on different people [since] the Middle Ages," says Stirk, the fish factory owner. "But if you allow them to come into your country, you must ask them to fit in our society and do the same things we are doing."

Stirk says he thinks religious Muslims don't fit in and pose a threat to liberal values that have become synonymous with Holland: equality, gay rights, legalized drugs.

On the sidelines of a youth soccer game at the Volendam field, coach Wem Krockman says he supports banning immigration because the Netherlands, with 17 million people, is already one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

"You see all the fugitives coming by boats to Italy, to Turkey? They are looking for jobs, they are looking for houses," Krockman says. "There's only one man in Holland who says, 'Take care, in 10 years, we'll have a problem.' We think he's right."

That one man, he says, is Wilders. In his political speeches, the far-right leader invokes nostalgia for places like Volendam — for the traditional Holland many tourists come to see. But those traditions are fading. And it turns out the old Dutch identity the far-right likes to play up is pretty hard to define.

Standing not far from Krockman is one of the soccer dads from the visiting team, Bulent Ozturk, who happens to be from an immigrant family. The Netherlands, Ozturk says, may be famous for tulips, clocks, wooden clogs and windmills, but its culture is similar to those of nearby European countries, like Germany or Denmark.

In those countries, just like in little Volendam, there's an increasingly vocal nostalgia for a white, Christian past that doesn't include people like Ozturk. The far-right leader Wilders is riding that sentiment, and is forecast to win the most votes in the Netherlands' election this March.

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