Despite pope's warning, Dutch Catholics drawn to new populist party

Despite pope’s warning, Dutch Catholics drawn to new populist party

Despite pope’s warning, Dutch Catholics drawn to new populist party

In this Sunday, March 5, 2017 photo, a damaged election poster showing, left, Thierry Baudet and Theo Hiddema, from the Forum for Democracy party, FVD, is displayed in a park in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Netherlands woke up to the stentorian sound of a new populist star on Thursday. Right-wing lawmaker Thierry Baudet surged into the Dutch political mainstream as the biggest winner in nationwide elections that determine the makeup of the parliament's upper house and also impacts the coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. (Credit: AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen.)

Thierry Baudet is the new face of Dutch populism. His political party, “Forum for Democracy,” was the big winner at local elections earlier this year. Why are Dutch Catholics attracted to him and his party, even though his views on abortion and euthanasia are not exactly Catholic?

He’s the new face of Dutch populism: Thierry Baudet. He and his political party Forum for Democracy have been on a steady rise for a while. In March Baudet emerged as the big winner in Dutch local elections, pushing aside Geert Wilders and current government parties.

Baudet is known for being anti-immigrant, anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-climate control. In the European elections of last May he managed to snap up three seats.

In 2017, Pope Francis cautioned against populism in an address to European heads of government: “Forms of populism are instead the fruit of an egotism that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and ‘looking beyond’ their own narrow vision,” the pope told EU leaders on March 24.

Yet many Catholics, in the Netherlands as well, vote for populist parties all the same. Why is this? We spoke to three Dutch practicing Catholics who sympathize with Forum for Democracy: a former member, a ‘dormant’ member and a member of the party. As Catholics, what attracts them to Baudet and his populist party?

Michiel Hemminga is a philosopher, prolife-Catholic and campaign leader of CitizenGO in the Netherlands. He is a former member of the party, who hopes Forum for Democracy will change its current course.

Hemminga thinks it’s easy to explain why the party attracts Catholics as well, but also why the initial infatuation cools down quickly.

Katholiek Nieuwsblad: How did you get involved with Forum for Democracy?

Hemminga: In the beginning it was mainly due to the fact that I like Thierry. He’s a nice guy. He was the one asking me to become a member. I was already participating in meetings of the think tank before the political party was created. They talked about interesting subjects and had good debates, so I thought: ‘Why not, I’ll support them…’

Which of their standpoints would you say are Catholic?

Their exact program wasn’t clear right from the start. Obviously, the party was always going to take a critical stand against the European Union and migration, but the rest of their standpoints were still relatively out in the open. What appealed to me was the fact that the party was an answer to the dissatisfaction of many religious people with what Thierry calls ‘the cartel party.’

The established order of the big political parties who are relatively alike when it comes to their ideas, offer little alternative to people. Thierry promised to offer them a new and intellectual alternative. That’s a big part of his appeal: he is not really a politician, but someone who has written a few books. He has thought about the future of this country and has big plans for it.

In that sense he’s like the late Pim Fortuyn (a Dutch populist who was a rising star on the political scene when he was assassinated in 2002). He’s also someone coming from outside the system into that same fixed system.

How do you deal with party standpoints that are dubious from a Catholic point of view? For example the one on euthanasia and abortion…

According to one of the party’s plans, at a certain point all religious people should agree to the fact that the Dutch law is above their own religious beliefs. For me as a Christian that’s not an option. I’m not suddenly going to support gay marriage or abortion, because it’s the law.

Unfortunately, the party took another direction, especially when it came to their ethical standpoints. For example, the party used to take a neutral standpoint towards the end of life discussion, then all of a sudden they took a positive standpoint. That wasn’t properly communicated to their members. I think other members as well have left the party due to their vagueness about their standpoints.

Were you ever criticized by people inside the Church about your involvement with Forum for Democracy?

No, never. Being a member of a political party was essentially an experiment to me, but it wasn’t a big success. I felt responsible for all their standpoints, especially for the ones I didn’t agree with, even though I had little influence on them.

Furthermore, my current position with CitizenGO (a community of active citizens who work together, using online petitions and action alerts as a resource, to defend and promote life, family, and liberty) stands in the way of a membership of a political party. In this position I want to be politically independent, because I need to be able to criticize all political parties without any hesitation.

As a party member you can say that you’re independent, but people look at you differently all the same. So I won’t be joining them as a member anytime soon. However, I hope that Forum for Democracy as a party will be able to take another standpoint on ethics and religion.

Erik van Goor is a member of Forum for Democracy. He is a publicist, former Protestant and blogger. Van Goor hopes the party will be able to break through the current political system.

As one of the very first members of the party, Van Goor is clear about what attracts him to Forum for Democracy: “Thierry knows how to stir up the debate. I think that’s worth my membership fee of 25 euros.”

Katholiek Nieuwsblad: How did you get involved with Forum for Democracy?

Van Goor: Before I became a member, I was a sponsor of the think tank. I have sympathy for Thierry. I met him a few times, once at a meeting about the euro in 2015. I thought his free spirit was interesting and I wanted to encourage him.

When I understood that a political party was in the making, I was very enthusiastic about it. I don’t know what the future holds for the party, but I do think the current system needs a breakthrough. Geert Wilders hasn’t been able to do that, but I hope Forum for Democracy will.

Which of their standpoints would you say are Catholic?

On the political right something had to happen, because the current Christian parties in the Netherlands will not get us very far in the future. I’m also under the impression that the Christian parties tend to promote all sorts of interests of, for example, America or Israel. I get that, but in the long term this doesn’t get us Dutch Christians anywhere.

People are becoming more and more secular and liberal. We run the risk of living in a world where you cannot think or say anything that is opposed by the mainstream media. When the Dutch translation of the Nashville Statement appeared, people were almost physically disgusted by the people who supported the Statement. What was the reaction of Dutch Christians to this? They turned away or echoed the outcries of the liberal left.

Forum for Democracy however attracts many secular people who worry about the whole gender craze. It’s not strange that the party attracts many labor-type, conservative people who feel abandoned by a liberal left policy.

How do you deal with party standpoints that are dubious from a Catholic point of view? For example the one on euthanasia and abortion…

I’m not an active member. When there’s a candidate I trust, I vote for that candidate. I don’t believe in the impact of one vote. I think taking part in the debates going on in society, as Forum for Democracy does, has a much bigger impact. Thierry Baudet talking about abortion and euthanasia is important, I think. He might upset people because he’s not pro-life, but as Christians we should be more upset about ChristenUnie, the Christian party in our government at the moment who supports the government’s policy on abortion.

Do you ever get criticized by people inside the Church about your involvement with Forum for Democracy?

I don’t name the fact that I’m a member of the party. I carry out a standpoint and I put it into practice in my own life. I talk to anybody who sees things differently: Turkish people, Moroccans, sometimes even imams. I visit asylum seekers in their homes. I’m not living in my own bubble. My views are based on experience.

I have more in common with some Afghan people then with a lot of Christians. And the same is true for Baudet. I feel connected with him on a level of the soul; now at this key point in history.

Zlata Brouwer is a dormant member of Forum for Democracy. She teaches the violin and is a new Catholic. The party wants to preserve Dutch culture, she says.

Brouwer always had an interest in politics. She was involved in the start of the political party of Forum for Democracy.

Katholiek Nieuwsblad: How did you get involved with Forum for Democracy?

Brouwer: I took part in the think tank, which at the beginning was held in a basement somewhere. At that time Thierry said that one day he would start a political party. I laughed about it then, but I soon saw that he was serious about it. What he said about the cartel party appealed to me. The democratic system doesn’t work well, you can see that everywhere around you. In December of 2016 I was asked to be on the list of candidates for the House of Representatives. I was number ten on the list with culture in my portfolio.

Which of their standpoints would you say are Catholic?

I was baptized last February. I have been on a political and religious journey for quite some time. When I received my religious education, I studied the moral and cultural roots of our Western culture and how they are intertwined. A lot of art and music has been inspired by the Christian faith. People are able to create such wonderful things! But we throw away our own culture. Although Forum for Democracy is not a Christian party, I believe it’s the only party who tries to preserve our culture, our democracy, for future generations.”

How do you deal with party standpoints that are dubious from a Catholic point of view? For example the one on euthanasia and abortion…

Democracy is not a perfect system, so there are certainly things that I don’t agree with. Thierry is circling around Christianity. I don’t think he’s acknowledging the true origin of what he likes to preserve. My hope is that one day he will, perhaps if he gets married and starts a family. You need only to look at the history books to realize that the traditional marriage and the family are essential to all things created within a culture.

Do you ever get criticized by people inside the Church about your involvement with Forum for Democracy?

Not up until now. But maybe that’s because I was already active for the party before I became a Catholic. And it’s not as if I go to church with a bunch of flyers in my hand. Sometimes I talk about politics, but in my view the church is not a place for political evangelization.

This article was originally published in the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad on June 14th 2019. It was translated for Crux by Susanne Kurstjens-van den Berk.


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