Geert Wilders' Indonesian roots define his politics, says anthropologist

Geert Wilders during a recent visit to Denmark.
By our news staff

The rumour had been circulating for years: Geert Wilders is an 'Indo' (an Indonesian-European, an ethnic mix that originated when the Dutch colonised Indonesia).

In June a genealogist said he had found several Indonesian ancestors of the populist Dutch politician known for his rabid anti-immigrant and anti-Islam ideas. Now anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen describes how his roots can be seen as the driving force behind his outspoken views.

In an article in the left-wing weekly De Groene Amsterdammer Van Leeuwen asks: "Is it possible that the post-colonial and family history have made Wilders what he and his politics are today?" The article is an intellectual attempt to analyse what drives Wilders to say that "all immigration from Islamic countries should be halted" and that "all fundamental problems in the Netherlands are related to immigration". The conclusion reached by Van Leeuwen is that these statements - plus the fact that he dies his hair peroxide blond - are indeed related to his genealogical link to the largest Islamic country.

Geert Wilders' increasing popularity made his Party for Freedom the second largest Dutch party in European parliament in June. Known for his anti-establishment and anti-immigration politics, Wilders has been calling himself a 'Dutch freedom fighter'. But given that his mother's roots lay outside of the Netherlands, Van Leeuwen says a sense of 'displacedness' is the recurring, underlying motive in his statements.

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The 6-page article reveals that Wilders' grandmother, Johanna Ording-Meijer, came from an old Jewish-Indonesian family and that Wilders lied about this in his 2008 biography. However, Van Leeuwen, an expert on the position of Indo-Dutch people in the post-colonial age, goes beyond the notion that a politician known for judging others on their ethnic roots can himself be traced to foreign ancestors.

Van Leeuwen went into the national archives to find the sad story of Wilders' grandfather on his mother's side. Johan Ording was a regional financial administrator in the Dutch colony who suffered several bankruptcies and was fired while on leave in the Netherlands in 1934. He was reduced to begging when the government refused to give him a pension, but later made it to prison director. Van Leeuwen suggests that Wilders is out to avenge the injustice done to his grandfather.

But more than anything, he was defined by his Indo-roots, she says. Indonesia was a Dutch colony until 1949 and many mixed-race people moved to the Netherlands after the Indonesian independence. Van Leeuwen describes how these people were put in the same 'cultural minority' box with labour immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, whom they felt no connection to at all. More so, they had always felt very patriotic about the Netherlands and harboured strong sentiments against Islam, the dominant religion in their motherland.

Van Leeuwen explains how this group has long been part of extreme-right movements (many supported the Dutch Nazi party NSB in Indonesia in the 1930s) while others belonged to the far-right of the right-wing liberal party VVD. She puts Wilders' statements in the conservative and colonial tradition of this group, which strongly believed in patriotism and "European values".

Van Leeuwen's analysis goes beyond the personal level: "The fact that Wilders obviously operates in a post-colonial political dimension, without it being recognised, says a lot about how the Netherlands dealt with, and still deals with the colonial past. Keep quiet, deny, forget and look the other way have been the motto for decades. Because of that, no one could imagine that what happened in Indonesia 50 years ago could still have its impact on modern-day politics."

And the hair? Van Leeuwen says his died mop is a "political symptom not taken serious enough". She thinks it was a brilliant move to step away from his Indonesian roots and hide his post-colonial revanchism. Although this may also be an example of his "classic Indo identity alienation."

Wilders has not responded to the publication.

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