Dutch lawmaker tells critics to mind own business
THE HAGUE, Netherlands—Dutch maverick right wing lawmaker Geert Wilders has a blunt message for critics of his party's website which solicits complaints about some migrant workers: "Mind your own business."
Wilders, best known for his outspoken criticism of Islam, ignited a storm of protest this week when his Freedom Party site called on citizens to report "central and east Europeans ... for general nuisance, pollution and labor market displacement."
But in an interview at Dutch Parliament with The Associated Press Wednesday the populist politician was unrepentant, calling the site "an enormous success" that has already drawn more than 40,000 comments as well as an avalanche of criticism from politicians and diplomats.
Ambassadors from 10 eastern and central European countries wrote an open letter to the government Tuesday complaining about the site.
"My reaction to the ambassadors is: Mind your own business. This has nothing to do with your country," Wilders said. "We are a sovereign country, we are a democratic political party and we voice the concerns of many Dutchmen."
His comments come as trade groups warn that the site is tarnishing the image of Dutch companies who do business in eastern Europe and could hurt trade. The Netherlands is one of the biggest foreign investors in Poland, with thousands of Poles traveling to the Netherlands to find work.
Michel de Bruin, the leader of a group that helps Dutch companies do business in eastern Europe, said Wednesday the site "is certainly not positive" for the Netherlands's image in the regions.
The migrants have increasingly angered a small section of Dutch society, who fear -- even though the Netherlands has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Union -- that they are losing work to them. Many migrants are paid lower wages and receive fewer benefits than local employees. Migrant workers, in turn, have complained about being exploited by Dutch employers.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen hinted Wednesday that the site could be breaching hate speech laws.
She said that even though the commission doesn't police websites political parties "have to respect legislation in the member states on anti-discrimination, on xenophobia and must not take initiatives to incite hatred, violence or racism."
Wilders is no stranger to such criticism. Last year he was acquitted in a rare Dutch hate speech trial after comparing Islam to fascism, and calling for a ban on the Islamic holy book the Quran.
But since then his political party has lost ground in the polls as the right wing minority coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has taken on much of his anti-immigrant stance.
Rutte also has been criticized in Dutch Parliament for failing to distance himself or openly condemn Wilders' website. He routinely declines to comment on Wilders' activity and says he has no plans for that policy to change.
Wilders insisted Wednesday that the website was not discriminatory, "but we are not closing our eyes to the problems" that some central and eastern European workers cause in the Netherlands. He gave excessive drinking and what he called "job suppression" as examples
Wilders said European Commissioners, such as Neelie Kroes, have only attacked the website out of a fear for its corrosive effect on European unity.
"They believe their concept of this one big Euro family is under attack and indeed we don't have so much (in common) with their European tragedy," Wilders said.
In comments posted Tuesday on Twitter, EU Digital Affairs Commissioner Kroes mocked the Freedom Party's initiative.
"Ridiculous to think that denouncing others on a website will make the Netherlands or EU a better place," Kroes said. "What next? Your wife annoys you? Forget Valentine's Day, log on and denounce her!"
Wilders brushed off such criticism.
"We are just doing our job, whether the government or European Commission or 500 ambassadors complain, we don't really care," he said.