Searching for FvD voters
Outside of the leftist bubble
Groningen academics were fairly rattled after last month’s elections; Forum voor Democratie (Thierry Baudet’s political party) won no fewer than five seats in the Provincial Council elections in Groningen. The party is in favour of gas drilling in the area and a strict migration policy. They are against a climate tax and the European Union. On top of that, Baudet seems to be attacking universities by setting up an indoctrination hotline for students.
Who are the people who voted for the FvD? We, Lars and Joas, have no idea. Lars voted for the Animal Party and has never even talked to an FvD supporter; D66 is about as right-wing as his associations get. Joas voted GroenLinks and was warned by his own friends two years ago that if he ever voted FvD ‘that would be the end of our friendship’.
Both of us move in pretty socialist bubbles; we barely even know what the right is doing. Of the votes cast in RUG buildings, 30 percent went to GroenLinks and 18.5 percent of people voted for D66. Political inclinations at the RUG tend towards the left much more than in the rest of the Groningen municipality.
But people at the RUG also voted for FvD. Their numbers are fewer than elsewhere in the country, but still: 5.6 percent of people voted for FvD. That’s approximately one in every twenty votes, approximately one FvD voter in every seminar. We tried to track down our FvD-voting fellow students with the goal of having an open discussion and learning something. We figured they couldn’t all be ignorant, stupid, or insane.
The youth section of the FvD (the JFvD) celebrated their recent win together in café Pronk at the Vismarkt. We decided to go, but made sure be clear about what were up to ahead of time, in case we weren’t welcome. The coordinator, a student who prefers to remain anonymous, says he can’t refuse us access. ‘You’re welcome to come in. But I do want to ask you to be respectful.’
Obviously. That’s the whole point of our visit.
Slightly nervous, we enter the building. Lars drops the hanger for his coat twice, and Joas pre-gamed a few drinks for courage before he arrived. The atmosphere is tense as we walk into the room.
Pronk is full of young people, busy and talking. To our surprise, it’s not all guys with slicked-back hair. In fact, the group is pretty diverse, although we can spot only one woman. All the seats are taken. It’s clear everyone has seen us come in, but no one approaches us.
People tend to think the party is misogynistic
But then the coordinator shows up: he shakes our hands and pulls up two chairs. ‘Women can have a hard time explaining why they voted FvD’, he explains a little bit later. ‘People tend to think the party is misogynistic.’
A second JFvD member sits down with us, a young man who’s just graduated. He doesn’t want his name in the article, but he’ll gladly tell us more about his views. Neither of the men seem particularly right-wing. They don’t think they are, either. ‘We mainly criticise the existing system, which people seem to think is right-wing. But other parties just aren’t critical enough’, the coordinator says. For example, he isn’t a climate change denier by any stretch of the imagination. ‘But I do think we need a more efficient solution.’
Lars finds conversation with the JFvD members pretty easy and open, but Joas thinks they’re pretty politically correct. We both note that the JFvD members are really open to talking to us. There is quite a snag, though: they are terrified to have their full names appear on our website.
‘I don’t want to lose any clients because they read online that I voted FvD’, says JFvD member number two.
‘I’ve definitely lost friends when I started campaigning for Forum’, the coordinator says.
Others don’t want to tell us their names because they don’t trust the UKrant. One particularly slick guy, a fellow history student, interrupts our conversation. ‘You’re just a Marxist stronghold’, he yells. ‘That article about how white Groningen is? That was bullshit!’
The coordinator hastily tries to calm him down. ‘Take it easy! We’re just talking over here.’
It’s clear that the coordinators wants the conversation to be as civilised and constructive as possible. When JFvD member number two gets a little snappy during a discussion about the climate – ‘How much do you think these plans will actually contribute? Do you think we’ll actually be able to lower the temperature?’ – the coordinator steps in carefully: ‘That’s not the point right now.’
We talk about ‘leftist indoctrination’, about a GroenLinks ad on UKrant.nl, which all RUG students automatically see when they get the weekly newsletter, and about the ‘university hotline’. That hotline is only meant to be used in extreme cases, they explain. ‘Say you get an essay assignment where you have to argue that Baudet is racist. It’s not meant to be a blacklist, just somewhere people can raise any issues they might have.’
Anyone can be a Forum voter
Actually, that might not be a terrible idea. But how can we be sure that the hotline doesn’t become a blacklist? The risk is there.
Discussion that evening is really enlightening, but we still haven’t found anyone who wants to admit their political stance on the record. Earlier, when we approach FvD-voting students based on tips we’d received, we had the same problem.
But finally we make contact 19-year-old Ibrahim A’mema, a Dutch law student of Iraqi descent. Because of his Iraqi background, he thinks it’s important to show people that anyone can be a Forum voter.
We meet him two days later in café De Sigaar. We’re surprised to find out that we’re not just talking to him: the coordinator we met two days ago joins the conversation as though he was aso invited. ‘I just happened to have time’, he says. ‘And I’d like to be here for the interview.’ But he still won’t let us print his name.
Ibrahim voted for FvD once before, when he was still studying international relations. ‘I’d get a lot of blowback whenever I expressed a right-wing viewpoint’, he says. ‘I had to choose between my politics and my social life. Who wouldn’t prefer having a social life? Fortunately, it’s easier now that I’m studying law.’
He’s not trying to play the victim by any means, but it does annoy him. ‘Being neutral is an active position, and lecturers don’t take the stance often enough’, he says.
He argues that the left uses feelings and emotions as a tactic, while the right tends to stick to the facts. He just feels more comfortable with that. But in the meantime, he and his fellow FvD voters are being labelled a threat. ‘The way I see it, Forum is always open to a discussion. That image of us was created by people who are misinformed.’
Ibrahim says Forum is the most inclusive political party of them all. ‘We express our dissenting opinions in a decent and rational way. Here, I’m neither an Arab nor a white person; I’m someone who has viewpoints and opinions. Identity isn’t a factor. As long as the left fails to become truly inclusive, Forum will only keep growing. We don’t judge people.’
Before we approached them, we figured the Forum voor Democratie would be a closed off, closed-minded, irrational, and aggressive organisation. But we realised now that they’re more than open to a good debate, as long as the other side stays open-minded as well. Which, apparently, isn’t always what happens.
We often don’t agree
We talk for more than an hour. It’s clear that we agree on very few things. We’re not worried about our country losing its sovereignty to Europe; they are. We think a strict climate policy is a matter of survival; they think it’s too expensive. None of us are likely to change our views any time soon.
At the same time, we are surprised to agree about a handful of things – about not judging people, for example. It turns out that not all FvD voters are social media loudmouths. And the Forum turns out to be more inclusive than we thought.
But as long as Forum voters stay in the closet, hiding their political preferences, any constructive debate remains practically impossible.
Joas is a third-year student of history and philosophy. During the last elections he voted for GroenLinks because he felt they represented Groningen’s interests. He otherwise doesn’t identify with the party, or with any political party for that matter.
Lars is a first-year history student. He voted for the Animal Party this year. Lars puts a lot of stock in how political parties feel about the climate. He’s not a single-party voter, but mainly agrees with the ideals of leftist parties.
Ibrahim studies law. He voted for the Forum voor Democratie during the Provincial Council elections. His parents are from Iraq. He feels like his right-wing views are hardly ever accepted, and considers the Forum voor Democratie to be the most inclusive party.