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Meet the anti-racist campaigner taking on the Dutch right in this week's election

Sylvana Simons, who is campaigning for the Dutch general election on a platform of what she calls radical equality, poses for a portrait in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Sylvana Simons, who is campaigning for the Dutch general election on a platform of what she calls radical equality, poses for a portrait in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Copyright Mike Corder/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Copyright Mike Corder/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Sarah Tekath
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The Netherlands has a reputation as a liberal country. The reality is quite different.


The Netherlands has a reputation in Europe as a liberal state - yet this week’s election will be dominated by Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), on the centre-right and far-right respectively.

Sylvana Simons, a former TV presenter and leader of the left-wing BIJ1, is trying to change that, standing for parliament on a platform of equality, under which schools and the health and tax systems make no distinction based on gender, race, sexuality or religion.

"I'm proud of our party's election programme,” Simons told Euronews.

“It is written for the people we want to support. Youth care professionals, sex workers, education professionals, young people, black people, parents, trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, and Muslim women.

"All the people who have not been heard enough until now, but have so much to say. BIJ1 is making noise in the parliament."

In May 2016, Simons joined the leftist DENK but left the party at the end of December 2016 and founded Artikel 1. She participated in the 2017 parliamentary elections and the party's name was later changed to BIJ1.

Its political direction doesn't sit well with everyone in the Netherlands. On Monday, the party reported 52 hate messages with racist, sexist, and LGBTQ-degrading content to the Amsterdam Police Discrimination Unit.

This was confirmed by a report by Utrecht Data School and the magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, which examined 339,932 tweets directed to female candidates in this election for hate messages and threats in the period from October 1, 2020, to February 26, 2021.

"We have a problem with racism in this country and we need to tackle it," said Quinsy Gario, a candidate for BIJ1.

"Not just with words but also with the way we vote and with tackling how left-wing parties have constantly failed to stand up for migrants and people of colour."


In the case of Simons, the results showed 3,122 hateful and/or aggressive tweets, which equals about 20 percent of all tweets.

For Kauthar Bouchallikht from the green-left party Groenlinks, things were even worse. Since she has Morrocan roots and wears a headscarf, more than 30 percent of those messages she receives are hate tweets.

On Tuesday evening, during a televised debate between Wilders and the former minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag (D66) on Dutch television, Wilders accused the minister of treason for wearing a headscarf during a trip to Iran.

"Freedom means one's own choice. How I dress and whether I wear a veil or not - for the women who want that. I went to Iran as Minister of Foreign Trade to discuss the security of the region and Israel. And then if I am forced by legislation to wear a headscarf, I do so. This is a situation of international concern,” she replied.

Kaag was appointed minister of foreign trade and development cooperation in October 2017. She also briefly assumed the duties of foreign minister between February and March 2018 due to a resignation. At her inauguration, Wilders' PVV and the national-conservative party FvD voiced criticism as Kaag is married to a Palestinian who is politically active for his country.

FvD chairman Thierry Baudet again calls this criticism justified in the documentary From Beirut to Binnenhof, published in 2021 and shown on Dutch television, in which Kaag is portrayed.

"I find racism in politics abhorrent, not only in the times of an election. It shocks me how the so-called representatives of the people offend and exclude certain groups of people," said Léonie Janssen, chairperson of the Youth Organisation of D66.

"From my point of view, this has been painfully visible during the elections again. For example because of the Islamophobic statements of Wilders. I am very embarrassed that a Dutch representative of the people says that a headscarf is a betrayal."


BIJ1's chances of winning a seat in parliament are rather small as the election forecast for them is less than one percent. (March 16, 2021)

For Sigrid Kaag and D66, on the other hand, things are looking better as D66 is a coalition party in the current government.

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