What does a discussion at a select dining club have to do with Geert Wilders’ trial for inciting hatred, askes Giles Scott-Smith of the Holland Bureau.
The Wilders trial resumed today with defence lawyer Bram Moskowicz focusing his attention on a dinner that took place in May 2010.
During the dinner among long-time friends (they call themselves the Vertigo club), court official and law professor Tom Schalken is meant to have defended to the other guests – including Middle East expert and soon-to-be-witness Tom Jansen – that the Wilders trial was correct. Extra piquant is that Schalken had been a member of the Amsterdam appeal court that decided – against the wishes of the state prosecutor – to allow the case against Wilders to go ahead.
It was this faux pas – made public by Jansen and confirmed by Schalken – that led Moskowicz to successfully collapse the trial hearings last October on the basis of impropriety, causing a new set of judges to be brought in. Looking to clear the profession’s name, this new team duly allowed Moskowicz to begin the re-trial with an examination of Schalken, Jansen, and fellow dinner guest Bertus Hendriks to test out whether the court official could be accused of influencing a witness. a prosecutable offence.
Schalken is definitely guilty of one thing – a ridiculous naievety that he could express his opinions on the trial with Jansen and expect that they would remain private. The Vertigo club was not as watertight as old-school Schalken assumed. Jansen was clearly upset enough about Schalken’s behaviour to bring it into the open. Schalken denied the charges today, saying only that at the famous dinner he felt Jansen needed to be up to speed on why the Amsterdam court had taken its decision to pursue the case, not that Jansen should agree with it.
With Jansen flatly denying that he was put under any pressure, Schalken will probably escape with a fat slap on the fingers. But he’s guilty of something else – allowing Moskowicz to turn the heat on the (im)partiality of the Dutch legal system, and so once again shifting the emphasis away from his client GW and towards other targets. In the first trial the aim was to focus on the supposed violent tendencies built in to Islam itself, and now its the biased establishment that is incapable of guaranteeing a fair trial. Meanwhile Moskowicz’s fees mount up as the case gets strung out, making this an increasingly profitable exercise for that side of the legal profession.
On a lighter note, two PVV supporters have this week created the VvPVV – Vereniging voor de PVV (PVV Society). In Spits today one of them, Geert Tomlow, declared that this is a move to put pressure on Wilders to democratise the party and loosen his control. While Hero Brinkman has tried that from inside, Tomlow and colleague Oege Bakker now want to do the same from outside. The VvPVV website is already filling up with blasts from those who think GW can walk on water and those who feel its time to get a popular stake in the party – as well as a fair amount of media coverage, dissention in the PVV camp always being good value. Wilders has been suitably dismissive, referring to the action as “tragic”, distancing himself from the society on the PVV website, and questioning the use of the abbreviation ‘PVV’.
But there is something mildly comic about this. In the words of Tomlow: “Oege Bakker saw the images from the Middle East, from Tahrir Square, and thought such a democratic movement would also be good for the PVV.” The association is intriguing – not least because Wilders has rejected any hope of meaningful democracy in the Middle East and North Africa so long as the people there maintain their Islamic faith. They aren’t ready for democracy. And neither is his political movement.
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