Sunday 23 January 2022

Rutte on Zomergasten: Wilders, multiculturalism and the ‘last taboo’



Prime Minister Mark Rutte has branded Geert Wilders’ plan to close every mosque in the Netherlands as ‘a threat to the rule of law’ – but stopped short of ruling out a coalition with the Freedom Party leader next year.

During a three-hour live interview in Zomergasten on Sunday evening, Rutte said the PVV’s election programme conflicted with domestic and international law on issues such as asylum and religious freedom. But asked if he would co-operate with Wilders after Parliamentary elections in March, he replied: ‘I’m not ruling out any other party, but I can’t see it happening.’

Around 925,000 viewers tuned in for the final episode of Zomergasten, the annual series of weekly interviews interspersed with TV and film clips selected by the guest. Rutte’s episode was by far the most popular of this year’s six instalments.

The subjects ranged from Rutte’s family life, including the death of his brother from Aids in the 1980s, to the aftermath of the MH17 crash in 2014, but yielded few fresh insights into the man behind Rutte’s carefully constructed public image.

‘Get out’

Despite his criticism of Wilders, Rutte began by blaming ‘refugees’ for the New Year sexual assaults in Cologne and went on to declare he ‘hated’ the idea of a multicultural society. After showing a clip of Dutch Turks who took to the streets of Rotterdam to celebrate the failure of the summer coup against the Erdogan government, Rutte responded: ‘My first thought is: get out of here. Go back to Turkey.’

He hit back angrily when interviewer Thomas Erdbrink compared the protests to football violence, accusing the ‘elite’ of dismissing ethnic tensions. ‘As prime minister I say we will never compromise on our values,’ Rutte said.

Rutte said his government would not apologise for the Netherlands’ slave trading past, because the ‘times and context’ were different. Pressed on why German war crimes against Dutch citizens could still be prosecuted while Dutch excesses in the former east Asian colonies were legally time barred, the prime minister said he would need to look into the details of the law.

House of Cards

A trained classical pianist, Rutte focused on music and political drama in his choice of film clips. The former ranged from Bach to De Toppers, while his TV and movie selections included the original BBC House of Cards series, Neil Kinnock’s 1985 Labour conference speech denouncing the Militant tendency, and an extract from Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

On personal issues, Rutte said his brother Wim’s sexuality and illness only became known after his death, but insisted homosexuality was not ‘taboo’ in the liberal Rutte family.

The prime minister admitted he had not been in a relationship since university. ‘I have some very close friends I know since my youth or my student days. I have a full life and I’m happy, but sometimes I miss a partner.’ Asked if he was gay, Rutte replied he was not, before adding: ‘The last taboo in the Netherlands is living alone.’

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