The state of democracy in Europe in times of crisis, the responsibility of governments to counter populism and the role of EU institutions to preserve EU values was debated by EU citizens, often anonymous, on websites and social media in recent days.
The PVV website (see background) remains a hot topic especially in the countries concerned, while EurActiv.com also gathered readers' opinions.
Many readers take the view that PVV leader Geert Wilders can no longer attract enough publicity for his traditional anti-Muslim statements, so he is looking for new groups to target.
"Shame on the Netherlands and on our Prime Minister Rutte, who is a coward and doesn't dare to say a word against this hate-mongering, afraid that his government may fall," Frank de Boer comments on one EurActiv article. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has so far remained silent on the issue.
The PVV motivation
A Bulgarian reader nicknamed ‘Bozhidar2’ commented on an article by Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria, that Wilders has made a strong political career by attacking the Muslims, until he ‘made the mistake’ of criticising Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for wearing a head scarf on a recent visit to Oman.
"When he made the mistake of attacking the Queen, the support for PVV dropped dramatically. To save his party from marginalisation, Wilders suddenly thought of the immigrants from eastern Europe," Bozhidar2 writes.
The Dutch context
Several readers' comments in Bulgarian appear to come from people who know the Netherlands well. ‘Ivan Petrov’ argues under the same Dnevnik article that one has to understand the Dutch before blaming them for xenophobia.
The Dutch, he writes, are hugely dedicated to their family, work late and don't like to take unnecessary risk. As a result, they are very easily unsettled by ambitious newcomers to the labour market, he explains. But while the Dutch concerns over losing jobs to foreigners is understandable, the problem of Eastern European criminality should be tackled, he argues, or else it will be the bona fide immigrants who will be victimised.
Wrong answer to right question
Western commentators also say the PVV website should not eclipse problems that need to be addressed.
‘Don Latuske’ writes that he is "baffled" by some of the critical reactions. "If sensible research is carried out … it is no good hiding your head in the sand. You need to validate the [website] findings and, if true, come up with solutions to overcome the problems. It's a typically left-wing approach to say, 'We don't like the answer, it does not conform with our view of the world so it is wrong.' A bit like the Catholic Church and Galileo/Copernicus and anybody else who challenged certain 'orthodoxies'."
Comparison between extremes
Several readers, both from Bulgaria and Romania compare the Dutch far right with similar political forces in their own countries. Commenting on an article on the Romanian website Honews.com, ‘Xenofobul’ argues that apparently the Romanian news media are eager to cover in depth the PVV website, but are less enthusiastic in covering discrimination against minorities in Romania itself.
"How about the irredentist comings of Tudor, how about ‘Noua dreapta’?" the writer says, referring to Romanian nationalist leader Mare Corneliu Vadim Tudor and an ultra-nationalist organisation founded in 2000.
In the same key, ‘rosko1306’ writes that Wilders is "the Dutch Volen," referring to Volen Siderov, leader of the ultra-nationalist Bulgarian party Ataka in the Bulgarian Parliament. Siderov has often stood against the Roma and the Turkish minority.
"It's the same issue, but in the Netherlands, we are in the role of the Roma, that's why you feel offended! And when Volen comes and tells you 'the truth', you say – he is right. What's the difference? No difference!"
Several posts are dedicated to historic comparisons, which sometimes may appear simplistic. A Dnevnik reader nicknamed ‘dnk’ says that for the Dutch, the relationship between democracy and racism is very close. "Just remember the former South Africa – run by white fascists, mainly from the Netherlands and Germany, with a state form of apartheid and democratic elections."
Similarly, ‘SandraV’ writes under an article in the website DutchNews.nl that Prime Minister Rutte has forgotten the legacies of the past.
"We need a real leader for a change in this country, one that forces political parties to take consequences for their hateful actions once and for all. Many of us here in Breda remember the Brave Polish freeing Breda during World War II. Is this the thanks we give our allies and friends? Wilders, you have no shame!" the SandraV post says.
A Polish reader based in the Netherlands appears also to compare the present days with the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany.
"I live here since 6 years. I bought a house, I pay taxes. I was never unemployed and never took anything from social system. Why you call me a thief, criminal? Am I? This website it's another way of discrimination. Who remember Germany 1933?"
The role of the EU?
Comments are most of the time sceptical on whether EU institutions should interfere in the case and bring the Dutch government to task. "Bubiolino" writes in Dnevnik that "the entire EU is on the side of the Netherlands, undercover". To substantiate the claim, the writer refers to negative publications about Bulgaria in the mainstream German press, which also convey a scary picture of the country's nationals.
But ‘Bill’, writing under a DutchNews.nl article, rejoices that the news on the front page of the Dutch daily Volkskrant was that the PVV website is causing an 'international rebellion'.
"Good, please continue. The international community will 'assist' the Dutch in dealing with Wilders."