November and December of 2023 carried shocking news to the mainstream politics in Europe: The far-right is coming. Populism, a political force that has been reshaping landscapes across Europe, recently manifested itself in Serbia’s parliamentary elections and the Netherlands’ stunning lurch to the far right. The latter is the most shocking since it hasn’t been expected. It was totally surprising and shocking. No one has entertained the idea of Wilders declaring victory and seeking to form a government where he wields the biggest clout.
In Serbia, the ruling populist party, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) led by President Aleksandar Vučić, secured a comfortable win in the parliamentary elections. Preliminary results indicated that the SNS won 47% of the parliamentary vote, paving the way for an absolute majority in the 250-member parliament. However, political tensions escalated due to allegations of irregularities in a local election race in Belgrade.
The Serbia Against Violence opposition alliance contested the Belgrade local election results, citing fraud and irregularities. Reports included claims of mass arrivals of voters, identity document issues, and even assaults on monitoring teams. The independent Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability highlighted serious problems, particularly in Belgrade, questioning the integrity of the electoral process.
Despite these challenges, if the SNS’s victory is confirmed, it will form the next government independently. This victory underscores the enduring influence of populist politics in Serbia, where President Vučić has faced allegations of eroding democratic freedoms.
In the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom (PVV), led by anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders, secured a historic victory in parliamentary elections. Winning 37 seats out of 150, Wilders’ party more than doubled its previous count. This electoral success raises concerns across Europe as the Netherlands faces the possibility of having its first far-right prime minister.
Wilders’ election program included calls for a referendum on leaving the European Union, a halt to asylum-seekers, and the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands. Despite his harsh rhetoric, Wilders aimed to moderate his positions, emphasizing adherence to the law and constitution in a victory speech.
The election outcome reflects a sharp turn to the far right, with Wilders capitalizing on public concerns about immigration, the cost of living, and housing shortages. The PVV’s victory poses a challenge to mainstream parties reluctant to form coalitions with Wilders, yet the size of his win strengthens his negotiating position.
While both Serbia and the Netherlands have witnessed the rise of populist movements, the circumstances and nuances differ. In Serbia, President Vučić’s SNS party maintained its grip on power, facing allegations of election irregularities. The opposition’s claims of fraud highlight challenges to the democratic process in a country aspiring to European Union membership.
On the other hand, the Netherlands experienced a dramatic shift toward the far right, with Wilders’ PVV dominating the elections. This victory, marked by calls for EU departure and anti-immigration policies, presents a unique challenge to the traditionally moderate Dutch political landscape.
The rise of populism in both nations is rooted in discontent, whether with political elites, economic conditions, or concerns about cultural identity. In Serbia, dissatisfaction with perceived erosion of democratic freedoms under President Vučić fueled opposition movements. In the Netherlands, Wilders tapped into anxieties about migration, the EU, and the need for change.
These recent events in Serbia and the Netherlands contribute to the broader European trend of populist surges challenging established political norms. The rise of far-right ideologies has implications for the European Union, as countries grapple with internal divisions, migration issues, and questions about their place within the EU framework.
The rise of populism in Europe is staggering, with Serbia and the Netherlands offering contrasting but impactful narratives. While Serbia navigates allegations of election irregularities, the Netherlands witnesses a significant lurch to the far right. Understanding the roots and implications of these populist movements is essential as Europe confronts a changing political landscape, with implications for democracy, governance, and the European project as a whole.