Jelle Hiemstra - from Freedom Party to Frisian Route

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

“Every day new planeloads are arriving full of fortune-hunters. Islamic veils, minarets, social welfare dependants, crime: there’s no end to it.”

These are the words of Geert Wilders, a voiceover in a commercial on the website of his PVV Freedom Party. Over his voice, we see images of planes arriving at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, slowly dissolving to women wearing the Islamic veil, women at the market, on the street. The PVV’s message is urgent: stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands.
 
Jelle Hiemstra is a politician in the northern province of Friesland. Until his resignation last October, he was the Freedom Party chairman for the provincial assembly. He was drawn to the PVV because of their critical stand on Europe and their demands for tougher prison sentences, a 130-kilometre speed limit and the upholding of mortgage tax relief.
 
Frisian issues
In the spring of 2011, he led the party’s successful campaign for provincial assembly elections. Placing Frisian issues on the agenda - like a controversial waste incineration plant in the town of Harlingen or salt-winning in the Wadden Sea - was his ticket to a successful campaign. Surprisingly, one issue got struck off: Islamisation.
 

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For Wilders, Islam is “an ideology of hatred”, for Hiemstra, “Islam is a religion. Period.” How did he justify this to his PVV voters? He dismisses it a non-issue. “I always say it’s like selling a bikini in a shop that sells ice skates.” 
Hiemstra’s wife is originally Lebanese, arriving in the Netherlands as a six-week old victim of civil war. She doesn’t know whether she comes originally from a Muslim or Christian background. “My wife didn’t object to my joining the PVV. ‘It’s your hobby,’ she said, ‘as long as you don’t start going on about Islamisation.’”
 
And if he was married to a – typically Frisian -  Femke? “Wouldn’t have made any difference.”
 
Hiemstra says he informed the PVV of his stance on Islam during his intake interview, which the PVV denies in Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
 
No talking to the media
[media:factfile]This tall, broad-shouldered politician with a resounding voice likes to talk. “I noticed that when the PVV came together, only Geert Wilders was allowed to talk. Everyone else had to keep his mouth shut. And no talking to the media, only issues that are important to the national PVV.”
 
But Hiemstra wouldn’t be gagged. When he informed his PVV campaign colleagues of the benefits of befriending the Dutch-language regional newspaper Leeuwarder Courant, there were gasps all round. 
 
“The Leeuwarder Courant has a circulation of 93,000, the Friesch Dagblad 13,000…When the PVV said the Leeuwarder was the ‘Pravda of Friesland,’ I told them then we had nothing to lose. We could only win.”
 
Cohen lapdog scene scripted
In his internet spot, Wilders also delivers a blistering attack on one ‘leftwing’ leader. Over a close-up shot of a yawning Job Cohen, leader of the Labour Party (PvdA), and a shot of Cohen entering a mosque, Wilder’s voiceover says the PvdA leader “is 100 percent pro-Islam.”
 
Last September during a parliamentary debate after Budget Day, Wilders lashed out at Cohen, calling him the lapdog of Prime Minister Mark Rutte: "Mr Cohen runs around the prime minister’s yard, yelping and peeing on a tree, but when the prime minister arrives he jumps up in his lap."
 
The Dutch media had a field day. 
 
“It wouldn’t have been my tone. I would have put it another way. In Friesland, we do things differently,” Hiemstra said to the media. 
 
Just retract
That evening, when Hiemstra came out of a meeting, he saw he missed some 20 calls from PVV MP Fleur Agema.  Something was awry.
 
The following day, Hiemstra was contacted by the leader of the PVV in the Upper House, Machiel de Graaf, who explained to him that Wilders had been rehearsing the whole lapdog scene for a month. Wilders was afraid he’d be upstaged by Hiemstra’s comments – by now a hot item on Twitter and in various papers - and that opposition leaders might get wind of the fact that the parliamentary piece of theatre was a rehearsed script.
 
“Just retract your comments and everything will be all right,” said de Graaf to Hiemstra. “But I wouldn’t.” And when de Graaf ordered Hiemstra not to appear on local Frisian TV, Hiemstra said: “I’ll be the one to decide that, not The Hague.”
 
The PVV declined to give their response.
 
Leftwing paper
When Hiemstra and his wife were attacked in their home in September by masked men - which the politician claims was a political attack – he agreed to an interview with NRC Handelsblad. When he stated in their article he had no intention of putting Islamisation on his political agenda, Agema called him up.
 
 “‘What have you done to me this time, a leftwing paper?’ ‘No’, I said, ‘it’s a quality paper.’ Then, she started on about Islamisation. ‘From now on, everything Geert says, you stand behind him. From now on, you’ll put Islamisation on the Friesland agenda.’ ‘No, I won’t, I’m not a soldier,’ I said.”
 
The Frisian Route
“Frisians don’t get worked up about things. They’re straightforward,” said Hiemstra, who announced he was leaving the PVV on 24 October. 
 
Now he’s flying under a new flag, De Friese Koers (‘The Frisian Route’). Drawing on a maritime metaphor, Hiemstra charts new ideas for the region. He wants Friesland to be “the Florida of the Netherlands” in the healthcare sector, which, in turn would necessitate a university in the province. 
 
He considers himself “a serious competitor” for the Frisian Nationalist Party. Annigje Toering of the FNP says her party doesn’t regard Hiemstra as a competitor, if he’s championing the same Frisian issues. It’s too soon to say whether he’s committed to the Frisians and "experience shows one-man bands tend to disappear after their term in office," she says.
 
Hiemstra's new course is neither rightwing nor leftwing - simply Frisian pragmatism:
“People here are fed up with headscarves and the idle talk of The Hague. I do it my way.”