On the first day of June in 2017, Dutch national television crews were at the ready when a moving truck pulled into the stately cobblestone courtyard of the parliament in The Hague. The truck’s load, a black grand piano, had been the subject of conversation for months. As the movers wheeled the blanket-covered instrument into the parliament building under the watchful eyes of its 34-year-old owner, it was clear they were ushering in a fresh chapter in the history of Dutch right-wing populism. The movement to save Dutch national culture has a new leader—and he plays Brahms.
Three months earlier, the Netherlands had held parliamentary elections. To the relief of many on the left and right alike, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (PVV), led by the peroxide-blond populist Geert Wilders, failed to win the victory that some earlier polls had predicted. Still, it earned a record 1.4 million votes, coming in second with 20 of the 150 available seats, behind the neoliberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, but far ahead of the social-democratic Labor Party, which was governing with the VVD and saw its support decimated. As the crestfallen social democrats resigned themselves to a stint in the opposition, the other major parties agreed that Wilders, too, should be barred from joining the government. His radical anti-Islam positions—he wants to shutter all mosques and ban the Quran—placed him too far outside of the mainstream. And his obstructionist attitude did not jibe with the Dutch political culture of consensus, coalition, and compromise. Given his behavior, some commentators openly wondered whether Wilders aspired to govern at all. In the wake of the election, disillusion began to set in among the PVV’s disgruntled constituency.
The man who stood to benefit most from Wilders’s deflation was Thierry Baudet, the freshman deputy who excused himself from a parliamentary debate last June to personally supervise the arrival of his piano. Shortly after the election, he had requested official permission to move the instrument from his Amsterdam apartment to his new office in The Hague, making good on a flippant campaign promise. The piano was a necessary part of his “entourage,” he argued, and would allow him to decompress in between sessions with some Schubert or Brahms. After three months, Baudet got his wish.