Pro-diversity politician doesn't want to debate with new populist party

Sylvana Simons

Sylvanna Simons, leader of pro-diversity party Bij1, will avoid debates with new populist party FvD as much as possible in the run-up to the municipal elections in the Netherlands next month. It is "difficult to talk to people who hold certain ideas", she said to the Volkskrant on Sunday prior to a discussion between six potential new council members in Amsterdam arranged by the newspaper. 

According to the newspaper, Simons, who is participating in the Amsterdam municipal election with her party, only agreed to be part of the discussion on Sunday if the FvD was not going to be there. "Racism is not an opinion, but a crime", Simons said to the newspaper. "It is very simple: the FvD holds up ideas that go against human rights. If racism is added to that, it makes it very difficult to conduct a debate."

The pro-diversity politician will make exceptions for a few large debates in which all parties are represented. "But I don't think it is possible to convert people who are proud of racism", she said. 

FvD leader in Amsterdam, Annabel Nanninga, called it "remarkable" that Simons doesn't want to debate with her. "Her party Bij1 would stand for connection and dialogue, then this can be called remarkable. But it also her right to profile herself in this way." Nanninga was invited to the Volkskrant's discussion on Sunday, but refused because of other activities, according to the newspaper.

DENK is also not eager to debate with the FvD, leader of the party's Amsterdam faction Mourad Taimounti said to the newspaper. "It makes it difficult for me to bring my positive message because they are so negative all the time", Taimounti said, adding that such debates can have unpleasant consequences. "At AT5 I discussed the arrival of a mosque in Amsterdam-Noord with Nanninga. That same night a decapitated doll was hung in that spot. She is not guilty of that, but she does give idiots fuel."

Nanninga called the statement by Taimounti "dangerous and inaccurate", according to the newspaper. "As columnist and on behalf of FvD I have always spoken very strongly against any form of violence, destruction or threat", she said. 

Other parties in the Dutch capital are also not pleased about racist statements made by members of the FvD, they said to the Volkskrant. "But you have to fight that from our democratic system", Hendrik Jan Biemond, third on the PvdA's candidate list in Amsterdam, said to the newspaper. "You have to distance yourself a great deal from statements made by people from that party's bosom. But you also need to be in discussion, so that you can convince voters of a different view of the city. And if we all end up together in the city council, it will be useful if we're talking to each other."

The new nationalist party was often in news headlines over the past two weeks. A statement made by FvD member Yernaz Ramautarsing made in 2016 - saying that Dutch with dark skin are less intelligent than other races - recently resulted in the Amsterdam factions of the D66, GroenLinks and PvdA saying they will not work with the FvD after the elections. 

Last week FvD lost three members. Party leader Thierry Baudet expelled two members from party - Robert de Haze Winkelman and his wife Betty Jo Wevers because they tried to seize power in the FvD, the party said in a statement. And Susan Teunissen canceled her membership to the FvD after accusing the party of being undemocratic. 

Baudet also pressed slander and defamation charges against Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, after she accused the FvD of being obsessed with bringing race into the political debate. Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed support for Ollongren in this matter. According to Rutte, a judge must ultimately determine whether there was discrimination, but the public debate is broader. "It fits, also with personal examples, the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations to participate in this."