Racism tests the tolerance of the Dutch: Far right to make more gains this week

FOUR mothers sit chatting in the spring sunshine on the terrace of the municipal creche. One is white, one black, one Turkish, one Indian. This is the traditional image of the Netherlands: an easy-going, racially integrated society, where the state provides amply for all and citizens live convivially in a climate of enlightened tolerance.

But elsewhere, a group of these women's elected representatives are describing with gusto how good it feels to firebomb immigrant families out of their homes.

In Rotterdam, the extreme right polled 14 per cent of the total vote in the March municipal elections, and now holds six seats on the council. That success was reproduced throughout the big cities of the south - the most densely populated conurbation in Europe - and the gains could prove even more spectacular in Wednesday's general election.

The Central Democrats, as they are misleadingly called, and the Central Party, their allies, do not have the profile of their German, Belgian or even French counterparts.

The Netherlands is tough on fascist parties, though they have always been a factor in post-war politics. But until recently they have been largely shunned by politicians and journalists alike as unworthy of comment. As a result, the CDs have been virtually driven underground. Inflammatory racist statements are illegal, and their campaigning language has led to several arrests; supporters have been reduced to pasting up election posters at night.

The party makes no pretence at a platform beyond the repatriation of immigrants. Its leader, Hans Janmaat, who is due to stand trial for inciting racial hatred, is notoriously uncharismatic, and comes across as stupid. There is little party organisation, no mass rallies of the faithful and, in Rotterdam, no party headquarters.

Yet people vote for them. 'They have always been around, but never a force until three or four years ago,' says Margriet Maris of Radar, Rotterdam's anti-discrimination group. 'They rarely appear publicly and have nothing to say. Most people have no idea what they stand for - they are just sympathetic to the idea that fewer immigrants mean fewer problems.

'Dutch society is tolerant only up to a point' she says. 'We live life by unwritten rules, and resentment builds up under the surface. Support for the CDs is one of the points at which it breaks through.'

In an attempt to reveal the party in its true colours, a Dutch television team spent months infiltrating a reporter into the CDs' Amsterdam group. Posing as a sympathiser, he was admitted into its inner circle only after meetings in secret locations and hotel conference rooms rented under false names.

The leaders, all members of Amsterdam council, are white, male and strikingly ordinary. The film shows them chatting happily in bars about how they would like to draft a programme as influential as Mein Kampf. Their speech is peppered with references to 'nigger bastards'. 'The Turks are the real problem,' confides one. 'We should bomb them out - fear is a good weapon.'

Their bespectacled and balding chief, Yge Graman, calmly explains from the comfort of an armchair how he twice fire-bombed immigrant housing, killing several Surinamese. Future targets include a huge Amsterdam housing project and several ministers.

The film was passed on to the police, and Graman has been arrested. 'We hoped to show how dangerous these people are - that they are not politicians but terrorists,' said the programme's director.

In Rotterdam, incidents of racist violence are rare, but harassment ever-present. Town hall officials say public revulsion is an effective sanction. But there is concern at the party's appeal to bands of teenagers in some of the immigrant areas of town.

The Dutch policy on immigration is no longer as generous as it used to be, and immigration flows are slowing, though the country continues to attract overspill from Germany.

Between 1960 and 1990, the number of immigrants in Rotterdam rose from 12,000 to 640,000, or 20 per cent of the population. By the turn of the century, four city districts will be 50 per cent immigrant.

In March, Feijen, in the heart of Rotterdam's docklands, recorded the highest CD vote. But this is no East End of London. Around Afrikaander Plein, a huge grassy square, children cavort in a sophisticated playground opposite the superbly equipped creche - fruits of an advanced and, until recently, all- embracing welfare system. Close by, there is an old people's home. Young and old, white and black all socialise together.

No one here has any truck with the CDs. They all deny any notion that facism has a toe-hold in the country. But on the side of the library wall someone has daubed 'Vol-vol, stem CD' (Full up, vote CD).

In the 1989 general election, the CDs won just one seat in the 150-seat lower house, but projections suggest they could take eight on Wednesday.

'I don't think the CDs are a real threat,' says Margriet Maris, 'but racism is certainly on the rise, and at least the emergence of the CDs means that mainstream politicians will have to address the problem.'

(Photograph omitted)