Netherlands: Something’s gone wrong in Tulip Land
26 March 2012
Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has yet to distance himself from the anti-immigrant web site recently launched by the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) headed by Geert Wilders. This silence reveals the country's political divisions and a lack of vision on immigration issues, argues philosopher Paul Scheffer.
Those abroad who follow news from the Netherlands even marginally know that it currently centres around a single question. "What happened to this tolerant country?" The question reflects a sincere disappointment but also amounts to promoting a new cliché. Just as before all the correspondents wrote about the apparently limitless freedoms in Tulip Land, they now assiduously seek examples illustrating the convulsions the country is experiencing.
And it is not that hard to do – opportunities abound and recently culminated in the "reporting site" for Poles [a web site launched by the PVV aimed at reporting behaviour, by immigrants, considered as unpleasant]. Has anyone, in the higher echelons of the government, taken the time to read the depressing series of articles on foreign web sites such as Beschwerdeportal, Ost-Pranger, L’appel à dénoncer les migrants, the anti-Polish hotline or the Dutch anti-immigration website? And these are just the ones in German, French or English.
This indignation in other countries is clearly, in part, sparked by their own interests. The ten ambassadors of Eastern and Central Europe, who, in an open letter, rose up against the PVV site, would have many things to explain on the subject of minority rights in their own countries. And concerning the European Parliament, one could say that the more the influence of a country is small, the more the words are strong. In addition, there are real problems linked to the free circulation of populations in Europe – even more so when Romania and Bulgaria are included.
A country divided
All of this is true, but in the meantime, the task at hand is growing. That is what Prime Minister Rutte has not sufficiently understood. In Brussels and elsewhere, there is the distinct impression that The Hague is lying quite a bit about the real influence of Wilders on the government [which his party supports but is not a coalition partner].
This is not an isolated incident. The crisis over the [Danish] caricatures already provided a demonstration that tensions between governments will increase in response to domestic social issues. The publication of the caricatures of Mohammed resulted in an unfurling of reactions across the Middle East. As a corollary, foreign conflicts will have more and more repercussions on our towns, as was demonstrated by the attack on a mosque in Brussels linked to the civil war in Syria.
These tenuous borders between our country and abroad, where immigration plays an essential role, require active diplomacy. The previous government [a coalition between Christian-Democrats and Social-Democrats led by Jan Peter Balkenende] was more vigilant on this issue. When Wilders, [in 2008], released his film about Islam, Fitna, the damaging consequences were subtly dammed. The threat of violent reactions from the Middle East was attenuated thanks to an entire series of initiatives in which prominent personalities of the Muslim community also participated.
This type of diplomacy can only be efficient if it rests on a reasonable consensus. Rutte's embarrassed silence shows the outside world a country divided. There are fundamental differences in approach to immigration issues among the parties supporting the government. In addition, the disagreements within the majority have grown in recent years.
Is Islam a religion or a political ideology?
At first, the question was still on the nature of Islam. Is it a religion or a political ideology? This discord could be averted by agreeing to disagree. Now however, the divergence of opinion affects the core of European integration: the free circulation of peoples. The “reporting site” suggests that one is not obliged to treat all citizens of the union in an equal manner and the site's initiators think that opening up the borders is a major error.
This hides an even more substantial difference concerning the approach to immigration. When the leaders of the Party for Freedom propose that third generation Dutch – that is the grandchildren of those that actually immigrated – still be referred to as allochtoon or "foreign-born", that implies an obvious choice. It means that the new arrivals and their descendants – by 2025 they will account for approximately a quarter of the population – will never truly be part of society.
The “reporting site” coupled with Rutte's silence, testifies to a growing division. The condemnation by the European Parliament is worrisome, but what is more distressing is the skittishness of the centre parties, including those in the opposition. The latter have yet to find a discourse with a vision of the future based on the economy and the symbolism of a society open to immigration. In ten years, everything has been said about integration, but we have still not found a way to end the political deadlock.