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The Dutch turned right?

by das monde Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 06:06:03 AM EST

One might say, The New Republic journal "the liberal counterpart" of the conservative National Review. If so, it is very Lieberman-lite liberalism at best.

The New Republic has this article now:

Right Turn
by Abigail R. Esman  

"Open" has long been a catchword for the Netherlands, referring to everything from the flat, low-lying fields of Zuid-Holland and the curtainless windows of Amsterdam and The Hague to the country's liberal stances on marijuana and prostitution, both of which are enjoyed freely and legally in cheerful "coffee shops" and red-lighted bordellos throughout the country. To many, the country has long seemed the apotheosis of a free, liberal, and democratic state.  

But, these days, Filip Dewinter, leader of one of Europe's most extreme far-right political parties, Belgium's Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), has had nothing but praise for his liberal neighbors to the north. In speech after speech over the past months, Dewinter has repeated the same refrain: "Once, Holland was the model country for everything left and progressive. Now, it is the model for the right and conservative powers."

Having lived 7-8 years in the Netherlands, I am surprised and concerned. On the other hand, the 2002 election season saw special yet timely unrecognized circumstances, not completely unlike the 2000 Gore-Bush debacle. The consequences are not very logical yet rather daunting (for some).

During 1994-2002, the Netherlands lived through quite outstanding "years of peace of prosperity", under governance of the Purple coalition lead by the social democratic PvdA and economically liberal VVD parties. The 2002 election campaign was expected to be a dull tussle between new leaders of PvdA and VVD (Melkert and Dijkstal) for larger control of the parliament. The Christian Democratic party CDA seemed to be in crisis; they had chosen young Balkenende to lead - they were hardly expecting immediate success.

But then along came Pim Fortuyn - a rather obscure right-wing columnist and former sociology professor. He was picked by a new Leefbaar Nederland party to lead their parliamentary list, and quickly gathered attention with his oratory style and controversial comments on immigration and  "subsidy socialism". The Volkskrant interview of February 10, 2002 produced too much controversy for other Leefbaar Nederland leaders, and Pim Fortuyn was dismissed from the parliamentary list. Fortuyn then formed his own party, LPF. In early March 2002 he won local elections in Rotterdam, as a leader of Leefbaar Rotterdam. I think that success of local Leefbaar parties helped Pim Fortuyn enormously, directly or indirectly. But the developments were pitiful for the national Leefbaar party.

The weight of Pim Fortuyn became evident during the televised debates. The new leaders of PvdA and VVD appeared not only as dull figures compared with Fortuyn, they acted outright dismissively and arrogantly towards him. Suddenly prospects of the third "purple" coalition became bleak. The CDA leader Balkenende wisely (though not surprisingly) acted as a nice guy in the middle; that alone could bring CDA back to prominence.

The circumstances became especially singular when Pim Fortuyn was murdered on May 6, 2002, just nine days before the general election. The elections went on. The winner was CDA (43 seats out of 150), still surprisingly. In hindsight, that was a logical consequence of voter's contempt towards PvdA, VVD, and their doubts about LPF inexperience or unpredictability. The LPF got 26 seats, VVD 24 seats, PvdA 23 seats, etc.

Balkenende became the prime minister, but his CDA/LPF/VVD cabinet lasted only three months. In January 2003 there were new general elections. The PvdA with a new charismatic leader made a comeback (42 seats), but the CDA still won (44 seats). The VVD got 28 seats, the LPF dropped to 8 seats. That meant the CDA/VVD dominated conservative cabinet.

I did not experience the Balkenende years closely, but friends' political mood is not high. What is most frequently said about modern Holland, is not what they would firstly agree. It is indeed strange to read in the "liberal" US journal article this:

Increasingly - from a crackdown on immigration to a proposal to teach intelligent design to the censorship of a TV program satirizing the royal family (despite reports that the queen herself actually enjoyed the show) - Holland is, indeed, becoming a right-wing nation, in some ways an inversion of its former self.

What happened is that indeed xenophobic politics gained some ground, and conservatives gained some appeal. But a large portion of population cannot identify themselves with current government policies and emphatically stressed concerns. In particular, they certainly wouldn't agree that the murder of film director Theo van Gogh changed the Dutch society far more profoundly than 9/11 changed the USA, as the article of Esman claims. Theo van Gogh was not a popular figure, personal sympathy was not great. The "profound" change and rightward shift is principally evidenced by government policies (tougher immigration laws, mandatory ID carrying, increased video surveillance on streets, approved government access to records of Internet surfing, book and video purchases or rentals, phone conversations and bank transactions). There is very little evidence that Holland wanted these changes, that national security is the primary issue, that people are willing to sacrifice liberties (as well as social benefits) out of fear of Islamic terrorism.

Political turbulence and violence do have consequences - the tension with Muslim emigrants rises, the media routinely reports the incidents and discusses immigration. But current government policies and induced distrust are seen as a critical part of the vicious cycle. When the former LPF member Nawijn joins up with Belgium's Dewinter to create a think tank aimed at examining immigration, multiculturalism, and security, we should read it as creation of a political think tank for conservative dominance. It is very ironic that the American "liberal" journal takes their intentions at face value. And the following (closing) paragraph you expect to see only in American Enterprise type journals:

Now, a little more than a year after van Gogh's murder, Holland finds itself in a kind of social quagmire: The more repressive the government and the more Muslim-unfriendly it is perceived to be, the more radicalized its Muslim youth become. The anger is palpable: Gone are the days of carefree strolls through Amsterdam streets or smiling nods to neighbors of another race. One looks twice now. The smiles are often false - a kind of armor people wear - to protect themselves from anger and from fear.

It is instructive to compare the American and Dutch policy shifts in 2000 and 2002, respectively. Militant media bias or electoral irregularities were not problems in the Dutch case. (Pim Fortuyn did complain about media bias against him, but that was more justified than GOP preventive-deceptive whining about "liberal media bias".) The two examples show how easily a widely successful progressive government can be replaced by opposite conservative policies. Political elitism and slight dissatisfactions can have huge consequences. And of course, media performance of politicians is a tremendous factor, whether that media performance was indeed poor or just urgedly perceived as such.

If Esman's article ought to be believed, the mood of Dutch progressives is just desperate:

Caught in the middle, Dutch moderates have started leaving - largely for Canada and New Zealand, according to one report - and net emigration in the first half of 2004 was the largest since the 1950s. More interestingly, many moderate Dutch Muslims - mostly Turks - have started making plans to leave as well. "It's less radical there than here," one aspiring émigré, who planned to move to Turkey, told a Dutch newspaper.
Is that really so bad?

[Crossposted at Booman Tribune and Daily Kos.]

Let's ask the folks here who live in Holland...is is so bad? What re the prospects politically and socially?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 12:53:58 PM EST
First of, full disclosure. Politically I'm a bit of an odd duck, with a liberal, free-market view on a range of issues, but a more socially orientated in others. I most often drop the red ink in between the brackets of D66, which has the ideology to have no ideology and let pragmatic thinking rule.

I'm one of the people who think that the glass is either half full or half empty. The rise of LPF, the murder of Van Gogh, and this coupled to the ever on-going "War on Terrorism" set a descisive mood in The Hague. In many ways, there was a right, more conservative turn but what else was to expect of CDA and VVD (forming the largest bloc in the coalition) after the public's swing to the right as seen by the rise of LPF? It's what the public cried for, but now we have it, they're seeing it's not all to their liking...

The upside is that the progressive left has been shedding its skin and reinventing itself. Last week, Femke Halsema, leader of the Green party Groen Links, was given "Most Liberal Person of the Year Award" by the JOVD, the VVD youth party. What I'm seeing is that the straining wellfare state programs gets trimmed so that leeches will have smaller chances to wreck the system. It is a well known secret that many unemployed youth (and quite often the second generation immigrants) get by perfectly by getting their wellfare, unemployment check, deal drugs on the corner for the rest of the day and drive around in Mercedes. Their argument: why work if I'm making more money by not working instead?

The blunder of the Minister of Education, Maria Verhoeven to consider Intelligent Design was hailed by national newspaper De Volkskrant as the fifth biggest blunder in science of 2005. It generated an endless stream of scathing op-eds until she wisely let the subject rest. But such moves are also to be expected from the jarheads still hovering within the VVD.

Politically, I expect a turn to the left coming elections, but not one that will return to the Old Left. Wouter Bos, leader of the Labour party PVDA, has (it seems) won the internal struggle between the progressive and more traditional PVDA members and is setting out a more progressive coure, which is far more to the liberal right than it used to be. D66 is undergoing a similar schism, perhaps for the better, perhaps leading to their doom. Only the Socialist Party (the SP) is digging in its heels and not changing one bit and that's one party that will never get my vote while they have remarkably sensible ideas about healthcare and social wellfare.

In the end, there's much where I disagree (but even some things where I agree) with the current government, but the upshot is that the political left in the Netherlands may get an energetic boost. We'll have to see what happens during the elections.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Jan 11th, 2006 at 06:33:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary!!

I just had to drop a line!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 04:06:37 PM EST
The Dutch were never 'left' to begin with, they were 'onverschillig', which means that they didn't care what others did as long as the others would not care what they did. They were not liberal, because they did not try to 'tolerate' other people different life styles, because they were never interested in other people. The historic Dutch model how to organise their society is based on 'columns' of people of differing creeds which don't interact with each other at all on cultural, religious, political, personal and human grounds. The only contact beween these columns consisted in 1.) inter-economic activities and in 2.) jointly keeping the country dry. This also explains their lack of a national literature, their incapability to tell heartfelt stories, to make films, to create great music which expresses human emotions. They usually import all of that. The Netherlands are a cultural desert, a country with exceptionally bad food (HEMA sausage, FEBO), lousy Schlager music, cheap and crappy consumer goods, no fashion, bad beer and poor foreign language skills. It is almost impossible to find any Dutch person to engage in any meaningful discussion with in English, French, German, let alone Italian or Spanish.

This flat wasteland was discovered by Hippies and drug addicts and English sex tourists in the 1960s, they were attracted by the sloppy, uninterested attitude of the Dutch and found a save haven to live their miserable life styles during their weekend trips to Amsterdam and Utrecht. The Dutch were happy about this sort of tourism, it was very undemanding, they didn't have to offer anything to their visitors and it generated some easily earned additional income.

Not that the Dutch don't know how to enjoy the charm of their camping sites.


"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 05:25:57 PM EST
Litters the blog and can be considered prejudiced when it addresses a nation of 15mln of quite distinct and individual citizens with a long history and culture. It's an offensive rant and uncalled for. It's an act of intolerance and aggression, leaves little room for open discussion. Europe is an union of individual nations meant to live in peace with one another.

History of Belgium - 1477

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 07:26:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are obviously not following what Dutch exilees like Willem Hermans ("Onder Professoren") write about The Netherlands otherwise you would refrain from your erroneous statements. My assessment was rather mild toned when compared to their criticism.

I was only pointing towards the all too obvious, which is the lousy food, the lack of any meaningful cultural production (and no, Rudi Carell and tv soaps like 'Big Brother' don't count) in the fields of literature, theatre, films and music, and the general attitude of "Ikke, ikke, ikke - de rest kan stikke" (I've got mine - the rest can die.)

Also, I didn't refer to the horizontal class 'stratification' of the Dutch society, but to the traditional vertical 'columns'(zuilen), which kept not only the various opposite christian creeds, but also the unions and social-democrats, liberals, conservatives, monarchists incommunicando.

I assigned the alleged outside perception of Dutch 'liberalism' to the fact that foreigners misunderstand (because they are not aware of it) what a vertically segregated 'column' society looks like in the daily practice of interpersonal relations. Now, I don't claim any author's right for this observation, infact it is now undisputed common knowledge amongst the erudite classes in The Netherlands. However nobody ever cared to set the record straight, because this misconception deemed to be beneficial for the standing of the Dutch people as a whole in the eyes of the world.

Read Willem Hermans about this.

He breaks with some other platitudes too. Like the Anne Frank cult, who is interpreted as the creation of a Jewish virgin madonna by protestant bigots in an atheist cultural environment, which has never bothered to critically live up to the fact that the Dutch ratio of Nazi collaborators was the highest of all occupied countries. And there are some other practical lies of this calibre which were never  questioned at all.

Ponke Prinsen?

The government's ban to let him return to the Netherlands to die amongst his family members? The white wash of the Dutch 'politionele aktie' (police action) in Indonesia. The position of the 'oude strijders' (veterans) of that colonial war who block any public discussion on the national media and universities about their role in the mass killings? Srebrenica? Iraq?

Yeah right, you tell me about Dutch liberalism. It is nothing new. Hippies and drug addicts do it all the time.

Btw: I never disputed the fact that most Dutch holiday makers can manage to order a coffee at a German Autobahn truck stop whilst they are on their way down with their pindakaas and Hema spaghetti filled caravans to the cheapest camping sites in Italy and Spain.

Good for them.

That is however not what I consider to be speaking a foreign language. If you want to know what it means to learn a foreign language, the history and culture of a foreign nation then go the Münster university. There are more students in Münster that study Niederlandistik than there are pupils and students that study Germanistik in the whole Koningrijk der Nederlanden.

The same goes for French, Italian, Polish, Czech, Spanish.

Und so weiter.

Quick learning point: Italian restaurant waiters recently found out what the international country car sticker "NL" stands for. N-iente L-ire.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Fri Jan 13th, 2006 at 12:17:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm missing the Snark addendum to your post. Since this is of course true, but only true to someone who sees
The Undutchables
as the prime guideline to consider the Netherlands and its people.

If you're actually serious, I have no idea where to even begin to debunk your viewpoints.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Jan 11th, 2006 at 05:56:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, but Mike Krüger has a long nose!

You are in real Grand Coalition mode, aren't you? I'd more expect such a line of stereotypes from a CDUler.

Take care, lack of good films is usually a false stereotypical accusation levelled at Germany, too. But De Vliegende Hollander is an exceptionally good Dutch movie, The Last Island is a drama better than any Lord of the Flies adaptation, Spoorloos is the best psychothriller ever - and tough all tragic, all express human emotions, just like a stream of Dutch family movies that I'm less keeping in memory.

Music is another subject where Germany too is subject to similar stereotypes as you have of the Netherlands - musicians like Grönemeyer are not well known abroad, while lousy Schlager like Udo Jürgens is - and other contributions like Dieter Bohlen or German techno music can't be called wuality either. Meanwhile, the Netherlands also has stuff like Within Temptation, the Nits, or the originals of Status Quo's "I'm in the army now" (forgot their name).

Regarding incapability to tell heartfelt stories, maybe the Dutchmen you met didn't feel easy with you. I also have opposed experience on Dutchmen and foreign languages, in fact I'd say a much larger percentage speaks foreign languages than of Germans - and statistics reinforces me (pdf!).

I could write similar counterpoints to almost everything negative you wrote, but this already gives the picture. The only thing that rings half-true is a Dutch predilection to live side-by-side but still apart, living to themselves - experienced that in campings.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 06:08:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 11:21:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Okay, I'm kidding, but just a little. Thanks DoDo for the rally of support.

The only thing that rings half-true is a Dutch predilection to live side-by-side but still apart, living to themselves - experienced that in campings.

It is only half-true and to my mind it is a cultural relict of the early 20th century when most of the European nations were living exactly the same, albeit stratified. And even this is changing, since the Dutch have become aware of it, because of the political events of the past few years, starting with 9/11. It's the start of a process and there's no say where it will lead to or whether it will fizzle to its death.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:36:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I may now Focus. In the late seventies, when I was a small child in then Yugoslavia, the radio played all kinds of music - Beatles, Abba, Italian music, Boney M, hard rock, you get the picture. I even preserve a cassette my mother made then - but for half of what is on it I can't even guess the artist. There is at least one Dutch song.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:51:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, just out of curiousity, do you know the two I taunted Ritter with, who Rudi Carrell and Mike Krüger are?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:53:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course I know Rudi and what a loss for Dutch tv that he feels more at ease at German television! But Kruger is an unfamiliar name to me, which might has something to do with a generation gap or my yawning cultural gap...

The better known Dutch female stars on German television are Linda de Mol and recently Tooske Ragas...

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 04:09:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mike Krüger is a German comedian/actor, famous for his big nose (tough that's not so apparent on my above from-front photograph).

On the German RTL TV channel, there is a Friday night comedy show, in which seven people comment the news of the previous week in a funny way, and just joke with each other in-between. Carrell and Krüger are two of the six regulars, and it was/is a running joke that they taunt each other (of course only for TV) for Dutchness resp. the long nose. Krüger's jokes are the funny version of Ritter's tirade (f.e. he would bring caravan prospects).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 13th, 2006 at 08:25:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The language remark was just nonsense. The Dutch are one of the best non-native English speakers. In fact, one of the difficulties of learning Dutch in the Netherlands is that people switch to English when they see you "strugle".

In music, the Dutch gave the songs "Venus" (originally it is "Shocking Blue", not "Bananarama"), rocky "When the lady smiles" from "Golden Earring", or "In the Dutch Mountains" by "The Nits". The Dutch Eurodance (with "2 Unlimited", for example), Nederpop, Nederhop and gabber techno are good...

And what about aid contributions from the onvershillig Dutch?

by das monde on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:12:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Walk through het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or if you don't like Rembrandt van Rijn, perhaps het het van Gogh museum.

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Fri Jan 13th, 2006 at 04:24:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...is not a product I'm particularly proud of. Venga Boys and gabber techno, ditto. But Dutch dance/techno DJs have become a trademarked export product. There's some feeling for rhythm after generations of clog dancing.

And ever been to the Efteling?

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Jan 13th, 2006 at 06:41:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't put much stock into what the New Republic has to say, since they really do spout a more Lieberman-esque liberalism.  Then again, I'm not that familiar with the Dutch political scene, so what do I know?
by DH from MD on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 07:53:41 PM EST

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