Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ashamed to be Dutch

This week Holland can join the company of European countries like Denmark and Norway, where governments are kept afloat by the support of extreme right wing populist parties. Every year on May 4 we remember all who fell victim during the Second World War, civlians and military – just “so we will never forget”. But how forgetful we are. Two established parties do not have a problem teaming up with a populist movement that shows many similarities with the Dutch fascist party during the years of the great depression, that ultimately supported the German occupation from 1940-1945.

So, what happened to those pot smoking, nude beach visiting and gay wedding attending Dutch, just to exaggerate some foreign images about this country? Why did the pendulum swing to the other side, to narrow minded conservatism and perceived threath for alien influences?
Part of our problems can be attributed to our archaic political system, that has not changed since 1917. Party representatives in parliament are chosen by a system of equal representation, instead by a majority “winner takes all” victory in a constituency. So, to make it simple, if a party gets 20% of the votes, it gets 20% of the seats in Parliament. That might be the ultimate in democracy, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK just dream of such a system, but the drawback is that it can provide an easy parliamentary stage to parties with debatable ideas. They can get a foothold with just one or a couple of seats – and gradually grow from there on.

 Idyllic Holland - but for how long?

This system gave us a wide array of different political parties on both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum. Instead of consolidating themselves in a few large parties, people with different political opinions go their own way. The practical result however is that coalitions between different parties have to be made, before a government can rely on the support of the majority in parliament. But the traditional conservative parties - and I include the labour party in this - never wanted to change this system.
I have always been against this. I advocate representation based upon constituencies. To those, who argument that it is not democratic to block smaller groups from entrance in political arena – see the UK - I say: democracy is more than just a voice in parliament. Access to media is easy for many these days, and voices can be heard using different channels.

Second problem is the decline of the established political parties. That system as described above worked quite well, when there were actually just a few well defined parties: the labour party (PvdA), the christian democrats (CDA) and the liberals (VVD) – mind you, liberals are conservatives here, and that might be confusing for North American readers… But times have changed. The labour party alienated itself from its traditional voters, by focussing on middle class families, who use their support for the former socialist party as a loincloth for their material and bourgeois lifestyle. So, its working class voters left. The christian democrats suffer from a decline in religious conviction, and those who are religious do not see a problem anymore in voting for a different party not based on religious principles. Plus, the christian democratic prime minister was extremely unpopular - the result of hanging on to power well beyond his ‘sell by date', while showing too much arrogance in dealing with a number of issues. Only the liberals have done quite well the past few years. But, the result of this all: voters are adrift. And many of them landed at a new party, whose leader knows how to manipulate the ignorant masses.

Enter Mr. Geert Wilders and his Freedom party (PVV). A ticket of anti Islam, anti art, anti public broadcasting, anti “The Hague”, anti EU and in general anti intellectualism – as Jan Isaacs-wade pointed out in a comment on an earlier blog - and evoking any discussion, while constantly making bold and often untrue statements, gave him a popularity with people without intellectual analytical capacities, and previously without any interest in politics whatsoever. He was also able to attract voters fleeing from the traditional parties, mainly because of his rabid anti Islam ideas. True, there are isues the old established parties have not solved, and even ignored for a long time. Issues that are fueled by our populist and largest newspaper De Telegraaf, a publication that was pro German during the second world war. And obviously has not learned anything, as proved by the fact it refused a comment by me on a political issue concerning Geert Wilders on its website. And Wilders has a strategy: shout, but don’t answer. His warnings against Islamic mass immigration can be countered by the fact that for the past 10 years we have a negative immigration figure of minus 3,500. But he does not go into any discussion, does not answer to questions when he is asked.

The Enclosing Dam. Holland is famous for its dikes and dams to control water. Will we get dikes against anything alien and even remotely progressive now?

We have a minority government now, because the last general election left the country with a selection of parties that could not team up with majority backing. Two parties, the liberals and christian democrats secured themselves of the support of the Freedom party. With Wilders outside the government, but in parliament and in the comfortable position of influencing decissions, he can shout his questionable ideas on any occasion there and outside, like at Ground Zero in New York, and last weekend in Berlin. These are The Netherlands. A country that was known for its tolerance and being open minded. And now known for making itself dependent on the abject ideas of a party that appeals to gut feelings of the ignorant. I’m ashamed.


  1. In the UK - as you point out - they now have a coalition. In Canada we have had a minority government for years. And in both countries use the first past the post electoral system. As they do in the US where the neo-fascist right wing is also a severe threat to peace, order and good government. Voting systems that repress minorities are fundamentally undemocratic. Equally, systems which reward parties with very strong support in only part of the country: which happens in Canada due to Quebec's perception of its role in Canada.

    I will declare a personal interest. I ran for the Green Party in our BC provincial election and I had hoped that we would change our voting system at that time. The establishment ensured the referendum electoral reform was defeated, and the Greens got 8% of the vote and no seats. Yet the right wing Liberals and the leftish NDP (analogous to the British Labour Party) were both promoting agendas which have clearly failed. Both capitalism and socialism could not deliver on their promises - spectacularly. At the same time the planet seems likely to shake us humans off as a nasty virus but our politicians are largely indifferent. We seem incapable of embracing necessary behaviour changes and the system we have ensures that the established parties will hang on to power while the collapse happens.

    You do not have to be ashamed to be Dutch just because there are some nutty Dutchmen in your government. Indeed, that is the whole point of democracy. We have to defend the right of free speech of those whose opinions we find offensive. The whole political spectrum - at least in Canada, UK and the US seems to have shifted rightwards in my lifetime, and I agree it is sad that in order to cling to power, fringe elements will get included. But that always has been the case. Political parties are always coalitions of people with divergent views. Indeed the infighting within parties, often out of the public view, is always nastier than that between parties where parliamentary rules and the glare of publicity keep things in check. At least you know who has made a deal and what that means. I am not at all sure what goes on inside our Conservative government - they are very good at keeping their own internal wranglings quiet.

  2. Populist politicians are wrong.
    But politicians that rely on right wing populists to stay in power are even worse.

    I've always wondered how the nazi party in Germany and the Dutch nazi party NSB could become so popular in the 1930's. Well, we're seeing it happen right now...

  3. Stephen, what you describe is the equal representation vs. majority vote dilemma. But the reality we have here - and which is the same as Italy had for years - is the inability to form a stable government as a result of the electoral structure we have. We have been without a government for over 110 days now, and nobody gives the new government that will be presented next week more than a few months. It can only depend on a one vote majority in parliament.
    Maybe we should look at the German system: half of the representatives in the Bundestag is voted by equal representation, and the other half through constituencies. And Germany uses a fairly high treshold for parties to enter the Bundestag - less then 5%, and you are not in.

    Cornelius - I'm not afraid of Nazis, but the similarities are frightening.