Holland is becoming a human rights pariah

That’s the conclusion an Amnesty International led symposium reached last Friday, due to our immigration policies and especially the detention of socalled illegal immigrants. Between eight and ten thousand immigrants are jailed each year without having comitted a crime and they stay there on average some 97 days, with twenty percent being in prison for half a year or longer. These are people who have applied for asylum or leave to remain but were rejected and/or who didn’t have the right kind of documents and I.D. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that many of those jailed will leave prison without being either deported or leave to remain, but are just thrown out on the streets again, to be jailed again the next time the police taks to them.

Once in prison you can’t do anything but sit in your cell. Neither work nor study is allowed, contact with the outside world is limited and there is little to no organised activity within prison. In some cases the detention centre is worse than a regular prison is ever allowed to be, which means murderers and rapists are treated better than people whose only fault was to not have the right kind of papers.

The criticism isn’t new, as it’s largely unchanged from the criticism in the 2008 Amnesty International report on migrant detention in the Netherlands (PDF). What’s worrying is that the current government is much more hardlined on migration, actually planning to make not having valid papers a crime. It also wants to “intensify” deportion policies i.e. wants to deport more people more often. Already the government tried to deport Iraki Chritians depsite having recieved a letter from the European Court of Human Rights forbidding this. Incidently the responsible minister, Gerd Leers, was once mayor of Maastricht but had to leave his post because of alleged corruption — nothing proven, but enough smoke that the city council was afraid to find fire and sacked him.

But that’s just a coincidence. It doesn’t matter whether Leers is corrupt or not, because we’ve seen the immigration policies of successive governments in the Netherlands only get worse during the past decade. For a certain part of the electorate, being tough on immigration is a good thing and whether or not the methods use are illegal or immortal is not important. With the PVV feeding the flames of xenophobia (loudly drumming on their desks during the emergency debate about the deportation of those Iraqi refugees) and our rightwing minority government dependent on their support, I expect things will be getting worser still. There certainly doesn’t seem to have been any great rush in improving migrant detention after the publication of Amnesty’s first report two years ago…

Dutch football to Wilders: F-off

amateur football

Sometimes rightwing populism backfires, as Geert Wilders’ party the PVV found out last week. A PVV member of the Den Haag city council proposed an “allochtonenstop” in amateur football, in response to the supposed “flood of problems” football clubs with too many non-western immigrant members were having. According to Richard de Mos (also a PVV member of parliament), such people don’t volunteer for their clubs, are disrespectful and responsible for daily violence on the football pitch. To combat this behaviour clubs should stop accepting new non-western immigrants as members.

Deliberately controversial, this sort of proposal is what helped make the PVV into the third biggest party in the Netherlands. You just make up a lot of stupid but tough sounding shit about Muslims or “non-western immigrants” that reinforce already existing stereotypes in your base, let the experts explain why you’re wrong but emerge as the party of common sense, in touch with the public mood, unlike the elitist eggheads who refuse to see deportation of all muslims to Texel is the right answer to Holland’s crime problems.

This time, it failed spectacularly. Because this time the PVV talked nonsense on a subject their voters actually knew something about. Too many people voluntarily spent their weekend running around wet and cold football pitches to believe this nonsense about foreigners running amateur football. this time therefore the backlash came not just from the experts, but from the very same people the PVV normally has on their side. Richard de Vos forgot that if you want to bullshit people, best not attempt that on subjects they actually know something about…

In short: the PVV got roundly thrashed on this proposal, with everybody from the Dutch football union on down ridiculing it.

Disaster averted

Negotiations for a rightwing government collapsed today, as the VVD and Wilders were no longer sure they could trust the CDA to keep up its part of the deal. Within the CDA critics of cooperation with Wilders had mounted a campaign against the coalition in the last week, with things coming to a head on Wednesday. Yesterday it may have seemed as if the conflict had been resolved, but since the three rebel CDA members of parliament could not commit to a guarantee to support the proposed government (which is not even constitutionally binding anyway), the VDD and Wilders pulled the plug on the negotiations.

It’s about the best result we could’ve gotten, even if this does mean that we’re back where we started, almost four months further and still no government. At the moment I’m not too unhappy about this anyway, as no new government means no spending cuts either. Had the VVD-CDA-Wilders coalition worked, we would’ve gotten two parties hell bent on slashing the welfare state combined with an out and out Islamophobe, not the best of combinations. Any other government can only be better, though I still expect cuts whatever combination of parties takes power.

Recipe for disaster

wilders picking his nose

Everyone involved with politics understands the current dynamic. It’s not hard to grasp. You take very tough economic times, add them to a heavy dose of political opportunism, and multiply both by the aggravating factor of a nihilistic commercial media, and what you get is ethnic scapegoating on a massive scale.

Matt Taibbi is talking about the teabaggers, but he could just have well been talking about Wilders. He started out as somewhat of a Fortuyn clone, but trading in much of Fortuyn’s anti-establishment vibe for more straightforward anti-Islam rhetoric, first within the VVD, then with his own party. Since the economic crisis reached the Netherlands however, he has not just talked about the dangers of Islamic terrorism and the Islamisation of the country, but also about the economic cost of non-western immigration to the Netherlands. So e.g. he takes a populist stance against raising retirement ages, but ties it to cutting down foreign aid.

The scary thing is that this shift in emphasis might just have been the key to his succes. Two elections ago, the first in which his party participated, he got only the same number of seats as had been shared between him and the remnants of Fortuyn’s old party (nine). This election he got twentyfour seats, making his party the third largest. And despite continuing conflict within the CDA, it seems likely the next government will have PVV support, if not participation, leaving Wilder in a position where he does not need to compromise yet can demand concessions for his support. So we would have the nice explosive mixture of a rightwing government wanting to push through huge cuts supported by an xenophobic party eager to start the scapegoating in earnest….

Holland moving to a rightwing government?

2010 Dutch election results

The Dutch parliamentary elections were held a month after the British elections, yet where the latter had a new government in less than a week, almost two months later we’re still governmentless. Which has everything to do with the fragmented results of the election, as you can see from the graph above. No big winners emerged, instead you had four parties with twenty seats or more and three others with ten to fifteen seats. Which means that to get a majority of 76, at least three parties have to agree to govern, which hasn’t proved easy. None of the traditional coalitions were viable, so instead several other possibilities were explored.

The first was a rightwing government of the PVV (Wilders), CDA and VVD, which went nowhere as the CDA refused to negotiate until VVD and PVV had set aside their differences. Then it was the turn of two other possibilities, a centre left cabinet of no less than four parties: VVD, PvdA, D66 and GroenLinks which seemed promised but fell apart, as did a proper centre coalition of VVD-CDA-PvdA, which would’ve been the first time all three parties worked together in one government…. So now the process has moved full circle as VVD, PVV and CDA are once again negotiating.

Which is worrying. With the current worldwide mania for cutting government spending and slashing social services, having three rightwing parties each firmly convinced of the validity of neoliberal market uber alles thinking, chances are we will see quite a few government services under threat. Already there’s talk of cutting unemployement benefits to one year (even though we’ve always paid employee contributions based on getting multiple year benefits, depending on time of service), as well as e.g. dismantling the central benefits agency UWV in order to “tackle waste”, devolving its tasks to the municipalities instead. To be honest, that would probably do wonders for my own employment, with my extensive experience working for it and its predecessors — imagine all the IT systems a city council needs to buy, install and maintain for this. Imagine also the chaos as every other council decides to buy different software…

Of course, having Wilders and the PVV in government will also be disastrous for anybody not of pure aryan stock, so to speak. The idea at the moment seems to be that CDA and VVD will form a minority government, with strategic support of the PVV, leaving Wilders free to agitate against Muslims. Despite his populistic noises, in economic matters there’s little daylight between PVV and VVD, both happy to slash government budget and mollycoddle the rich, while the PVV in social matter will probably demand some symbolic measures against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands”. Not a happy view to look forward to…

Geert Wilders not wanted anywhere

So Geert Wilders may have won the elections last week, but it seems for now he’s getting nowhere in organising a coalition. Negotiations with the other big winner and currently biggest party in parliament, the VVD are going slow, while the CDA, the party he wants for the third partner is so far still politely but firmly declining to talk. What’s more, many of the CDA’s members are vehemently opposed to any coalition with Wilders, as they find his politics and ideology abhorrent. And without the CDA it will become very difficult to form any coalition with Wilders in it. The other big party — the PvdA — is right out, having been diametrically opposed to him before and during the elections, while all other parties are just too small.

Which puts Wilders in a difficult position. If he wants to get in government he’ll have to make big concessions to the VVD and CDA, disappointing his voters. If he decides it’s not worth it, he will again disappoint his voters. They after all were led to believe that if he won the elections, he would get down to business and not let anybody stop him. Another four years or so in opposition may find his votes drained away again. This is what happened to the SP after the 2006 elections, when it became the third largest party in parliament and the biggest winner of the elections, yet excluded from government, so it will prey on Wilders’ mind a lot. Also preying on his mind, what happened to the LPF, Pim Fortuyn’s party after they won the elections in 2002, who did get into government but squabbled so much it lasted less than a year and virtually annihilated the party….

The good election results for Wilders therefore are proving to be a double edged sword, as they have created expectations that will be difficult to fulfill. Good news for those of us who dislike him and his islamophobic ways.

And now to get a coalition

2010 Dutch election results

The graph above shows the end results of Wednesday’s parliamentary elections. Unlike what it looked like on the night itself, the right now does have a slim majority in parliament, which makes my on the night prediction that the most likely coalition will be a rightwing one look right. However, as we Dutch know, a lot of things can happen in the post-election coalition negotiations and it is by no means sure that we will end up with such a government.

In this context it was quite funny to see how stressed the English became last month when faced with a hung parliament and the prospect of a *gasp* coalition government. Where they were annoyed a new government took a week to form, we are skeptical that Mark Rutte’s promise of a new government before 1 July will be kept. If it is, Rutte will have played a strong part in it, as he’s the leader of the VVD, the rightwing party that for the first time in its existence emerged as the largest party in parliament. This however is not entirely due to the VVD’s own strength, but rather more to the extreme divide between voters. Traditionally we’ve had two to three big parties dividing most of the votes between them; now there are five or six, depending on your definition. The VVD therefore needed to win less seats to become the biggest.

Which also explains the difficulty Rutte or anybody else will have in forming a new government. Usually it’s possible to form a coalition with only two parties, or two big ones and a little one to make up the numbers. After this election however, at least three big parties are needed.

On the right, it would be natural for the VVD to go into coalition with the PVV, Wilders’ party, but will still need the CDA to make up the numbers, even if the CDA was the big loser of this election. Now the CDA has never been too embarassed by this sort of circumstances to not try and get into power, but with Balkenende gone and all the soul searching that such a loss brings with it, it’s anybody’s guess whether they will actually want to or like to sit this one out. It all depends on what they can get, obviously.

The other big question hanging over a rightwing coalition is the PVV’s relation with the VVD, of which Wilders used to be a member. There is some personal antagonism there, even if economically their politics are largely the same. Finally, there’s also the worry about how the PVV will hold up under the pressures of government — everybody is looking at what happened to the LPF, Pim Fortuyn’s party when they won the elections just after his assassination. Wilders has done a lot to ensure the problems the LPF had won’t happen to his party, but even before the elections some faultlines appeared and it’s the question whether he has done enough.

Moving on to the centre, it is also possible that there will be a coalition between CDA, PvdA and the VVD, but hardly likely considering the bad blood between CDA and PvdA and the exclusion of the PVV, which goes against the unwritten rules of Dutch coalition making. You don’t exclude such obvious winners, though that did happen to the SP in the 2006 elections. A PvdA, VVD and PVV coalition is the next option, though how sensible it would be for the PvdA to be wedged in between two rightwing parties is anybody’s guess. Let’s not even mention how much the PVV and PvdA are opposed to each other anyway. Last option here is a monster coalition with both PvdA and VVD, joined with left-liberal D66 and very christian-democrat CU, what’s called “Paars-Plus”, in recognition of the nineties VVD-PvdA-D66 governments.

Then there’s the leftwing. This is the most fractured part of the political spectrum, with the PvdA at thirty seats, the SP as second biggest with half that, followed by D66 and the green GroenLinks at ten each and finally the PvdD (the animal rights party) with two. They’re stuck at sixtyseven seats then, not enough to form a majority government and impossible to keep together anyway with so many parties. Not going to happen.

My money therefore is on a PVV-VVD-CDA coalition, which is going to be awful, as that would be a government where the CDa was the most leftwing party in it… It will mean a government united in its desire to enforce budget cuts and “liberalise” the economy further, demolishing the welfare state further. Even worse, all the Islamophobic rhetoric the PVV has engaged in now has a chance of becoming law, though both VVD and CDA would be likely to temper it somewhat. We won’t see the deportation of all Moroccan-Dutch people, but there will perhaps be laws against their religion and harassement of them. You don’t need sweeping changes in law to make the lives of a lot of people more miserable.

On a positive side, actually being in government may actually destroy the PVV LPF-style, or at least moderate them once it becomes clear it’s easier to shout than to govern. Best case scenario sees an implosion of the PVV followed by a collapse of the coalition, new elections and another roll of the dice..

Exit Harry Potter, pursued by a bear

Harry Potter, or at least his Duthc standin

Finally Jan Peter Balkenende does the right thing and resigns, as the exit polls show his party, the Christian Democrats, have lost the elections. This after eight years of one doomed, short lived government after another, years in which the country only got worse. But now that he has lost he’s taking his toys and gone home. He won’t be the next prime minister so he won’t be party leader or even member of parliament either.

The funny thing is, he’s resigning just because the exit polls are bad — few real counts have been returned yet. But as it looks now his party will only have 21 seats, down from 41. Meanwhile the competition has done much better: the social democratic PvdA (partner with the CDA in the last government) has lost slightly, down two seats from 33 to 31 and the liberal VVD winning big from 22 to 31. Also doing well, sadly, is Geert Wilders, who goes from nine to 22 seats. The third coalition partner in the previous government on the other hand, the even more Christian democratic CU has lost one seat, from six to five.

More upsetting but not unexpected was the lost of the Socialist Party, going down from an all-time height of 25 seats to 16, which is in fact much better than they were expected to do at the start of the campaign. On the left this loss was made up for in part by the GreenLeft party winning four extra seats, from seven to eleven. Also winning was the left-liberal D66, from three to ten seats, largely due to the consistent opposition this party fought against Wilders.

If the exit polls are right, this means there is no clear left or rightwing coalition possible that can count on a majority in parliament. The unwritten rules say it’s the winners, PVV and VVD, that should take the lead in forming a new government. They might want to work together but will need two more parties at least, perhaps CDA and CU, but it will be difficult to not just form a government this way, but keep it together.

On the left the possiibilities are even worse. It’s just not possible to form a properly leftwing coalition, even if it included all left of centre parties together.

Which leaves a new socalled purple coalition as a possibility. Back in the nineties a coalition of the (red) PvdA, (yellow) VVD and (green) D66 created the first postwar government without the christian democrats. This same coalition wouldn’t reach a majority right now, but it would be possible by swapping the D66 for the PVV — if not for the fact that PvdA isn’t keen to work with them and vice versa.

In other words: it’s going to be difficult to get a new government — which may not be so bad, considering all parties want to implement drastic cuts.

Wilders chickens out of local elections?

So next year there will be local council elections in the Netherlands. These are usually a good guidance to how well a party will do in general elections, how well the current government is doing as well as which of the opposition parties will profit from any weaknesses. In 2002 for example we had local elections just before the general elections (as the then governing coalition had splintered) and the huge surge his party had in cities like Rotterdam made apparant then that Pim Fortuyn would win big in the national contest as well. In the end of course other forces intervened and Fortuyn never got to witness those elections…

In this context, what to make than of Geert Wilders’ decision to stand for election in only two cities, Den Haag and Almere, but nowhere else, not even Rotterdam where Fortuyn’s succesors have been able to keep their seats on the council through all the upheavals which killed off the national party. Is this an admission of weakness, control freakery or something else?

As Wilders himself had admitted, one reason for limiting his ambitions in this election is the example of Fortuyn. After he was murdered, his party was taken over by chancers and egomaniacs, got into government but completely disintegrated in less than three months, taking the government with them. The LPF neither had the history nor the structure to keep going once Fortuyn himself was gone and even if he had not been murdered it’s doubtful whether it could’ve kept itself together; it was just slapped together too quickly to be stable.

Wilders has learned from this. He has structured his party — like Fortuyn also did — to keep himself in total control at all times by making it into an assocation without members, but with
contributors without voting rights. This in itself is not enough of course, but because Wilders has had the opportunity to let his party grow slower and hence could afford to be careful in chosing his candidates it has worked so far. There have been some mishaps with his MEPs, but nothing to embarassing and he has kept a short leash on his MPs in the Dutch parliament. If his party, the PVV (Party of Liberty), goes allout in the local elections they stand a good chance to win big in certain parts of the country, but at the expense of control. It’s just no possible to control an election campaign involving hundreds or thousands of candidates and volunteers in dozens of cities, unless you have a party structure that’s controlled by more than just one man’s will. (What’s more, you actually have to worry about local issues rather than the Moroccan Menace and that just won’t do…)

Insteads he plays it smart. He has chosen two typical Wilders cities to stand in. There’s
Den Haag with its old neglected inner city working class neighbourhoods with the same sort of muted ethnical and racial tensions you see in similar neighbourhoods in Burnley. Then there’s Almere, which you could see as a sort of “white flight” suburb of Amsterdam, where a lot of affluent and semi-affluent middleclass families move to out of Amsterdam once they get children. In the first city you have the, if you may, traditional Wilders and Fortuyn supporter: poor, working class or lumpen and xenophobic, especially against Moroccans and Muslims, long ignored by the traditional parties but not as much as they complain about. In the second city you have the “new” Wilders supporter: middleclass, not as openly xenophobic but worried about the influence “those people” have on the supposedly tolerant Dutch culture.

A big win for Wilders in either city, let alone both, will be a huge blow to all other parties, but especially the old, established triumvate of Christian Democrat (CDA), Liberal (VVD) and Social-Democrat (PvdA) parties. It will be seen as yet more evidence that these parties still cannot reach the socalled Fortuyn voters despite all their attempts in the last five years to appeal to them. If they win in Almere it will be even worse, as that will be proof that the party can now reach beyond their traditional base and appeal to the core voter, the nice middleclass people who do their civic duty in every election and who used to vote CDA or VVD or PvdA but who do see a lot of sense in what Wilders is saying.

So concentrating on those two cities makes a lot of sense for Wilders. It will be interesting to see how the other parties react. They need to resist the temptation to make this into a national referendum on Wilders and focus on the issues any normal local election revolves around, but they can’t make the mistake of ignoring him either. A lot depends on the candidates Wilders will select.

Wilders wants to deport millions of Muslims from Europe

In an interview with a Danish television station Geert Wilders dropped his mask and said that Europe should be prepared to deport millions of Muslims. He argues that any Muslim who “crossed the line” should be “taken back” to their supposed country of origin, whether or not they were an EU citizen. He said that this should not just happen to criminals, but also to any Muslim who believes in Jihad or Sharia law, in what he calls the “Islamic ideology”. All Muslims or even all non-western immigrants should sign a assimilation contract in which they pledge to obey western values and behaviour and if they fail to do so, they should be deported.

However, in interviews with Dutch papers he has already argued that you cannot trust Muslims to keep their pledges anyway, as according to him their religion gives Muslims living in a non-Muslim society the right to “just lie and cheat” — his interpretation of Taqiyya, the right within a Shia theological framework of Muslims to conceal their religious identity when treatened with physical or mental harm because of it. This is a “right” only to be used in situations where Muslims are prosecuted for their beliefs, but Wilders warps it into the right to lie to any non-believer for any reason.

What’s more, the interview makes it clear that Wilders has a problem with all Muslims, not just “radical” or criminal Muslims as he bangs on about the Islamisation of Europe, of mass immigration of Muslims into Europe and how a society will change when twenty, thirty or forty percent of the population is Muslims. He scaremongers by predicting that in 2025 one in three babies born will be of Muslim descent, which as Randy McDonald already showed for France way back in 2004 is nonsense. He constantly reiterates that, despite his protestations about having no problems with Muslim people themselves, a society changes, becomes “less pleasant” when Muslims reach a certain percentage of the population. He also repeats how Muslims are more criminal, that the majority of criminal is from Muslim countries. There is only one solution to this and that’s to sent them back.

These statements are the most clear Wilders has yet made about his intentions. If we look back at his career since 2002 we’ve seen Wilders become, if not necessarily more radical in his views, more radicial in how he expresses them. He has constantly sought out the limit of what’s permissible in a politician, constantly pushed the window so that what was taboo ten years ago is recieved wisdom now. He started as your average, slightly racist rightwing politician obsessed with immigration and integration and now he’s proposing mass expulsion of Muslims from Europe.