A low budget drama
Meet the Balk family — the latest recruits in the labour movement's battle against the massive spending cuts being introduced by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. Cormac Mac Ruairi reports.
There was a time when the Flodders were the pinnacle of Dutch fictional families. Lower class, unemployed and anti-social to the core, they blundered their way through three movies with lots of base humour, violence and a little sprinkling of nudity, They even got an invite to the US, where they wrought havoc and made their American cousins, the Clampetts of Beverly Hills, seem like the height of sophistication in comparison. But their time is up; there is a new, far more caring family in town. Unlike the Flodders, Ma and Pa Balk and their extended clan are an average Dutch family. But they are hurting. In fact, as a result of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's swinging budget cuts, these newbies are the family "in ellende", Dutch for trouble or misery. Balkenende = Balk-in-ellende, get it? Okay, it is amusing for about 2 seconds, but admittedly, the charm soon wears off. Not so, cries the FNV, the largest trade union federation in the Netherlands. So enamoured with its creation, the FNV believes the show can run and run and run — at least until Balkenende's centre-right coalition government puts the brakes on the EUR 13 billion in spending cuts it announced earlier this year. But it does not appear this will happen soon. In light of weaker economic forecasts, Balkenende and his cost-cutting ministers agreed on further cuts, estimated at EUR 4 billion, on Wednesday 20 August. The federation has hired a group of actors who will appear at union rallies around the country as the Balks berate government ministers about the pain they are suffering due to the tough austerity measures. Daughter Sybilla Balk made the family's first public appearance on Tuesday 19 August. She tackled ChristenUnie Alderman Tymon de Weger in the eastern city of Enschede about the difficulties she endures as a woman on welfare raising three-year-old Laurens-Jan. Sybilla and Laurens-Jan? Wait a minute, this is stranger than a racoon in a top hat drinking moonshine.
But the fun continues: Pa Jan-Peter Balk, 71, is Balkenende's alter ego and Ma Maria, 68, is really Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven. They have five kids: Hans (Health Minister Hans Hoogervorst) and Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm gets the honour of joining the Balk's clan as Hans' gay partner, Gerrit van der Hoeven. The second sibling, Karla, is Transport Minister Karla Peijs; Jaap is Foreign Affairs Minister Jaap De Hoop Scheffer; Thom (Minister for Administrative Renewal Thom De Graaf) and Sybilla (Environment Minister Sybilla Dekker). And the alter-ego line-up continues: Grandson Piet-Hein, 18, a school-leaver who is struggling to get a job is the shadow of the punctilious Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner. Sybilla's son, Laurens-Jan, is Democrat D66 party elder statesman Laurens Jan Brinkhorst (Economic Affairs). The Social Affairs Minister and former trade unionist, Aart Jan de Geus — who is in the thick of the current cutback controversy — isn't spared either. He is portrayed as the 25-year-old son of Hans from a previous relationship. According to the tale written by the FNV, Pa Balk spent all his working life in the construction industry, starting off as a general labourer, before graduating to carpenter and then foreman. At the age of 60 he was made redundant through no fault of his own. "Luckily," the FNV writes, "this was still in the good times: we received WW unemployment benefits for the next five yea