The Hague: multicoloured and divided
The Netherlands is divided after June’s general election caused political upheaval: the conservative VVD and anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) made massive gains, while Labour (PvdA) and especially the Christian Democrats (CDA) lost out. In his series, State of the Nation, Egbert Hermsen tries to figure out what lies behind the upheaval.
“To be honest, I think it’s gone downhill,” says a local woman with a heavy Hague accent. “Lots of nuisance from Poles, cars broken into. And last week a 70-year-old woman was raped and robbed here in the park. It was four Moroccans that did it. At least, that’s what the woman told us, so I’ve heard.”
Just before the elections, Labour MP Pierre Heijnen is canvassing in the Laak neighbourhood, under his arm a large bunch of red roses – the Labour Party symbol. At every house he seems to meet someone of a different nationality. But when Mr Heijnens asks the local woman if that would be a reason for her to move, she says “No, I’m staying put.”
“It’s a very multicoloured neighbourhood,” says Rob van Essen, minister at the Laakkapel, the local protestant church. He takes me on a tour of the neighbourhood, where 70 percent of the population has a non-Western immigrant background.
The choice of the word ‘multicoloured’, intended in the nicest way, says a lot about the way the minister views the neighbourhood. The problems remind him of his time in the Indische Buurt neighbourhood of Amsterdam. At the end of the 1970s he saw it change from a white Dutch to a non-Western immigrant neighbourhood.
Van Essen also experienced the rise of far-right leader Hans Janmaat in the 1980s. “The people who voted for him were often perfectly ordinary. I always said ‘please don’t call them racists’.” The minister prefers to describe them as people “who can’t talk to anyone in the stairway who speaks Dutch any more. Who’ve lost their neighbourhood.” They’re living in what to them is an intolerable situation, and if someone comes along and promises to do something about it fast, “well, he’s got their vote”.
“Over the past 10 or 15 years a new kind of political polarisation has arisen,” says Kees Aarts, professor of politics at the University of Twente. He says a new axis has been added to the traditional political spectrum of social democrats on the left and free-market liberals and Christian democrats on the right. It marks the choice between an open and a closed society. “Do you want a society that’s principally inward looking, focused on the Netherlands and the Dutch? Or do you want a society that principally looks outwards, at Europe and the rest of the world?
Aarts is doubtful whether the social democrats – the Labour Party – are capable of adapting to the new situation. “To win back the lost voters you’re asking the party to do the splits. The Labour Party also has a lot of supporters among more highly educated people who are positive about European unification and globalisation. It doesn’t want to lose their votes.”
“We’ve lost a bit of the community spirit that the neighbourhood used to have,” says the man I talk to in the tattoo shop in Laak. He’s a large, imposing man, covered in tattoos. But he speaks calmly and reasonably.
He says in particular it’s the flow of Bulgarians and Poles that has caused trouble. A bit more social control would help, he adds. “What we’ve seen here in the neighbourhood is there’s been a lot of talk but not much action. I’m hoping Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party will keep its promises.”