When openly gay
populist Pim Fortuyn first suggested in 2002 that the
Netherlands was ''full'' of immigrants and that Muslims must
adopt Dutch ways, his brazen breach of traditional
Dutch tolerance took the nation aback. Now as the
Netherlands heads for its third general election in
four years, Fortuyn's ideas are firmly embedded in the
mainstream. With the new campaign just beginning, it's
clear that the battles that defined Dutch politics in
recent years are over--and that the Right has won.
As a result,
immigration, integration, and Islamic radicalism are
marginal issues in this campaign. It isn't that they are no
longer important; rather the nation has rallied around
the idea that a tough approach has become necessary.
To be sure, the challenge of balancing that approach
with the Dutch social conscience and liberal democratic
values seems to guarantee more upheaval.
There was little
argument last year when the government ordered the
expulsion by mid 2007 of thousands of families whose asylum
applications have been rejected and who have managed
to stay on for several years. But objections were
raised when immigrant children were locked up in
detention centers along with their parents to await
In the campaign
for the November 22 election, however, immigration issues
have largely been overtaken by the pocketbook issues of
pensions, mortgages, and health care for the aged.
In the largest
parties' lengthy policy platforms, immigration ranks after
culture and sport. Queen Beatrix's September 19 speech from
the throne--a government-drafted
state-of-the-nation address to
the parliament--barely mentioned it.
On one level, the
shift in focus suggests the Dutch are overcoming the
national trauma that began after the openly gay right-wing
Fortuyn was shot dead by an animal rights activist
nine days before the 2002 election and which reached a
critical mass after the slaying of Theo van Gogh in
2004 by a Muslim extremist who felt the outspoken filmmaker
had insulted Islam.
But there is
another dynamic at play: the nation's penchant for being a
testing ground for unconventional ideas.
Holland is a rare
case of a society that values consensus but also is
quick to embrace experimentation. Progressive policies that
have turned it into a world trailblazer include
legalizing prostitution and euthanasia and tolerating
the open sale of marijuana.
This time, it's
taking the lead in Europe with unorthodox measures that
are the traditional domain of the Right: cracking down on
asylum and immigration with steps such as citizenship
tests and subjecting prospective newcomers to a film
on Dutch life--briefly showing topless women and
gays kissing--designed to deter those who find such
The Dutch appear
to have shed their reflexive embrace of multiculturalism
to adopt policies that will compel foreigners to integrate.
Hulten, campaign manager for the front-running Labor Party,
acknowledged his party's immigration platform isn't much
different than its chief rival's--and that both
centrist parties were chasing public opinion largely
formed by Fortuyn. ''We have taken on the concerns that
ordinary people have,'' he said in a telephone interview.
''I think there is more of a consensus.''
The anxieties of
absorbing a million Muslim immigrants have certainly not
Jan Peter Balkenende's center-right government, powered by
the unbending immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, has
promulgated a series of tough measures to curb
immigration and to force those already in the
country to conform to the Dutch way of life.
Thursday his government has earmarked $5 million for a
pilot project to give language tests to toddlers from
immigrant families before their third birthday and
send them to nursery schools if they prove deficient
Such policies are
having an effect in the small but crowded nation of
16.3 million people. In the first half of this year, 44,000
people moved to the Netherlands--many from
Poland--while 63,000 left, including some 35,000
former immigrants, said the Central Bureau of Statistics.
About 1.7 million
people are first- or second-generation immigrants from
non-Western countries, mainly Morocco and Turkey. Muslims
could account for up to 10% of the vote, and local
elections earlier this year indicate they will
overwhelmingly lean toward the left.
All major parties
feature immigrants high in their lineup of candidates.
They include the Labor Party's number 2, Nebahat Albayrak, a
Turkish-born woman who chairs the parliament's defense
issues play out on a daily basis at Vader Rijn College in
the medieval university town of Utrecht. Set in a poor
neighborhood of prefabricated apartment blocks, the
vocational high school is 80% immigrants. Many of its
700 students come from families where fathers are
unemployed and mothers cannot read. At least six youngsters
have been removed from school and deported as illegal
immigrants, though they had lived in the
Netherlands since they were small.
Bart Engbers says it's a mistake to avoid discussing the
problems of the emerging immigrant underclass. Politicians
''don't speak about the big issues,'' said Engbers.
''People say, 'Let's have some rest now.' But everyone
knows there is no rest.''
Once all white,
his technical school became predominantly immigrant in
the late 1990s, and he said the Dutch need to adjust to
ongoing change. ''The world will be different in 10
years. Holland will never be Holland again. It will be
more European, but with a lot of Moroccan and Turkish
people who have real positions.''
For Engbers, the
question of integrating Muslim immigrants is a daily
dilemma. This summer he fired a woman teacher who decided it
was wrong to shake hands with men. He sees no problem
with schoolgirls wearing head scarves, but he said the
teacher crossed a line. ''We have to prepare
[students] to manage themselves in society and in the labor
market,'' he said. (AP)