On my recent visit to Miami I noticed how little people from outside The Netherlands (especially from the US) know about my country. During dinner I even had to use a sugarcane from my Mojito cocktail to draw a picture of Europe in order to point out where The Netherlands is. Since a substantial part of the readers of this blog is not from the Netherlands, I figured that it might be a good idea to give some background information on The Netherlands. A crash course on the Netherlands and some recent developments so to speak. It’s after all also my background.
Holland or The Netherlands?
The Netherlands are located in the center of Europe. Together with Belgium we are tugged in between the large European countries (England, Germany and France).
Because a large part of The Netherlands is below sea level, it is called ‘Nederland’ in Dutch (which means low land). In English this is transformed to Netherlands. That explains that name. So where does the name Holland comes from? The Netherlands consists out of 12 provinces, two of them are located at the North Sea and are called North and South Holland. They played a leading role in our golden 17th century (were Rembrandt made his fine art and we earned loads of money shipping slaves from Africa to America). Because of the dominant role of the two Holland provinces, Holland became a synonym to The Netherlands and that’s still the case today. So formally it is The Netherlands, but you can call us Holland. Either way, I don’t mind.
What’s it about with the mayor and Afghanistan?
It’s all about politics, therefore a little background. In Holland we choose a parliament with 150 seats through a system of ‘one man one vote’. At the moment there are 13 parties represented there. The smallest has one seat, the biggest 41. We even have a party for animal rights (2 seats). In order to form an administration you need to form a coalition that has at least 76 seats in the parliament. Our latest coalition is (or was) one between the christen democrats (41 seats) , the social democrats (33 seats) and a small christian party (6 seats). Together they have 80 seats in the parliament. Since the christen democrats have most seats they can name the prime minister. The administration is appointed for four years. Only if a conflict arises in the coalition and therefore the majority is lost an administration will come to an end earlier.
Politics in Holland have changed a lot since 9/11. In the 2002 elections we had a ‘new politician’ called Pim Fortuyn. Because he was a homosexual (which is pretty much accepted in The Netherlands), he was very much opposed to the Islam, fearing that it would limit him in his rights and freedom. He played the 9/11 emotions extremely well and succeeded in gaining great support during the campaign. We were shocked when he was shot death a week before the elections. His party nevertheless won 26 seats (almost 20%) in the parliament, but without his leadership his party fell apart within a year. Since then politicians in Holland are trying to gain that 20% of anti-votes. This vote is formed by people that are afraid for the Islam, for foreigners, for their jobs, et cetera. They are not in favor of anything, but opposed to everything that’s scares them. In 2004 a member of the Dutch parliament Ayaan Hirschi Ali made a critical movie on the Koran named ‘Submission’. She made this movie with director Theo van Gogh. In November 2004 van Gogh was killed by a man with a Moroccan/Dutch background. It increased the already existing emotions.
Just before the murder on van Gogh a politician (Geert Wilders) from the Liberal party (which is right-wing in Holland) left his party to start a movement called PVV (Party for Freedom). He only has a single issue, he is ‘Anti- Islam/anti foreigner (especially Turkish and Moroccan immigrants)’. He won 9 seats in parliament in the 2006 elections, and currently does well in the polls (around 25 seats). Imitating Ali and van Gogh he made an anti Islam movie called Fitna. He manages to dominate the political debate with extreme point of views. He proposed for instance a tax for woman wearing headscarves, calling it head-rag-tax.
Our army is present in Afghanistan in the province Uruzgan with 1400 men. We are the leading nation in that province. Our soldiers are there since 2006, so far 21 of them were killed. Originally they would stay there for two years but two years ago they decided to stay two more years. The social democrats (who were in 1996 opposed to the mission) agreed on the condition that the troops would be withdrawn after this period. Despite of this earlier decision the christen democrats want to prolong the mission now. This led to a crisis in the coalition and the social democrats left the administration. Now we will have general elections in June. The strange thing is that they never had a real discussion on the subject. The leader of the social democrats was during the last election accused of changing his opinion a few times, he was called a ‘draaikont’ (literally turning ass). In order to fight that images he decided not even to begin the discussion on Afghanistan. He put his foot down which directly led to the fall of the administration.
We consider our work in Afghanistan as very important. We even introduced the approach of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans. In our media that is called the Dutch approach. To put this into perspective. I spoke to a Us Marine who had actually fought in Afghanistan. I mentioned ‘the Dutch approach’ he didn’t understood it. I explained it to him, his response was “are there Dutch troops in Afghanistan?”. This is typical for the Dutch we consider ourselves very important (even on a world stage) and we often think that we ‘own the truth’. We are very good in judging other countries.
Mayor of Amsterdam
The leader of the social democrats decided to step down after the coalition had broken up (he has made his point after all) in order to spent time with his young family. He arranged a swift succession. The same day the mayor of Amsterdam (Job Cohen) announced that he was candidate for the position. Then a strange phenomenon occurred. Overnight the social democrats were leading the polls (they rose from 15-20 seats to 30-35 seats, 58% of the Dutch now prefers him as the the next Prime Minister (opposed to 18% for the current Prime Minister). He looks to be the counterweight for Geert Wilders. All in all is it likely that he will win the elections and will lead the new coalition who will form the new administration.
Mayor of Holland
So, where does this lead to. We think a lot of our selves, but on a world scale we are a small player (we are the 16th economy of he world). Maybe we could tone down a bit. I suggest that we demote the ‘Kingdom of The Netherlands’ to to the city of Holland. If Cohen wins the elections he can continue to be a mayor, only now from Holland instead of Amsterdam.
Although with 17 million people we then would probably be one of the largest cities in the world.