"Giving in to dictators and tyrants in Africa, the Middle East or Eastern Europe is like giving in to the mob. While doing it, something goes broken inside of you and the harder you try to ignore that, the more broken it gets"
The VVD – the Dutch liberal-conservative People’s party for Freedom and Democracy of PM Mark Rutte – has to deal with two enormous elephants in the room.
Their former "party-member-turning-renegade" and extreme right-wing politician Geert Wilders, of the populist Party for Freedom, is a force to be reckoned with at the right side of the political spectrum. The liberal party D66, on the other hand, was recently very successful with its stance slightly left of the VVD: a little bit right to the centre of politics.
These forces from both sides caused that the VVD, although officially being the largest party in The Netherlands, became ‘stuck in the middle’ between two parties with IMHO a much clearer profile than the VVD had: a quite schizophrenic position. That the VVD was the largest coalition member in a cabinet with the social-democrat PvdA and that it had to grant a few “bones” to this battered party, in order to keep them not too unhappy during their stay in the cabinet of PM Rutte, did the popularity also no good.
That requires perhaps an explanation. The VVD has always been a – quite happy and successful – marriage between the liberal and conservative factions of the party:
liberal representatives of the party (often competent
national and local officials and civil servants) were traditionally in favor of
a strong and quite social national state, funded on liberal principles, and thus
not per sé against a strong government. These were the people in the centre of
the political spectrum, where entrepreneurship, success and wealth were
important, but not all-prevailing;
- The conservative representatives were traditionally in favour of a smaller government and wanted to run “The Netherlands ltd” as a company, with a keen eye for the needs of wealthy people, successful entrepreneurs and large corporations and a not so keen eye for the ‘losers of society’. “People were responsible for their own successes and failures” was their creed. Subsidies – unless for companies and start-ups – and social security were a drag and paying taxes was an even bigger drag. The neoconservative paradigm has been their natural habitat lately.
In spite of their obvious differences, both squadrons within the party coexisted for a long time without large quarrels, which turned the party in a stronghold of stability.
This changed, however, when Geert Wilders argued himself out of the VVD in 2005 and subsequently started the Party for Freedom (PVV). Suddenly there was a party that represented the most conservative voices within the VVD: much better than the VVD leadership itself could.
And to make things worse for the VVD, the PVV was a party which also attracted two large categories of voters in The Netherlands:
anxious, white and older voter, who is already retired or
close to his retirement and sees the immigration, the breakdown of the Dutch
welfare state and the increasingly interconnected European politics as a threat for his personal wellbeing;
- Young white workers and unemployeds with a poor education and limited chances for improvement on the labour market, who see the globalization and free traffic of labour from the European low wage countries as a threat for their future.
Wilders’ popularity among these groups was caused by his anti-European stance, his enduring verbal attacks against muslims and immigrants from Africa and the East-European low wage countries and his desire to treat The Netherlands as a “brave but lonely stronghold in a further hostile world”.
This was topped off by his extraordinarily “leftish” social security plans, which planned to restore almost all social benefits that had been taken away, as a consequence of the various austerity measures of the last few cabinets.
The preference of these voter groups for the PVV was quite easy to understand, as particularly these groups saw the drawbacks of globalization, immigration and the European Union and hardly enjoyed the benefits of it. Wilders answered their demand for a purely Dutch oasis in an increasingly interconnected world. This turned the PVV into an instant success with a steadily rising number of voters.
The VVD itself was utterly confused by the success of the PVV and its rogue leader, Geert Wilders. The consequence of this success was that, under influence of the PVV, the VVD went into a more conservative and populist direction as well.
The focus came to lie with key concepts as:
taxes for entrepreneurs and wealthy people and more taxes for simple workers with a fixed contract;
- A focus on national successes and Dutch exports, at the
expense of (inter)national solidarity and a more balanced European economy;
- Development aid and immigration, which had to be mainly used as tools for our own benefits and hardly for the benefits of other people and countries.
These developments caused many true liberals to escape to D66, which was more leftish, leaving the VVD with a mixture of entrepreneurs, political hustlers and local government apparatchiks, as well as endorsers of a conservative law and order society, a smaller government and less taxes on wealth.
Yet, the right flank, formed by the PVV, remains enormously attractive for many VVD voters, thus causing a growing hazard for the future success and sheer existance of the VVD itself. The VVD, in its apparent despair, now seems to make stranger and stranger capers, in order to beg for the fading charms of their grassroots.
Last week, the VVD member of parliament Malik Azmani (himself partially of Moroccan descent) launched the audacious plan to close the European borders for refugees from Africa and the Middle East, “as he could not stand anymore the thought about those hundreds of Syrian and African refugees in their wrecked boats and ships, many of them drowning in the Mediterranean Sea”.
The following snippets were acquired from the website of BNR News Radio:
The VVD wants to make an end to the large flows of refugees to Europe. According to Member of Dutch parliament Malik Azmani, it “cannot be prevented that also terrorists find their way to Europe”. He stated that principally he only wants to offer asylum to European refugees. Azmani:”By creating sufficient safe refuges in the region itself, we make requests for asylum within Europe superfluous”.
MP Azmani stated that he does not want to watch helplessly how people drown in the Mediterranean Sea. On top of that, he thinks that the influx of refugees leads to a serious straining within the Dutch society.
How can you explain to an ostrich, that the bad things it does not want to see, will happen after all; even when it does not look, but puts its head in the sand instead?!
Either MP Malik Azmani is hopelessly naive or this was the ultimate N.I.M.B.Y. statement (i.e. ‘not in my backyard’) from a vicious politician: someone who hopes to please the right wing PVV voters and the ultra conservatives within his own party with an impossible promise, that he naturally won’t be able to keep.
In both cases, he doesn’t deserve my tax payments… at all.
First, the region around Syria already absorbs millions and millions of Syrian refugees: over 95% of them. On top of that, the biggest numbers of refugees that reach Europe have been absorbed by the European countries around the Mediterranean Sea, while others go to the United Kingdom, France or Germany. In comparison with the countries around Syria, the numbers of Syrian refugees in The Netherlands are truly pathetic. I don’t have any reason whatsoever to think that The Netherlands absorbs many more African refugees than for instance Greece, Spain or Italy.
Second, there are half a dozen European and international laws that prohibit the European Union to further close its borders for refugees. Nobody in their right state of mind will ever think that these laws will drastically change for the worse, from the point of view of refugees. “Fortress Europe” is already extremely hard to reach for refugees and the few lucky ones that reach European shores unharmed, cannot be sent back just like that.
And last but not least, even if the European shores would be guarded like a sheer vault, this would not stop thousands of brave and desperate men and women from taking their chances and run the gauntlet anyway. The situation in their home country is often so bad, that they rather die on their way to a better future than remaining in their current situation.
Without a doubt, this VVD politician knows this ugly truth, but he rather rejects it mentally, than having to face the music. Suffice it to say, that this plan was slaughtered by social-democrat coalition partner PvdA AND the full opposition, except of course for… the PVV.
Yet, my hope, that this would be the ultimate in bad VVD judgment for this week, was blown to smithereens today by VVD’s chief whip (i.e. leader of the largest fraction in parliament) Halbe Zijlstra.
In a “forthright” interview, Zijlstra admitted that The Netherlands should try to get along better with the remaining dictators in Europe. De Volkskrant:
The VVD is aiming for a change in direction for the Dutch foreign policy. In the future, The Netherlands should not visit the dictators at the edges of Europe with its finger raised in disapproval.
The rushed overthrowing of ‘stabile regimes’ of suppressors leads to chaos and – in the process – to an enhanced influx of refugees in Europe, according to Halbe Zijlstra. “When there is a stable, albeit dictatorial regime in a certain country, we should comfort it and try to gradually improve the situation for the inhabitants of that country. We should stop raising our finger at those leaders in disapproval”.
Through the voice of Halbe Zijlstra, the liberals are settling for a ‘realistical foreign policy’, which adds to a stable southern frontier for Europe.”I don’t state that we should have left Moammar-al-Khadaffi in power. Yet, at the time we thought this plan for regime change through insufficiently, just like in Iraq, when we invaded that country”. When the current instability in the Middle East and Africa perseveres, there will be a steady flow of refugees coming our way. One should choose the way of graduality. Away from the revolution”.
The VVD doesn’t want to keep dictators in power, according to Zijlstra, but The Netherlands has to cooperate with the suppressors: “Instead of us saying: ‘You are not acting according to our standards, so we despise you’, we have to look for cooperation with the regime, as this is in our own safety interest. Also, we have to push for slow change”.
There are parts of this statement by Halbe Zijlstra, which undoubtedly make sense.
Of course, the situation in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and last but not least Syria went totally out of hand, after military interventions and/or political and military sponsorship by the Western allies took place in these countries, in favour of all kinds of unreliable and violent factions, with their own hidden agendas.
These unintented consequences happened as a result of the gung ho desire for regime change and a totally naive view upon the political, economic and religious snakepits in these countries, which both acted as a handful of mints in a bottle of cola.
“Look before you leap” is really one of the wisest proverbs there is, as it could prevent countries from making deadly mistakes.
Nevertheless, this statement by Halbe Zijlstra spreads an intolerable stench of NIMBY-ism, cowardness and disdain for the basic human right of ‘being able to lead one’s life in safety, peace, good health and relative prosperity’.
Giving in to such dictators and tyrants in Africa, the Middle East or Eastern Europe is like giving in to the mob. While doing it, something goes broken inside of you and the harder you try to ignore that, the more broken it gets.
And would it solely be for the purpose of saving the lives of the people in these countries, I would yet understand it. But no, this plan by Halbe Zijlstra is for the sole purpose of receiving less refugees on our shores. I truly despise that!
And to make things worse for Halbe Zijlstra: only few tyrants or dictators have ever been vulnerable for soft power, coming from their trade partners. The vast majority of them has not. That is why they are so successful as dictator in the first place.
You can deal with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, but he will never change his tune for you, as this would show weakness on his behalf. And neither will Bashar al-Assad of Syriah, Vladimir Putin, Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus), marshall Fateh el-Sisi of Egypt, ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran or the whole regime in Saudi Arabia.
You can see such dictators as the cork on a bottle of champagne, which prevents massive bloodsheds and civil wars from happening. Probably you are right! Still, there is a very thin line between patience and sensible pragmatism while being in delicate situations and the sheer cowardness of NIMBY-ism and dealing with the mob, when that is a prosperous operation on your behalf.
In my humble opinion, the VVD crossed this line twice, last week.