People in Europe are increasingly complaining that ‘politicians don’t listen to them anymore’. Protests against the powers-that-be are soaring and the tone of voice and actions of these protesters become more and more violent. The question is, however, who is to blame for that.
Do politicians indeed not listen enough to their grassroots? Or did politicians in the past just make the undesired impression that politics is a full-service restaurant in which everybody can order what he wants, while shouting in anger when he does not receive exactly what he ordered?!
The political and societal climate in countries like The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden is becoming more and more bleak. Protests against the soaring influx of refugees is mounting and these protests become more violent by the day.
People have been laying down pigs heads and/or pig blood at existing asylums for refugees in The Netherlands, while one existing refuge in Germany even narrowly escaped from a deadly attack with a hand grenade. In Sweden, protestors threatened to seriously harm refugees on the next encounter, after a refugee worker had been stabbed to death at a refuge.
Angela Merkel, who had stated the brave and vigorous ‘Wir schaffen das...’ (i.e. ‘we can do this’) a few months ago when it came to welcoming and accomodating the enormous influx of refugees from Syria and other countries in distress, is now cursed, burnt and ridiculized by the European media, a large part of the German population and a lot of politicians in Eastern Europe. And that for something that was principally a brave display of keeping one’s back straight in spite of the mounting resistance.
This process of cursing and burning Chancellor Angela Merkel was of course reinforced by the horrendous New Year’s events in Cologne, which by itself – just like the Swedish events a few days ago – was a proof that not all refugees are “cuddly toys without a dark side”. How can they be, as they are more or less normal people – but from a widely different culture – who went in many cases through a truly horrific war and now need to adjust to a different life in a new homeland with different mores and with still a lot of uncertainty to cope with. And that in countries that are polarizing at blistering speed.
This is absolutely not meant to talk their actions straight – I condemn such aggressive actions by refugees in the strongest way and think that all perpetrators should be punished appropriately – but things like that happen unfortunately and are by itself not a reason to dismiss all refugees. The trend emerging ever since to condemn all refugees for these Cologne events could unfortunately be expected, but was horrendous in its own right. And so are the Swedish violent threats.
And of course this all is “grist to the mill’ for all right-wing, populist parties, who abuse such events as in Cologne and Sweden for stigmatizing all refugees as possible rapers, murderers, crooks and villains.
Expelling refugees and inventing ridiculous plans to remove them is cool and keeping one's back straigth on behalf of the refugees is seriously uncool. Winners of the last half year: people like David Cameron and Geert Wilders. Loser of the last half year: undoubtedly Angela Merkel.
When cities and municipalities in The Netherlands want to organize a debate about the establishment of a new refuge within their boundaries, such debates are disturbed by increasingly violent protests from pressure group. At one of such debates, the ‘local population’ (i.e. real locals, but also ‘professional rioters’ coming from outside the village) had a very violent fight with the ME (i.e. the Dutch riot police), that could have ended with very serious injuries at both sides.
In order to protect a public ‘townhall’ about the establishment of a new refuge within the municipality’s boundaries from violent protests, the mayor of Luttelgeest – a small town in the Dutch Noord-Oostpolder region – decided to not only forbid such protests in advance with the help of the riot police, but even decided to expell journalists from the perimeter. The latter led to public outrage about such ‘governmental arrogance’ against the free press. Well, you know the drill.
In the same week, chief whip Diederik Samsom of Dutch labour party PvdA drafted an utterly ‘dead on arrival’ plan – together with Dutch PM Mark Rutte who was smart enough to name this particular plan “Plan Samsom” – to start a special “ferry service” between the Greek islands and Turkey, with the obligation to return boat refugees to Turkey, the minute that they arrive in Greece. And this in exchange for accepting a few hundred thousand extra refugees within the Europe Union and (perhaps) a shedload of extra money for Turkey.
Suffice it to say that both Turkey and the European Commission wondered what the hell Samsom and Rutte had been smoking, when they minted this ridiculous plan. Most astonishing fact was that Samsom and Rutte were actually astonished that their plan was shipwrecked within a day.
And so it happens that politicians act more and more as servants for their most radicalized grassroots, under pressure of the public opinion and the below-the-belt attacks of the right-wing populist parties all over Europe, which are gaining momentum by the day. Nevertheless, one of the most heard complaints these days is that “politicians are not listening to their grassroots anymore”.
People complain that politicians totally ignore the 'moral majority’s' reservations and reluctance against decisions made with respect to the European Union, Ukraine (as an example), (religious) minorities within the European countries and – now especially topical – the way to deal with refugees from outside the European Union.
And in spite of the fact that the political parties – virtually ALL political parties – have become much more populistic in their approach and in the way that they have dealt with the refugee problem (see Diederik Samsom’s plan as a blatant example), the complaint remains the same or even worsens in time and it is brought to the public’s attention in an increasingly violent way.
Personally, I don’t think that politicians are not listening enough to their grassroots.
I rather think that some voters have adopted the false idea that national politics in The Netherlands is “a full-service restaurant” for angry citizens: they can order what they want, while bluntly refusing everything that they not have ordered and what they order should be served immediately! On...the...double!
Politicians cannot be blamed for not listening enough to their grassroots, but they – especially the populist ones – can be blamed for giving their grassroots the idea that ‘their wish is the politicians’ command’. As in the aforementioned full-service restaurant...
Politics can’t be a full-service restaurant, as politicians must be there for all their countrymen and not only for the angriest ones with the biggest mouths and the biggest display of aggression.
Therefore in many situations politicians should have the spine to ignore the desires of their loud and aggressive ‘moral majorities’ and act as a defender of their vulnerable and/or more quiet grassroots. And act in the interest of their whole country, which inevitably should lie in a strong EU, instead of being a desolate island in a hostile stream.
In a time in which politicians only listen to the loudest voices in their country, the interests of the quieter voices will be violated in the most brutal way. That is an experience that we learned from a dark, European past.
Every four-odd years all Dutch elected politicians receive a mandate to act as they deem best in the interest of their country and all their citizens. They must use this mandate in their decisions and actions the best they can.
They should not bend and blow in the cutting winds of their most radical grassroots, as the price for such submissive behaviour will be extremely high.