Though I’m not a great believer of „national characteristics”, a.k.a. stereotypes, e.g. that every Scotsman is miserly and every American is brash, but I surely had some positive prejudice towards Dutch people.
Whenever I met one, they seemed happy, cool and relaxed. Tended to have a good, maybe little on the sarcastic side, type of humor; looked at the world with a fair dose of pragmatism and an even larger dose of tolerance, let it be about religious or sexual affiliation. Laissez faire, laissez passer could have as well been invented by them. Their child-rearing methods, though often bordering neglect (at least compared to some other practices I’ve seen), somehow “produce” the happiest children in the world. They don’t fret about giving freedom to citizens, treating them as adults (think coffeeshops).
The last couple of months, maybe year though, as news popped up one after the other, that showed the dark(er) side of the country, I started to think whether it was indeed as rosy as it seemed on the surface and whether there was a point when the country went too far to close eyes on certain things.
It started probably when the (actual) Rutte-government (Rutte III, in fact) had to resign in January, as the country was rocked by a welfare fraud scandal. The story, for those who don’t remember, was country wide and involved many different authorities. Thousands of families were wrongly accused of child welfare fraud and forced to pay the money back. Most of those affected were from immigrant background, most were accused based on minor errors like some missing or inadequately filled paperwork. The tax office admitted that 11,000 people were subjected to extra scrutiny only because they had dual nationality.
I would refrain from labeling it as institutionalized and perpetuated discrimination against ethnic minorities, but it might seem so, as the story started in 2012, and nobody really lifted a finger until it became impossible to hide it any more. (And keeping in mind, that even though the government resigned, it was reelected in due course, so it risked basically nothing, while it actually avoided facing and probably losing a no-confidence vote.)
It was followed in April, when freshly elected MEP Sidney Smeets (D66) resigned, after it turned out that he had sexual relationship with several underage young men. So far 10 of them came forward with their stories, though he probably contacted many more on social media. According to online available information, he sent very explicit, but not too explicit messages to those young people, like in 2018 to then 17 year-old Quinten, to whom he wrote “I have to contain myself on Twitter obviously, but damn your pictures are so good” or “What I wanted to say, and I’m doing this via DM because it would look even creepier otherwise: you’re really hot”.
The act itself is inexcusable, but the fact that he can still practice as a lawyer is probably even more worrying. Even more questionable was the fact, that (at least according to available information) many within his own D66 party knew about his deeds, yet did nothing. And the party only started to investigate the allegations of inappropriate behavior when it became impossible to hide it any more (oh, wait, I should maybe refrain from repeating myself), as young men came forward one after the other.
Of course, rule of law dictates that he should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and it might happen that he acted within the boundaries of law (as he claims he did, and maybe he is right, given that before venturing into politics, he was a criminal lawyer defending, among others, sexual offenders, so should know those boundaries very well), but legality and morally acceptable things not necessarily form an intersecting set. Many of his victims claimed that they feared to come forward due to his social status, while they were the vulnerable members of the country’s LGBTQIA+ community.
September 2021 saw a large protest in Amsterdam, as thousands took to Dam Square and Westerpark to express their discontent with the current Dutch housing policy.
Just like those discriminated by tax authorities, the inhabitants of the Netherlands’ famed (or notorious) trailer parks, about 30,000 to 60,000; mostly Roma and Sinti people, could also tell long stories of how a marginalized group fell victim to institutionalized discrimination in a country where housing crisis is neither a new, nor a small-scale phenomenon. (Some estimate that as many as 300,000 homes are missing from the market.)
The policies regarding trailer parks are just one example that show, how, instead of finding a solution, the country enforced an “uitsterfbeleid” (extinction policy, officially ended in 2018) against those parks, artificially constructing a shortage in caravan sites, often labeling people living there as “criminal and maladjusted”, disguising an institutionalized discrimination (based on cultural preferences regarding a certain way of living) as a legally acceptable fight for crime-prevention. The problem is/was widespread, even the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights labeled those people as the most discriminated group in Europe.
Then came October and the Der Spiegel article, that gives a detailed account on how the liberal and “cool” Dutch approach to drugs and the subsequent action, or rather inaction of authorities led from dealing hashish on the streets to large scale drug smuggling and to organized gangs, not refraining from the harshest methods, including contract killings. The (lost) war against drugs was the result of what could be described “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”, but soon it led to allowing things to happen because the country voluntarily gave up its tools to control. (Like when the “rationalizing” of police led to the closure of smaller, local police stations. That was surely a gain fiscal wise, but the police lost contact with the people, had less and less knowledge on what was going on the streets.)
Being humans, nobody is perfect.
Yet, as cases of widespread and/or institutionalized discrimination pop up one after the other; as the border between legally and morally acceptable and unacceptable things seems more and more blurred, the question arises whether the country advertising itself as the most tolerant nation of all in Europe really has the moral high ground to criticize others? Or, it should do some serious self-analysis, as the ancient proverb says, “why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye”?