Ah, Netherlands aka Holland, a country known to many for Vincent Van Gogh, tulips, canals and of course Amsterdam. I have always categorized Netherlands with the Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway for its high levels of education and health, and low levels of crime and income inequality. Netherlands is actually numero five on the United Nations annual Human Development Report for 2015 (as a note Netherlands is actually not a Nordic country…). And from what I can see from google images (because I can barely afford lunch, let alone board a plane) incredibly beautiful landscape. But like all countries and places, Netherlands indeed has its bad along with its good. So, here are some things happening in Netherlands that maybe you didn’t know.
A Holland Trump?
Who would have guessed that the Netherlands was brewing its own Trump? Geert Wilder is his name and he is a far-right politician, leader and founder of Party for Freedom (PVV). Like Trump, Geert is a populist whose made some outlandish promises and spewed some very derogatory speeches. Of them, a particularly shocking speech that reminded me of something I would have heard in 1933 Germany:
In 2014, Wilders asked a room packed with supporters and activists if they wanted to have more or fewer Moroccans in the country. To the response of “fewer”, Wilders replied: “Well, we’ll take care of that.”
Geert was trialed and now faces a €5,000 fine for hate speech and discrimination. Netherlands is home to 400,000 Moroccans, making up just 2 per cent of the population. For a few years now, Netherlands has been becoming increasingly restrictive in immigration and integration policies and has distanced itself from multiculturalism. In the age of growing tensions, Geert has said that he wants to ban all Islamic symbols, mosques and the Koran from the country, as well as shut down borders with a blanket ban on migrants from Islamic countries.
It’s very troubling to see that this idea of “otherness” and the contrived “threat” that assumingly comes from integration is becoming more and more like a spreading cancer. Netherlands is set to have their own election coming up in March 2017 and it seems the PVV is leading in early polls. But as we’ve recently been aware, polls can certainly be misleading. The fact that Geert was on trial, and that many Dutch people are in strong opposition to Geert and his views is a hopeful sign. We’ll just have to keep an eye out for the Netherlands in the coming months.
One of the main reasons I wanted to discuss the Netherlands this week was because of recent news I heard about their prisons, or more accurately, their lack of prisons. The Netherlands has recently closed 19 prisons, and soon heading towards its 20th.
The reasons for these closures? According to the Guardian, “relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation over punishment, and an electronic ankle monitoring system that allows people to re-enter the workforce.” As a firm believer in rehabilitation and re-integration rather than harsh punishment, the news got me quite excited.
While some argue that these drops have resulted from budget cuts that closed police stations and low detection rates, I still see it as great progress. The Dutch has seen a 43 per cent drop in the prison population, and less that 10 per cent return to prison after their release. It’s a step toward realizing that criminals are not alien to us. They are human. We are human. And we need to starting solving these problems like human issues.
If you’re in need of something to listen to on your commute, I suggest taking a listen to the BBC Documentary podcast on Netherland’s closing prisons: Prisons for Rent in the Netherlands!