Sunday, 13 April 2008

Verdonk: Her misplaced pride

A sailor on dry land

A few weeks ago, I was on the tram from my neighbourhood to the Central Station when I saw a big poster set up at the Amsterdam Passenger’s Terminal showing a lady dressed up as a clean looking tar with hands on ship wheel.

The text on the poster was Trots op Netherland, which means “Proud of the Netherlands”, the lady in the poster was Mrs. Rita Verdonk who until last year was the Minister of Immigration and Integration till her actions brought down the government.

Lady Oddjob’s pride

In my blogs about her, I referred to her as Lady Oddjob and this was derived from the time when she decided to throw her hat in the ring to contest the leadership of her party (VVD) then, she persona and firebrand populism drew impressions of the Oddjob character in a James Bond film decapitating people by throwing his hat like a Frisbee.

She did not win that leadership contest but at the general election she polled more votes than the party leader and tried to unseat the leadership by sleight.

Eventually, she became unmanageable within the party hierarchy and she got kicked out of the party, hence this new incarnation of Lady Oddjob as leader of Trots op Netherland.

No leader at all

I have always been of the view that Mrs. Verdonk might be a good minister but she has no leadership or even decent team-working abilities in politics, she held everyone to ransom and in the process destroyed her party’s ability to continue in coalition after the elections because they lost seats.

Trots op Netherland is no new dimension in Dutch politics, it has nothing to do with being proud of the Netherlands, and rather, it would serve as a refuge for nostalgic, bitter, disgruntled and ignorant Dutch citizens who have been left behind by the changing times.

It would be the gathering place for the populist use of flawed statistics, poorly reasoned logic about problems with the Netherlands and a catchment for those who inadvertently seek greater instability for the country they want to be more prosperous.

We have seen the rise and fall of the Lijst Pim Fortuyn and the advent of Geert Wilder’s band of patriots called the Party for Freedom.

Bitter people

It needs the articulate verbiage of Senator Obama to give voice the real issue here which as the truth is best not spoken, he might have been expressing a frustration in not being able to break into the working class communities around America when he said, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them, and it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”.

Whether it was politically astute for Senator Obama to say that, say it in that way or try to rephrase it in some more digestible language, time will tell, but the is the truth as glaring as you will get it about populist parties and their causes.

The congregation of bitter people who cling to nostalgia, religion, guns, antipathy, anti-immigrant sentiment or some other so-called patriotic or nationalist cause in the name of taking back their country, which in fact, is taking their country back to the Dark Ages of economic stagnation, insularity and protectionism all of which would never yield good dividend in this global village we now inhabit.

Now, we live in a free country with the freedom to assemble for any cause we might be persuaded of, if the “bitter” people need a sort of representation in our political system, they are welcome to proselytise and they would find sympathisers, people who would lurk in the shadows providing substantial but clandestine support – democratic subversion, you might call it.

The proud are represented

I would contend that those who are really proud of the Netherlands have already spoken, they voted for the parties now in power who for all their foibles have more broad-based ideas for taking the Netherlands forward than saying anything that would panic people into running into the last refuge of the scoundrel – blind Patriotism. (Paraphrased from Samuel Johnson)

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