“Racism: a pandemic for centuries” shouted the letters on one of the protest signs that were held up on Monday during the anti-racism demonstration on Dam Square in Amsterdam. Many protesters believe that racism does not take a corona break, nor do they. Wrong, judged others, rather wait until that other pandemic has ended.
As complex as the discussion about racism is, the political divisions on the Binnenhof looked as simple as Monday evening. Party leaders and politicians on the right turned against the unexpectedly massive crowd that gathered. The biggest target was mayor Femke Halsema, who decided not to call off the protest.
Monday evening, Halsema said the demonstration could only have ended by heavy-handedness. She wanted to prevent this especially during a demonstration against (deadly) police brutality, among other things.
Also read: Halsema has a lot to explain, according to friend and foe
“So many people so close together: you should absolutely not want that now”, wrote Member of Parliament Chris van Dam (CDA) afterwards on Twitter. “We would do all this together,” wrote VVD party chairman Klaas Dijkhoff, referring to the social sacrifices that the “intelligent lockdown” requires. PVV leader Geert Wilders called out to fire at Halsema.
The days prior to the demonstration on Dam Square they remained flat. Then it was the party leaders on the left who spoke out after the death of black citizen George Floyd in Minneapolis and violently repressed protests. “Shocking to see what’s happening in America,” tweeted Labor party leader Lodewijk Asscher after the death of Floyd. GroenLinks leader Jesse Clover: “Racist police brutality in the US stems from institutional racism.”
On Tuesday, Minister Ferd Grapperhaus (Justice and Security, CDA) was called to the House during the weekly Question Time. Nobody had seen the crowds on the Dam, everyone expressed concern, all parties wanted to prevent repetition. Also GroenLinks.
The House does debate about incidents surrounding racism, but not about the underlying problems
“This was just wrong,” said Klaver. “It went wrong. I have a lot of respect for the people who wanted to demonstrate for this important cause, but they should have kept their distance. ” VVD member Dijkhoff stated meanwhile, per tweet, he sympathizes with a digital campaign to draw attention to racism.
The underlying problem, the question whether there is structural racism in the Netherlands, was not discussed on Tuesday. Except for a momentary attempt by Farid Azarkan (Think). He wanted to know from Grapperhaus what he thought about “the concerns and fears these protesters were displaying.”
Grapperhaus said that in Dutch society “things still go wrong every now and then and people discriminate against each other”. That was the only time the demonstrators’ emotions were touched; the debate was all about Halsema, about corona fines.
Racism is political inconvenience
That was not just a matter of timing. Racism and discrimination are always a guarantee of discomfort at the Binnenhof. The subject always presents itself, the political discussion always beats to death.
The surcharge affair with the Tax and Customs Administration, of which especially people with dual nationality appear to be victims, the miserable living conditions of migrant workers, housing market discrimination, labor market discrimination, abuses at the police: the House of Representatives debates about the incidents, but not about the underlying problems or systematics.
When the black Excelsior footballer Mendes Moreira was called racist insults by supporters of FC Den Bosch in November, part of the Chamber reacted strongly. In February, football association KNVB presented an “attack plan”. The cabinet allocated 14 million euros for this. But there was no debate.
Also read: The discomfort in The Hague after football racism
Left-wing parties also usually do not commit themselves to overly powerful words and actions. When Amsterdam alderman Rutger Groot Wassink (GroenLinks) wanted to participate in a demonstration against racism in 2018, then as party leader, Klaver tried to stop him three times. That action would be too strong against the Forum for Democracy and PVV. Groot Wassink, like MP Sadet Karabulut (SP), went against the will of his own party.
Slowly, a change is visible at PvdA and GroenLinks. Last fall, after FC Den Bosch, Asscher said NRC that he also sees ‘institutional racism’ in the Netherlands. Monday evening Klaver wrote on Facebook: “We cannot pretend that we are the exception in the Netherlands. Then we don’t see the exclusion mechanisms that unfortunately can also be found in our institutions. ”
In this way they slowly move towards the racism debate that the demonstrators want to have on Dam Square. Not about incidents, but about building blocks that are ingrained in the system. That the turnout was so underestimated shows that administrators had no knowledge of how basic anti-racism is with some of the Dutch – and how high the emotions have been. The question is whether a debate about the reason for five thousand Dutch people to gather in a period without corona had been conducted substantially differently – or had it been conducted at all.
Also listen to the podcast we made earlier: About politics and racism
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from June 3, 2020