This multicultural melting pot has faced political crises. In Holland, migrants havecreated their own parties, rebuﬃng left-wing courting.
- Monday, 30 April 2018
The end of multiculturalism in the Netherlands, praised in the 1980s and ‘’90s as a model of religious cohabitation, took place at a precise time and place: in Hilversum, a small town on the outskirts of Amsterdam, on 16 May 2002 at 18:05 pm when bullets left populist leader Pim Fortuyn lying on the tarmac. They killed the man and by so doing smashed the Dutch paragon of pragmatism and tolerance. But there’s another date, perhaps less known, that marked the start of Dutch post-multiculturalism: 13 November 2014, two members of the Labour Party (the PVDA) were banished from the group. Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk were the Social Democrats’ link to the very inﬂuential and highly organised Dutch Turkish community, but a controversial study which claimed that 90% of Dutch Turks were to some extent partial to IS was embraced by the party and used to justify the divorce.
The two of them left and soon after founded the ﬁrst Dutch multiethnic party, Denk. In March 2017, it became the ﬁrst in Europe to be able to boast parliamentary representation. Ozturk and Kuzu, both born in Turkey, were joined in the Tweede Kamer (the lower house in parliament) by Farid Karzan, born in Morocco. With just three members of parliament, Denk has caused mayhem. All political parties immediately marginalised the migranten partij (“the immigrant’s’ party”). And the press was just as ﬁerce: the Telegraaf, the country’s best-selling daily newspaper, actually launched a campaign against Denk. According to the well-known political commentator Wouter-Dewinther, the party’s presence in parliament is proof that integration has failed, and its leader Tunahan Kuzu and sidekick Ozturk are essentially Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Trojan horses in Holland.
“The appearance of Denk is certainly not a disaster. It is instead a sign of emancipation”, argued Floris Vermeulen, lecturer at Amsterdam University and an expert on minority parties. “For the ﬁrst time, a sizeable amount of the electorate that has never been included in the democratic process is now becoming politically aware”. Vermeulen, who has been studying how minorities vote since the 1990s, saw a radical change take place in 2010: “Years of anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant propaganda had taken their toll, and traditional parties, even on the left, pulled back on tolerance in an attempt to recover the Dutch vote”. The three seats grabbed by the so-called Turkish party as they branch out into large cities could, however, be the most they can hope for. “They are probably close to their peak”, Floris explained. “In the last elections, only 50% of the Turkish community, mostly conservatives and Erdogan sympathisers, voted for Denk. And some internal wrangling is already taking place”. The rifts in the motherland between pro-Erdogan factions, Kurds, Gulen supports and the lay communities are mirrored in a small-scale version in the Netherlands. And in the long run, the war imported from afar could weigh the Turkish party down.
But Denk is not the ﬁrst immigrant and second-generation party. On this front, The Hague is the real melting pot. Two parties inspired by Islam have been represented on the city council since 2010, the Partij van Eenheid (Unity Party) and Islam Democraten (Islamic Democrats), voted primarily by the popular districts of Schilderswijk and Transvaal, areas where the immigrant population accounts for 90% of residents. The Dutch press has always referred to Schilderswijk as a “ghetto”, an example of failed integration. For a long time, it has been believed to harbour active IS cells. But in reality, the Islamic centres, Turkish cafes and Moroccan pastry shops that line the crowded Hobemastraat are part of a microcosm that is only a few hundred yards from the palaces of Dutch power and light years from the majoritarian Dutch culture.
Fatima Faid was born in Schilderswijk to an Algerian father and Portuguese mother. For the last ten years, she has been on the city council in The Hague, ﬁghting against racial proﬁling and the marginalisation of non-natives. “Up to now, the minorities have been expecting the white population to let them in, but now they want to make their own destiny”. She is active in Bij1, a very diﬀerent party to Denk. It focuses on the ‘decolonisation’ of Holland and gender diﬀerences. Its electoral pool centres on the black communities, especially from Holland’s former colonies. Many people can’t understand what’s happening with traditional parties such as GroenLinks that promote diversity. “The Socialists, Social Democrats and Greens have all had opportunities to woo the minorities, but they have failed”, explained Fatima, who was elected with a local movement but is working for Bij1 on the national level. “We are trying to occupy the political space that we’ve been denied up to now”.
There are no black members in the current parliament, and the 3.8 million citizens of the Netherlands of non-Western origin are heavily under-represented. For mainstream Dutch society, the belief in integration is still the guiding light of cohabitation. But alongside the populists, even the minorities now believe that multiculturalism has been superseded: “We’re now opting for ‘super-diversity’, a much more advanced idea than multiculturalism”, The Hague councillor admitted. The fact that these political formations came into being as a response to Islamic concerns about rising Islamophobia in the country or so the black community could get Holland to ﬁnally discuss its colonial past raises a number of questions about the role of the traditional parties, especially on the left, which paraded the ﬂag of integration in the ‘60s. For Socialists and Labour, especially after their disappointing electoral showing, minorities are no longer a priority.
So Roustayar, a gender-ﬂuid activist and former Afghan refugee, is among the founders of BIJ1 in Amsterdam. Who runs the party? “The directive is mainly made up of Dutch people and minorities”, Roustayar explained, “but we are particularly concerned that gender diﬀerence be well represented”. LGBTIQ, gender-ﬂuid and feminist candidates from the black community are just a few of the many souls that the movement’s leader, Sylvana Simons, a former television presenter born in Paramaribo in Suriname, tries unite. “Getting all these voices to join and work together is not easy”, Roustayar admitted. “Of course, the demands of heterosexuals and transgendered people are not always the same”. But there are also other problems: the Caribbean, Suriname and African communities are conservative, and the popularity of multi-ethnic socialism is not always enough for people to stomach the strong focus on civil rights. In this sense, the feminist-multi-ethnic movement, which can’t tap into the kind of large associative (and ﬁnancial) network available to the Turkish community that provided infrastructure for Denk, relies almost exclusively on the fame of a few intellectuals and celebrities who support the movement and its volunteers. But according to Floris Vermeulen, the multi-ethnic party has the best chance of slipping out of the identity enclosure. “Bij1 has very interesting aspects even for the Dutch progressive electorate seeking an alternative to traditional movements. Thus its potential voting population is far greater than Denk’s”. The migrant parties may, in other words, provide the kind of boost that the European left, still smarting after being defeated by the rampant populists, has been seeking for some time now.