Dutch voters go to the polls next week after a loud and divisive campaign that focused on immigration, the first of a series of European elections this year that could propel populist forces into power. Geert Wilders, the virulently antiimmigrant leader of the Netherlands’ Party of Freedom, or P.V.V., has led the charge on the immigration debate, drawing in parties on the mainstream right.
Ahead of the vote, we asked Dutch readers to tell us how immigration has affected their lives and shaped their political beliefs. Over 2,300 people from across the Netherlands responded, reflecting a wide spectrum of backgrounds and political views. There were colorful examples of a welcoming society, expressions of frustration and fear, and passionate pleas for and against migration. Many others said they were frazzled and disillusioned by the political debate.
‘A Broader View of the World’ Khalid Nabil, 28, is a translator who lives in the northern town of Heerhugowaard. He is a thirdgeneration descendant of immigrants in the 1960s. My hope is that one day immigrants are as welcome as they were in the ’60s, ’70s when they were needed. And that the problems, which I am not ignoring, are not looked upon with an eye of fear and segregation, but with sincere interest in the cause of the issues. My concerns are that the once so tolerant Netherlands will turn into a frightened rightwing country that is beyond recognition.
Goda Choi, 37, is an internist and hematologist in Haarlem, originally from Seoul, South Korea.
As a Korean immigrant, I grew up in the Netherlands in the 1980s. I went to a multiethnic elementary school with children from all backgrounds, including Suriname, the Antilles, Turkey and Morocco. We all spoke Dutch, cheered for the national football team winning the European Championship in 1988, and at school we were allowed to share anything that made our culture special. We celebrated Easter and Christmas, but always with delicious treats from all over the world. One threat did make me anxious as a child: I was kept in a slight fear that all immigrants would be deported if the farright political party Centrum Democraten would gain control of government.
Wietske de Jong, 35, is a professor of theology who lives in Rijswijk. She said
she had experienced hostility online when speaking positively about hosting
refugees and welcoming immigrants.
I’m a white Dutch woman and I married a Dutch man of Turkish descent. When I tell people about him, they often act surprised and ask me how his family responded. The assumption is that Dutch people are tolerant, but that Turkish or Muslim people are not. I have never experienced suspicion from my familyinlaw. Ironically, the suspicion and the prejudice I do encounter are expressed by white Dutch people.
Inge van Leipsig, 41, is a social worker in Rotterdam. She said that immigration had given her “a broader view of the world.”
I can’t picture my life without Lebanese cuisine, raselhanout, tzatziki, pho or banh mi. It is a great thing to be able to walk out the door and find Turkish, Moroccan and Indian shops around the corner. Immigration has given me the opportunity to learn more about other cultures and religions, and I have enjoyed that a lot.
Seeing Virtue on the Right
Stefan Schenk, 25, is a student who lives in Andijk
It’s not immigration, it’s an invasion. If it’s not stopped, violence will take over
peaceful democratic solutions. I swung from left to right. Geert Wilders will be the
only viable candidate.
Henk Biesheuvel, 47, from Vierpolders, works in maritime shipping. He said he feared an “Islamic wave” taking over the country
We’ve welcomed immigrants since the 1950s or so. They did the jobs that we refused to do. That was the first generation, and I think we are now at the fourth generation. They gave hardly any problems. What does pose a big problem is the forced immigration, laid upon us by the E.U., of refugees. It causes turmoil and uncertainty and we can’t seem to find a 100 percent proven method to filter out the bad guys and to make sure that only the worst cases (those who need our support the most) are allowed to stay with us.
Aldo de Beunje, 45, works in information technology in Tilburg. He wants to welcome refugees but believes that some groups are more criminal than others, and that those taking advantage of the system should be sent back.
Some Muslim people have no respect for our values (towards women, gay people, abortion, etc.). This is something we have fought for over the years. If you come to the Netherlands, you accept this. Or leave. We like to hang on to our values. Also, crime needs to be addressed. I would never have thought that I would seriously consider voting for Wilders. But I am.
Thijs de Boer, 22, is a student in The Hague. He said that living in a majorityimmigrant neighborhood had made him more tolerant toward immigration
I shamefully have to admit that when I lived in a village I liked P.V.V.’s thoughts and ideals, while I never came in contact with immigrants. Some of my friends back there like the P.V.V., and it’s hard to relate to them. All I can say is just talk to people before you create a negative opinion about them. It helped me a lot!
Lian Priemus, 51, is a television director in Amsterdam. She spent most of last year running a small refugee shelter. Some of the refugees, she said, had become real friends. But she remained worried about their integration.
In my opinion, we — as a free, democratic society — can handle all this, but it takes much more time and effort than we and our governments realize. And maybe more than some of us want to admit. But I believe denying the problems and doubts is the wrong solution. If we do so, we push people with concerns away from us and push them to the far right.
Renée BlankenVerstraten, 66, is a retired bank employee in Rotterdam.
My concerns are that terrorists travel along with people who are victims of the war. These victims are of course most welcome here. If the immigrants are willing to assimilate, our society might become more interesting. One can always learn from other people’s customs, culture, kitchen and religion.
‘I Feel Misrepresented’
Koen Verschoor, 33, is a market researcher who lives in Amsterdam. He said that the tone of the debate about immigration had the most impact on his community, not immigration itself.
I feel misrepresented by the political system that has turned into a popularity contest when discussing sensitive and highly complex issues such as immigration. Immigration itself has not changed my sense of Dutch identity, but the public debate and direction in which we are headed certainly has made me feel less proud of my country.
‘The New Scapegoat of Politics’
Jasper Stel, 29, lives in Groningen and works as a financial adviser. He said that the economy and climate issues played a larger part in his political choices than immigration. The response below is translated from the Dutch
Everything that’s not going well in our (very prosperous) society is blamed on immigration, and indirectly on the E.U. as well. When I look around me, I don’t see any changes compared to a few years back. And that while immigration increased and emigration decreased, year after year. This may not be the sensational story you are looking for. But believe me when I say that the majority of Dutch people are not troubled by immigrants. The only thing that changed is that they’ve become the “new” scapegoat of politics.
Eva Bezem, 30, spent her childhood in Flanders, which she described as rightwing and conservative. Today she is an immigration lawyer in Amsterdam.
I help women who are victims of domestic violence, often of Moroccan nationality, and who are dependent on their husband for their Dutch residence rights. They have been kept in their Dutch houses for years without learning anything of the culture or language. Many of them are my age, and they cannot wait to start studying Dutch, and have their own life. They will integrate successfully after deciding to start on their own.
When I go back to the south of the Netherlands or Flanders, I do not have the impression that people consider my work a positive influence on society —moreover, they will more likely bring up the whole discussion on fear for terrorists and/or criminals. However, when I explain an individual case of a family of migrants and what they have been through, people will understand and sympathize. It seems more the fear of the unknown.