Beneath the surface of the liberal Netherlands

BBC Newsnight reporter Gabriel Gatehouse leaves for Amsterdam. The national elections are coming. Reports on ruling Dutch populism puzzle him.

Gatehouse grew up in Amsterdam in the seventies. His schoolbuilding, designed by the architect Herman Hertzberger, was the physical epitome of an idea of common space. The reporter meets with Hertzberger in the school. ‘Buildings have the power to build society’, the architect emphasizes. With this building Hertzberger aimed to foster a more egalitarian relationship between the teacher and the pupils. The Netherlands were synonymous with equality of all citizens, stood for tolerance.

Within a space of twelve minutes, Gatehouse takes the viewer by way of images and interviews along some of the landmarks of the Amsterdam history of (in)tolerance. Amsterdam was flourishing in the Dutch Golden Age thanks to the many immigrants at the time. Hallmark of the Dutch identity then was tolerance. This stands in sharp contrast to the betrayal and deportation of its own Amsterdam Jewish citizens in the nineteen fourties of last century. Many were killed in German concentration camps. Their names are written on the plaques along the banks of the canals.

A presently remaining sanctuary of squatters and artists recalls the images of the seventies and eighties. The days of nonconformism, riots and fierce debates on public-private issues. Today in 2017 the right wing populist Geert Wilders ranks high in the coming elections. ‘What happened to the liberal Netherlands?’, Gatehouse is asking himself. According to Sylvana Simons, founder of the Artikel 1 Party (its name referring to Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution on the principle of equal treatment and antidiscrimination), beneath the surface of tolerance a discontent with immigrants has been smouldering already for some time. The Islamophobia of Wilders isn’t so much different from antisemitism or racism. Gatehouse contemplates his findings and at the same time holds up a mirror to his spectators. The progressive politics and the ‘anything goes’ he remembers from the seventies have been ousted by conservatism and a focus on hard work. Does The Netherlands still care to be a place that is open-minded and inclusive?

BBC Newsnight; Gabriel Gatehouse reporting from the Netherlands.

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