With Dutch referendum, Ukraine becomes a tool of populist politics

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2015/11/03 • Politics

Article by: Robert van Voren

400 000 Dutchmen were convinced to vote on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement that they know nothing about.

Political life in The Netherlands has been in crisis for the past fifteen years, yet the other day a new bottom seems to have been reached. A populist group of “concerned citizens” has collected sufficient signatures to enforce an advisory referendum on the Association Agreement between the European and Ukraine, to be held in March 2016. Dutch Parliament already ratified the Agreement earlier this year, yet the outcome of the referendum could force Parliament to revisit the issue. It is not obliged to follow the outcome of the voting, yet clearly the debates will be hot and populist politicians will have another hook on which to hang their simple solutions to complex problems. This time the hook is Ukraine, and its desire to join the European family.

Yet is the voting really about Ukraine?

Actually not. The majority of the voters in The Netherlands know little if anything about Ukraine, let alone about the agreement signed between the post-Maidan government and the European Union. Most have heard about the skirmishes in Kyiv between demonstrators and government forces, as a result of which “some people” died. But television sprays them night after night with horrific images of wars, bomb attacks and insurgencies, and the majority gave up long ago to make any sense of it. All they know is that in this globalizing world, the danger is coming closer day by day. Issues people never had to understand are suddenly on their doorstep, and citizens are asked to express their views – even if based on ignorance and without knowing the complexities on the ground.

In this case, the quest for a referendum originated from a strange combination of right-wing politicians and socialists, who happen to share the hesitations against the growing influence of Europe. The socialists see Europe as the powerhouse of world capitalism that will turn us all into little wheels in the engine of the rich and powerful. “Power to the people,” is their slogan, and in their view “Brussels” and “people” are two entities with often contrary goals and needs. More dangerous are the right-wing populists, the parties that thrive on people’s fears and anxieties and tell them that doomsday is around the corner if we allow the world to globalize further and allow foreigners to threaten the “true national culture” of the country. In France this group is personified by Le Pen, both father and daughter. And no matter how much daughter tries to take distance from her father, the wolf remains quite visible under her sheepskin. In The Netherlands the personification is the “Dutch Mozart”, parliamentarian , internationally well known because of his exuberant wave of white hair and his ever-radicalizing calls to halt the “Islamic threat” and the attack on “Judeo-Christian values”.

gert wolders

Geert Wilders, Dutch politician and founder and leader of the Party for Freedom, has faced charges of inciting hatred against Muslims

The radicalization of Geert Wilders is extremely worrisome, not only because of the fact that his discriminatory and degrading remarks are an insult to the very “Judeo-Christian values” that he claims to stand for, but also because Dutch politicians have allowed themselves to go down on the sliding slope of acceptance and seem to prefer to swallow his remarks out of fear of losing votes. This is a tendency that started back in 2002, when the radical and flamboyant Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated. His murder shocked the nation, but instead of saying that they condemned the killing but continued to disagree with Fortuyn’s views, almost all parties tumbled over each other to show that they too had a “little bit of Fortuyn” in their political program. The resulting hypocrisy deepened the distrust of people in the political parties, and the country has not recovered ever since. When two weeks ago, during a parliamentary session, Geert Wilders called the parliament – of which he himself is a member – a “fake parliament”, the Parliament Speaker remained mute and only several politicians said what should have been said: that Wilders has reached dangerous levels of pre-war fascistic politicking.

And thus without any honest explanation, more than 400,000 Dutchmen were convinced to vote for a referendum on the agreement with Ukraine. Why? Not because they are against Ukraine. In reality, they don’t care, and Ukraine’s war for national unity and a democratic and free country is for them a non-issue. They signed, because they are afraid about their own peaceful modest lives, because they believe the raving of Geert Wilders and the like, and because for them Syrian refugees, the upsurge of Islamic radicalism and the troubles in Ukraine are all in one and the same bag.

The saddest thing of all is, that for centuries The Netherlands was known as a safe haven for political and religious refugees, and that if one looks at the origins of the current “Dutch” probably not more than 10% are fully Dutch. The rest is a mixture of many races, and many cultures, and it is exactly that mix that has made the country so culturally rich. And one of those ethnic mixes is in fact the family Wilders itself, his wife being Hungarian – the country that in 1956 lost 350,000 of its citizens fleeing the Soviet occupation, many of whom settled in the hospitable country of The Netherlands.

Will the outcome of the referendum influence the position of Ukraine? In the short term probably not. The Dutch government will find a way around this, no doubt, but for populist politicians this will be again proof of the “non-democratic nature” of the country, and the neo-fascist rhetoric will go in higher gear.

However, the referendum not only sets a dangerous precedent, it is also proof of the fact that the aspirations of the Ukrainian people and of a growing number of European citizens are fundamentally contrary. While Ukraine wants to find its rightful place within the European family, a growing number of Europeans tend to share the rather fascist notion of “our own people first”. The globalization has resulted in a lot of anxiety and while people enjoy all the benefits of a globalized world – eating fresh fruits from Kenya or Peru in winter and lying on the beaches of Thailand instead of the North Sea – they seem to deny the fact that globalization also means that others have equal rights to these benefits.

Seventy-five years of communism has not only led to the greatest man-made disaster in the history of mankind, it has also led to a shocking ignorance in Western Europe, where for most of the people Europe used to end where communism began. Alas the extreme policies of the Kremlin confirm to them this old split between “us” and “them” and it will take a lot of time, energy and investments to make sure that Ukraine winds up on the right side of the divide.

A group of Ukrainians in The Netherlands has launched a site that will explain about the EU-Association agreement and dispel existing myths about it: http://www.oekraine-referendum.nl

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  • Calibra

    Utter bullshit, geenpeil, the group behind the referendum has no affiliation with any political party, those parties later jumped on the bandwagon after it became clear they where going to reach the required number.

    • Geralt von Riva

      the group supports wilders. such simple.

      • Calibra

        Again bullshit.

        • Geralt von Riva

          whatch who applauded you and you know who you support. such simple.

          • Calibra

            The geenpeil initiative is supported by Geert Wilders, not the other way around, that is a big difference with what you claim.
            Again, Geenpeil has no affiliations with a political party, none whatsoever, it is an entirely civil movement.

          • Geralt von Riva

            does it really matter in life, who was first. the hen or the egg? come on calibra. it’s realpolitics.

          • Calibra

            Yes it does matter in this case because it makes this article based on utter lies and thus it is bullshit, the writer tries to paint a picture where the PVV has started this initiative and thus it shall be ignored, well the PVV didn’t do that and the referendum is an honest attempt by civilians to stop these kind of EU deals being jammed down our throat.

          • Geralt von Riva

            i will try to paint another picture.

            “GeenPeil is een initiatief van het weblog GeenStijl, en de organisaties Burgercomité EU en het Forum voor Democratie. Het comité maakte vandaag bekend dat het veel meer handtekeningen heeft binnengehaald dan nodig is voor een referendum. De Kiesraad moet nog wel van minimaal 300.000 handtekeningen de geldigheid vaststellen.

            Wilders is niet de enige politicus die blij is met het resultaat van GeenPeil. SP-leider Emile Roemer ‏vindt het “mooi dat Nederland zich kan gaan uitspreken over het EU-verdrag!”. Net als de PVV stemde de SP tegen het verdrag.

            Tweede Kamerlid Michiel Servaes (PvdA) spreekt op Twitter van een “knappe prestatie”. Kees Verhoeven (D66) sluit zich daarbij aan. “Laat dat referendum maar komen!”, schrijft het Kamerlid.

            Vanuit het buitenland komen ook complimenten voor GeenPeil. Nigel Farage, de leider van de Britse eurosceptische partij UKIP zegt “Felicitaties voor de toegewijde democratische burgers die dit dappere initiatief hebben georganiseerd”.”

            http://nos.nl/artikel/2060008-wilders-gaat-nee-campagne-voeren-voor-referendum.html

            you will become some usefull iddiots

          • Calibra

            That is what you get when you constantly ignore the wishes of the electorate, at some point in time they will revolt, and you see it as useful idiots, i see it as taking back what is rightfully ours, the right to decide over with who we want to do business with (or not).

          • Eddy Verhaeghe

            Calibra, for once I couldn’t agree more. Although I’m fairly certain that you will not applaud my assertion that what happened on Kyiv’s Maidan ‘is what you get when you constantly ignore the wishes of the electorate, at some point in time they will revolt, and you see it as useful idiots, i see it as taking back what is rightfully ours, the right to decide over with who we want to do business with (or not).’

          • Eddy Verhaeghe

            Calibra,

            One only has to replace the ‘originated from’ in the Robert van Voren’s text ‘In this case, the quest for a referendum originated from…’ by : grew out of…

            Without the existing and growing dissatisfaction of the Dutch (and not only the Dutch) population with the EU and with globalization there never would have been the rise of Geert Wilders and his PVV (essentially a one man band, where Wilders rules supreme) and of Emile Roemer’s SP (a party where dissent is ruthlessly eliminated. Do you wonder that I dare to compare the politicking in that party – and not only in that party – with what happened in all communist parties?) and there never would have been the success of GeenStijl en GeenPeil.

            Geralt von Riva’s ‘does it really matter in life, who was first. the hen or the egg? come on calibra. it’s realpolitics.’ points that out very succinctly.

            van Voren points to the fact that part of the Dutch (and not only the Dutch) electorate in the process is distancing itself of the core European values and in this concrete case of the fight of Ukraine for those values.

            And don’t now start saying that I blindly defend the EU and its policies. I’m not. The € was a bridge too far (you of all people – Dutch and an ex-military – must know what I mean by that) that cost the EU dearly. The endless and democratically not legitimated expansion of the power of Brussels and its bureaucrats is also not to my liking.

            And with van Voren I fear that we might replace the current powers that be in Europe by a bunch of mafkezen, weirdos and nutcases like Wilders, Roemer, Corbyn and their likes. If we travel that road we’ll loose all our freedoms and of our European values very little will remain.

  • EUOA

    What has global trade and its benefits to do with it? It’s an ancient historical fact.

    But the fact that my ancient culture is supposed to accept floods of islamic refugees, not accepting our way of living, for which my ancestors have worked so hard to achieve, is nothing but an outrageous scandal. They don’t accept our ideas of equality and same rights for genders, they call me a disbeliever and hence I have no right to my land, Sweden, which is ludicrous since my beliefs are science based and I therefore eschew all mumbo jumbo.
    The small city where I live, which you probably never have heard, now has an extremely radical mosque spreading hatred among society; homosexuals should be stoned to death, sharia law is the goal for the entire country, women are of less value and shall not have access to the labour market, apostasy from islam is punished by death ( several citizens live with a constant fear for their lives because they have left this Stone Age sect) the Paris killings last year was a western conspiracy against their beliefs e t c. Their congregation is growing rapidly from a few tens to a thousand in a couple of years, and this is far from the only such group of dimwits in my region and country as a whole.
    I hardly believe that these are your ideas of what Swedish culture and society stands for, but it’s moving fast towards a scenario where not only the general swede but also our government is loosing it’s grip of society and what used to be our core values.

    Is this fear? No, we are shouting of mere rage because this is not what we want our countries to become. And the situation risks turning into something very nasty; civil war.

    By the way, I’ve been fighting on the barricades for Ukraine’s will and right to join EU, and don’t you underestimate the Dutch people’s understanding of what is going on in Ukraine and Europe. And for the sake of nature; stop buying food transported across the globe!

  • Captain VXR

    Geert Wilders is also a Polonophobic bigot – it’s pretty clear what part of his motivations for being against the agreement are.