GeenPeil's leaflets urging to vote for the conduction of a referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in The Netherlands
For the past twenty-five years I have been working in Ukraine, mainly in the field of mental health care reform and the defense of human rights. During the same twenty-five years, as a Dutch citizen, I voted for the political party D’66, a democratic-liberal party that after many years of lobbying managed to introduce the referendum concept into Dutch political life as a means to decrease the gap between the people and political structures. How paradoxical it is, that it is this very referendum tool that has become a threat to the democracy we have enjoyed since World War Two.
The referendum that will take place in The Netherlands in just over two months has nothing to do with democracy. People are asked to vote against or in favor of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. Yet in fact it is like asking people to give their opinion on the Collected Works of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It is not even important whether you read it – it is such a complex document that can be interpreted by laypersons in so many ways that it does not make sense. Actually, people are asked to express whether they are afraid or not, and I can assure you that the majority of people are afraid: afraid of globalization, afraid of the ever increasing pace of the introduction of new technology and the fourth Industrial revolution, afraid of war in the Middle East and in Eastern Ukraine, afraid to lose the peaceful and cosy lives they have been living in the Western European welfare state.
People want to see strawberries on their Dutch table in December, but they do not want globalization. People want to be sure their yogurts are fresh and safe and with an appropriate expiration date, but they don’t want EU rules and regulations. People want to surf their smartphones 24 hours a day, but they don’t want modern technology to make jobs redundant. People want all the pleasures but not the other side of the coin. Quite normal, of course, but any intelligent person knows you can’t have one without the other. Yet the majority of those who will vote “no” on April 6 in Holland want only one, and not the other.
In fact, the referendum on April 6 has very little to do with Ukraine as such. Many people have hardly an idea where Ukraine is. I remember some ten-fifteen years ago Dutch television had a program on holiday destinations named “The Holiday Man”. At the beginning of each program the “holiday man” would show a map to Dutch holidaymakers and ask them to show where they were. Most had no idea, and were for instance pointing at Poland while vacationing on Gran Canaria. This is the side effect of easily traveling by plane: you sit in a closed compartment for three hours and suddenly you are on a beach only God knows where. So Ukraine itself is not the issue: “Ukraine” is an abstract notion that encompasses everything that is scary and threatens the cosy life I mentioned earlier.
What is much more important is the fact that democracy has been eroded in Europe to very dangerous proportions. This is partially due to the absence of real leaders with a vision, who are able to entice the populace and give them guidance. But it is also due to the fact that mainstream politics has not had an answer to the “political gangsters” that now dominate the political scene in Europe. While in Italy Berlusconi showed in all respects that as a politician you can be corrupt both financially and morally and still stay in power for years on end, France saw the rise of the Front National that whitewashed totally abject opinions in order to become “respectable” and The Netherlands got its own populist whose trademark is to push the boundaries of what is still acceptable to what is totally unacceptable and still get away with it. You can call Parliament a “fake Parliament”, male refugees “testosterone bombs” that need to be locked up in camps and shout “No more Maroccans” and somehow every time well-educated Dutchmen adjust their levels of acceptance and let him continue.
However, by now he has reached a level that reminds me painfully of the gentlemen Joseph Goebbels and Julius Streicher, who had the same type of stereotype slogans regarding Jews in the 1930s. A person who would have hibernated for twenty years and wake up now would not believe his eyes and ears, yet we have basically accepted his sick behavior because it is a step by step process, every time a little bit further. Just like Hitler in the 1920s and early 1930s; don’t forget, Germany was a democracy then, and Hitler came to power in a democratic fashion, not through a coup d’état like the Soviets!
At the same time, this horrible and dangerous development in Europe is also very much about Ukraine, yet in a different way than thought by those who organized the April 6 referendum. Ukraine is the front line, and Ukrainian are fighting our war. We, self-centered and pampered West-European people tend to forget this, but the poor Ukrainians with an average salary of 135 dollars per month are fighting the war we don’t even see. We are so judgmental; we discuss how corrupt Ukraine is, how slow change happens after Maidan, how horrible the oligarchs are. Yet we do not see what is happening on the ground, how the young generation keeps the spirit of Maidan alive, how things really do change. And I see change, day in day out, and it is amazing, exuberating; it keeps me on my feet.
We also forget that Holland after German occupation was not immediately a model democracy, that Mr. Rockefeller was no different than the oligarchs in Ukraine and that it is to a certain degree oligarch Kolomoiski who saved the country by financing the volunteer battalions that stopped the Russians – that kept Putin on bay on behalf of us, chubby well-fed Western Europeans. We judge, but we know nothing, we just pretend we know and in fact we don’t even care.
The truth is that Europe is a war zone. Putin and his criminal buddies have brought the war to Europe. They stimulate discontent through their social media trolls, they support the earlier mentioned right-wing politicians because they are a destabilizing factor, they do anything to bring Merkel down (even if only because she is a “people’s traitor” from East Germany); they create havoc in Syria to keep the refugees coming. Oh, and they kill any Russian that stands in their way even if they live in the United Kingdom. To them, this referendum is a blessing in disguise, because it is just another nice element in their war on the European Union. But the organizers of the referendum do not care – they want their strawberries, but not the rest. They are indignant, angrily reject claims that they are “paid” by Moscow, but they don’t even understand that they don’t need to be paid – they do it free-of-charge, they are just the new “useful idiots” in Moscow’s game.
This makes it very hard for the “yes-campaign”. How to make a population understand that this is not about Ukraine, but about something else? How to explain that by voting “no” they play right into the hands of a criminal state that is collapsing and as a result all the more dangerous? And I wonder, what would have happened if in the late 1930s Germans had a referendum vote on the Jews: how many would have voted against their expulsion?
Unfortunately, my political party D’66 created an instrument that is now fundamentally abused. My only hope is that it will open people’s eyes before it is too late. Democracy is in mortal danger, but it is not too late. We can still stop the process.