By Robin R. Chün
Racism and intolerance have increased in the United Kingdom after the Brexit referendum, a report by the UN shows. The Netherlands is experiencing a similar development. Have racism and open intolerance become more accepted in the political debate?
‘Nowadays it’s much easier to make racist and intolerant statements, and it happens more openly’, says Arjan Trommel, researcher and lecturer of public administration at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. He has seen an increase in intolerant statements in the political debate in the Netherlands. ‘There is a big group of people that either accept racist statements or just simply let them pass by’, says Trommel.
In the 1980s, when the Centre-Democrats (CD) were on the rise, their frontman Hans Janmaat was convicted on several occasions for discriminatory statements. These convictions were based on statements such as: ‘full is full’, ‘the Netherlands is for the Dutch’, and ‘Our own people first’.
Trommel believes today’s politicians would not be prosecuted for similar statements to Janmaat’s, claiming that ‘when you compare him with Geert Wilders, frontman for Party for Freedom, Janmaat was relatively mild.’ Fortunately, there are still groups that fiercely reject intolerant statements. ‘These groups give a rather extreme counter-noise to the openly racist statements’, Trommer says. He also believes that this is a major contributor to the political polarisation in society.
‘When you don’t belong to the ‘right’ party, people curse and yell at you’, says Diny Beverwijk, former municipal council member for Democrats 66 in Eemnes. Beverwijk has seen a hardening of political debate and acceptance of hate speech in recent years. ‘Mention Black Pete once, and people lose their minds,’ she says. ‘State visits by foreign leaders are less protected than Sinterklaas’ arrival’.
Beverwijk thinks the age of the internet has been a huge influence on the rise of intolerant speech. ‘Social media allows people to say whatever they want without consequences’, she says, adding ‘organisations do not remove racist and intolerant comments on their articles and videos. They do this under the disguise of freedom of speech’.
However, aggression does not stay on the internet. She remembers how the campaign team in Zaandam once felt so unsafe because of intolerance and aggression, that they went back to their bus and left. She thinks Geert Wilders has exacerbated racist behaviour. ‘Supporters of the Party for Freedom are the worst with their intolerance, they are very vocal about supporting this particular party and they try to make a point by provoking. In Beverwijk’s view, supporters of the Party for Freedom seem to think freedom of speech only applies to them.
So have racism and intolerance become okay now? It is not sure if intolerant thought is on the rise or people have just found a platform for intolerant speech. There is, however, a heavier presence of racist and intolerant speech compared to the 1980s. Back then, Janmaat got convicted for discrimination. Recently, Wilders got off the hook for similar statements. One thing is sure: the political debate has intensified over the years.