Is the Netherlands really such an open society?
A reaction to votes against an EU referendum that promised free visas to Ukraine
By Colleen Loverde
The EU referendum regarding the partnership deal to remove trade barriers from the Ukraine on April 7 resulted in a low voter turnout in the Netherlands. Approximately two-thirds of the population neglected to represent themselves in the ballot. According to an April 7 BBC article, “Netherlands rejects EU-Ukraine partnership deal,” the 32.2 percent of all voters, 61.1 percent voted “no” and thus 19.7 percent of eligible Dutch voters voted no.
The vote against the deal reflects the presence of right wing ideology. However, it would be rash to conclude that 19.7 percent of a country’s population accurately represents the sentiment of all Dutch people. Therefore, the question, “Is the Netherlands really such an open society?” should not result in a simple yes or no answer.
An assessment determining whether a nation leans “left” or “right” is difficult. If the answer is a resounding yes or no, especially in the case where representative statistics and data are unavailable, then the assessor shirks the nuances of the spectrum of ideology.
This is not to negate the existence of the rise of the right wing ideology in Europe and in this case the Netherlands. The nationally syndicated public radio “The Diane Rehm Show” still need to get the date in here. on June 1 hosted a forum titled “The Rise Of Far Right Political Movements In The West” in which deputy director of the Eurasia Center of The Atlantic Council Alina Polyakova described the common thread among the right wing European parties: “What unites all these parties … if we had to paint with a broader stroke is that they’re all anti-EU parties. They’re highly skeptical of the European integration process, and they advocate for very strict immigration laws.”
Simply put, those who speak the “loudest” are heard, and voices that are “loud” seem that way because they are contrary to customary belief. Although a majority of the population may not agree with those views, the majority tends to either remain passive or their voices are stifled simply by the fact that saying what most people are already thinking is not captivating or “newsworthy.” An ideological stance becomes “newsworthy” because such a stance deters from the ideological norms of the majority.
The media increasingly broadcast the voices of the far right in addition to the far left. However, as in the cases of radical right wing voices, Geert Wilder of the Party for Freedom of the Netherlands as well as Donald Trump in the U.S. to provide assimilation for American readers, appear to be covered most in mainstream media. The keyword here is appear. Most journalists do their best to provide equal coverage for disparate voices; however, the voice that is controversial dominates the attention of viewers, listeners or readers. Additionally, some media outlets may fall prey to sacrificing a bit of journalistic integrity to pander to the entertainment desires of the audience rather than purely inform them. Either way, the spike in interest in the controversial voice occurs primarily because the voice may be the loudest and does not directly reflect the sentiments of the majority of the people who fail to actively provide an oppositional view.
In regards to the recent referendum, there is potential that had a larger percentage of the population cast their ballot, then the classically progressive Netherlands may have had a higher percentage of votes in favor of the deal. Of course, this is inconclusive, but there is reason to speculate that the majority of the population may not be heard simply because they are not really saying anything.
Some Amsterdam residents who voted in favor of the referendum explained their perspectives.
Danny Ribbink, a Dutch actor says, “I went for the referendum. I voted in favor of the referendum. I think that despite all the messy politics, we should maintain our forward thinking reputation and help out.”
Bas Hagelstein, 31, a bartender at Cafe Stevens in Amsterdam, relayed his perception of the referendum result and low voter turnout. “There is so much corruption in Ukraine. And now, I have seen even more since we found out about the Ukrainian leadership’s involvement with the Panama papers. All the facts are telling me that there are many reasons to vote “no” so that we are not dragged down by Ukraine’s corruption. And so, some people think that we should stay out because we have our own domestic problems to deal with.
“I ended up voting “yes” because I believe that we need to help and support each other even if it means spending a lot of our own money on somebody else,” he continued. “Doing nothing will not help in the long run. But the Dutch, including myself, are tired of hearing and arguing about the Ukraine debate, and so people are becoming indifferent to the situation because they are fed up with the debate not really going anywhere.”
Daniel Horninge, 34, a restaurant entrepreneur, had a slightly different take, and expressed his disenchantment with the Dutch government. “I voted in favor of the referendum because it is the right thing to do,” he said. “A lot of people are asking, ‘Ukraine is corrupt, so why should we help them?’ Well, their government is, but most people there have nothing to do with the government and they are in desperate need.
“Even though I voted, I don’t really believe in the system right now. I don’t think that voting in a particular way will change anything,” Horninge said. “Holland’s government is too bonded to their cubicles; they are not connected to the people. They have been ignoring the people. Holland is [expletive] corrupt. So I think that people do want to help Ukraine, but they’re frustrated because our government is not even addressing its own issues first.”
So there is evidence that even the minority who voted in favor of the EU referendum empathize with those who voted against it as well as those who did not vote at all. The votes of the three men arguably reveal an open-mindedness regarding Ukraine, while at the same time, they express varying degrees of disenchantment with Dutch government and politics.
Disenchantment seems to be the underlying theme among their sentiments. Disenchantment with a system also tends to correlate with an absence in voter turnout.
These men had just enough hope, however small, to vote despite some disenchantment. Therefore, the possibility exists that there are more Dutch citizens who may be in favor of the referendum but who decided not to bother voting out of frustration or loss of faith.