New Dutch party seeks to root out racism
THE HAGUE: The Dutch have long had a reputation for being tolerant, open and laid-back. But the leader of the country’s newest political party, Sylvana Simons, believes if you scratch the surface, you’ll expose deep-seated racism.
After being bombarded with death threats and hate mail for calling out a TV show guest for a racist remark, the well-known former TV presenter decided the country needed a new kind of political tone and message — one of inclusiveness and equality.
In a little over three months since its launch in December, she had garnered enough support to field 20 candidates in today’s elections, with her new party — Artikel 1.
The party is named after the first article of the Dutch constitution which states: “that all persons in The Netherlands shall be treated equally” and that “there shall be no discrimination based on race, religion, and sexual orientation”.
“We feel the First Article of our Constitution is under pressure. It’s in danger and it needs to be defended and rightfully executed,” Simons said.
Leaving behind a two-decade successful TV and radio career was a tough decision, she acknowledged, and particularly to enter the harsh, unforgiving battleground of politics.
“I just couldn’t deny any longer that we have structural and institutional problems with inequality regarding male-female issues, black and white issues, immigration issues. I just couldn’t let it go any more.”
She was surprised by the intensity of the backlash once she started questioning some of the country’s most cherished traditions, such as a Christmas blackface character.
For the Dutch, Black Pete is a jolly person who accompanies Saint Nicolas to hand out sweets to the children. But foreigners are often surprised to see dozens of Black Petes, men and women, walking the streets in early December, faces blacked up, bright red lips, black curly wigs and garish, gaudy clothing.
Artikel 1 wants to abolish Black Pete and establish July 1 as a day to mark the abolition of Dutch involvement with the slave trade.
It also wants people not to have to state their gender when they register with the authorities.
But Simons came under virulent attack on social media — images of her face superimposed on that of a slave being lynched, or as the butt of a racist song.
Prosecutors are investigating whether to bring charges.
The Netherlands has long been a multicultural society.
Some 3.6 million people out of a population of 17 million are counted officially as having at least one parent born outside The Netherlands. Among them, just over two million are classified as nonWesterners — primarily coming from Turkey, Morocco and Suriname.
Amid Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War 2, farright anti-Islam member of parliament Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) have seen his popularity rise. He could now land as the second-largest party in Parliament.
Polls suggest Simon’s fledgling party could win at least one seat. The youngest of the party’s 20 candidates is 18, the oldest is 82.
The top three candidates are women, including Simons. They have a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and an atheist in their ranks and 60 per cent of the candidates are from the LGBT community.
“We think emancipation starts with representation, so it was very important to us that our list reflected society,” Simons said, adding “what brings us together is a different way of looking at people, looking at society.”
“For us one seat is a big, big win.”
People taking part in an anti-racism demonstration in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Sunday.