New Dutch party seeks to root out racism

New Straits Times - - World -

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.

Syl­vana Si­mons

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