In the light of the art cuts and the rise of ultra-neoconservative ideas by the Dutch government, Ann Demeester tries to assess the country that we are living in right now. And asks: can a revolution happen in reverse?
A number of weeks ago, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey announced that he is concerned about the support for ‘radicalization’ being seen in Dutch politics. Erdogan’s warning might seem absurd in the light of a general concern about the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Turkey, but his claim is indirectly supported by a plethora of similar concerns voiced within the EU and the UN. Euro-Commissioners Malmström, Redding and Andor – responsible for Home Affairs, Justice, Fundamental Rights, Citizenship, Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion – have warned the Netherlands repeatedly that its new immigration laws foster discrimination and transgress European law. The UN has announced that it is greatly concerned about the changes in the Netherlands’ international policy. Achim Steiner, the head of the UN’s environmental program, says that the Netherlands is withdrawing from the international arena.
Nevertheless, the Dutch cabinet – a minority government of liberals and Christian Democrats supported by the anti-Islam PVV Party of Geert Wilders – is intent on continuing something that constitutes an ‘isolationist’ policy. Referencing a watered-down version of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, Prime Minister Rutte continuously and insidiously refers to ‘strengthening the responsibility and resilience of citizens’ and ‘letting the market take its natural course’. The Netherlands, which has for the past decades been perceived as one of the world’s most progressive social democracies after the nations in the Scandinavian region, is rapidly allowing the civil rights and social infrastructure upon which it had once prided itself to erode, and even be eliminated.
Squatting has become illegal. The Christian party, SGP, which does not allow women on its party list as electable politicians, is the official coalition partner of the government in the Upper House. Rules are being introduced to expel Polish EU citizens after they have been unemployed for three months and to refuse work permits to Romanians and Bulgarians. A proposed law that would forbid non-Dutch citizens to buy marijuana in coffee shops is under discussion and the Dutch parliament is debating a new regulation that would render Kosher and Halal slaughtering illegal. In addition to announcing major cuts in social and health care as well as education and science, the government announced humongous cuts in the budgets for art and culture that will take immediate effect in 2013. Art critic Sven Lütticken describes this policy as ‘scorched earth politics’; collectors talk about a new wave of ‘iconoclasm’. The comparison is striking and appropriate. The field of the ‘visual arts’ is being crippled, with fatal consequences for audiences on both the national and international levels and a potential ‘brain drain’ as one of the most obvious results.
It is difficult to assess the country we, the inhabitants of the Netherlands, are living in right now. Could it be comparable to W.H. Auden’s ‘this country of ours where nobody is well’? Can a revolution happen in reverse? Is there such thing as a retrograde revolution? The Dutch Autumn – precursor to a European Winter – in contrast to the Arab Spring? This might be just what is happening. In the past decade we – like the majority of countries in the Northern hemisphere – have witnessed the slow and steady rise of ultra-neo-conservative ideas. Since August of 2010, this steady advancement has turned into a ground swell as a result of the 'Danification of the Dutch government’. The anti-progressive ideas that until now had existed on the fringe, in the margins, as a subcutaneous movement or even rumours that were spread and magnified by the mainstream media are now at centre stage and being transformed from ideas into actions – actions that cause a sharp divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Rudyard Kipling would generally be thought of as a racist, or at least as a British person who advocated imperialism. His writing, however, is not just ‘chaps in pith helmets keeping the wogs at bay on the Northwest Frontier’, as the quote below demonstrates:
All good people agree
And all good people say
That all nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of just over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
For now, we do not really know how to respond to this fostering of the rift between ‘We’ and ‘They’. We venerate the ‘Provo revolts’ of the sixties and have set up a ‘Museum of Resistance’ but remain paralysed and pacified in the light of current developments. We have not yet been able to devise strategies of ‘efficient resistance’, to reinvent an alternative form of ‘solidarity’. These terms sound bombastic and inappropriate, for perhaps we had no immediate need to think about them in the past decades. We have just been living in isolated sectors, with a minimum of contact between societal domains that have a shared concern for the preservation of social democracy as we know it – domains such as health care, science, education and culture. In the past 40 years, politics has been the realm of the factual and the rational, while the arts have been the domain of the speculative and the irrational. Now the roles have been reversed. We should get ready for that future; a future in which ‘all nice people, like Us’ should form an alliance with ‘They’.
Ann Demeester is director of De Appel, Amsterdam
This article is featured in Metropolis M nr. 4 2011 and part of the 'protest' segment, where representatives of the Dutch and international art world to give their response to the budget cuts for the arts passed by the Dutch government.