How many Schilderswijken would you like to have?

It sometimes seems as if the Netherlands is always hit by disasters completely unexpectedly. The ministers’ standard response to a new crisis is denial and confusion. People are massively shocked. How could this happen?! How can nitrogen, inflation, housing shortages, etc suddenly overtake us and bring the country to the brink of collapse?

The initial consternation is usually followed by soothing words and appeals to “pull yourself together.” Mark Rutte in particular is an expert in this: It is very intense, but ‘we’ will do our best to get through this as a country. A fixed value here is that, above all, sacrifices must be made by the population, even if our politicians speak devoutly about solidarity. As Sigrid Kaag put it: ‘We’ must realize that ‘together’ we are getting a little poorer.

Politicians are not victims

This solidarity is empty because the privileged class in the Netherlands is much less affected by the problems than the average Dutchman. Or does anyone think that Sigrid Kaag will soon no longer be able to pay her energy bill? That she will have to give up one of her houses? Or that you will soon find her next to you in line at the food bank?

Additionally, suggesting the inevitability of all these problems is a smoke screen to cover up one’s own failure.

As much as ‘our’ leaders like to play up the victim role, these problems are not natural disasters. They do not come out of nowhere, they are not unpredictable. They are the result of a vision – yes, including that of our ‘visionless’ Prime Minister – based on short-sightedness, expediency and ignoring the interests of the majority of the population.

This also applies to the current immigration crisis.

Schilderswijk’s grief

Eight months ago my book about Schilderswijk was published. In The Hague Municipal Archives, I had researched the reasons for the enormous changes in the neighbourhood. How could a poor white working-class neighborhood turn into a multicultural ghetto within a generation?

In the archives I read about the misery experienced by old and new Schilderswijkers, and it was shocking enough. But even more shocking I found the common thread that ran through this story: the mentality of the privileged class that did not alleviate, and even caused, the misery.

Time and time again I encountered a natural contempt for the less fortunate. Time and again, the interests of the upper class outweighed those of the Schilderswijk. Time and time again, administrators, high-ranking officials, and other members of the privileged class have been shown to be indifferent to the consequences of their actions: consequences that ended up with people in trouble.

If the administrators and the official summit in The Hague would agree listened would have followed the protests of the Schilderswijkers… if they had taken the criticism of many councilors to heart… if they heart had for the citizens for whom they were responsible.
But no one has listened. The neighborhood was destroyed.

The Netherlands is breaking up

It is an illusion to think that a neighborhood like Schilderswijk is unique. This is simply what happens when the upper class does not take responsibility and prefers to pursue its own interests. And it doesn’t matter if these interests are very real (cheap labour!) or allegedly abandoned (none are illegal!): the point is that the ordinary Dutchman pays the bill for these wishes.

In my book I compare Dutch politicians to the pastor from the past who came to ask the overworked mother where the next child was:

‘Do these questioners ever believe that there are limits to the capacity of our society? Do they ever think about what ordinary people have already endured in the past decades? Do they ever wonder where the opposition to even more immigrants, even more money for the EU, even more understanding of criminal immigrants comes from?’

The stretch is removed from society, although much of the leading class – politicians and opinion makers – hardly seem to realize this. If the upper classes do not come to their senses, what the Schilderswijks experienced will only be a warning of what many more Dutch will experience.

Learning from history

Our politicians often act as if they are powerless, as if everything just happened to them. But that is self-deception or even deliberate deception. It is possible to take the helm and change course to break the stuck patterns. It is possible to learn from history and put these experiences into practice. As I write at the end of my book:

‘If we look at the history of Schilderswijk, we see too many patterns that are still fully present in our current society. It is ostrich politics to think that the same recipe will give a different result this time. The demolition of the old Schilderswijk was a tragedy, but at least let this disaster have some use. Let’s learn from the mistakes made there. So that the powerless will not again be crushed by the indifference of the powerful.’

Therefore, a friendly request to all politicians, administrators and opinion makers in the Netherlands:

Read this book. And think about it.

Maaike van Charante is the author of Schilderswijk’s grief. The book is for sale everywhere, such as HERE. Have fun reading!

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