Xenophobic website ignites internet forums

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A website launched by the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) to collect citizens’ complaints about Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian nationals has unleashed a flurry of comments on the Web. The EURACTIV network reports.

The state of democracy in Europe in times of crisis, the responsibility of governments to counter populism and the role of EU institutions to preserve EU values was debated by EU citizens, often anonymous, on websites and social media in recent days.

The PVV website (see background) remains a hot topic especially in the countries concerned, while euractiv.com also gathered readers' opinions.

Many readers take the view that PVV leader Geert Wilders can no longer attract enough publicity for his traditional anti-Muslim statements, so he is looking for new groups to target.

"Shame on the Netherlands and on our Prime Minister Rutte, who is a coward and doesn't dare to say a word against this hate-mongering, afraid that his government may fall," Frank de Boer comments on one EURACTIV article. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has so far remained silent on the issue.

The PVV motivation

A Bulgarian reader nicknamed ‘Bozhidar2’ commented on an article by Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria, that Wilders has made a strong political career by attacking the Muslims, until he ‘made the mistake’ of criticising Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for wearing a head scarf on a recent visit to Oman.

"When he made the mistake of attacking the Queen, the support for PVV dropped dramatically. To save his party from marginalisation, Wilders suddenly thought of the immigrants from eastern Europe," Bozhidar2 writes.

The Dutch context

Several readers' comments in Bulgarian appear to come from people who know the Netherlands well. ‘Ivan Petrov’ argues under the same Dnevnik article that one has to understand the Dutch before blaming them for xenophobia.

The Dutch, he writes, are hugely dedicated to their family, work late and don't like to take unnecessary risk. As a result, they are very easily unsettled by ambitious newcomers to the labour market, he explains. But while the Dutch concerns over losing jobs to foreigners is understandable, the problem of Eastern European criminality should be tackled, he argues, or else it will be the bona fide immigrants who will be victimised.

Wrong answer to right question

Western commentators also say the PVV website should not eclipse problems that need to be addressed.

‘Don Latuske’ writes that he is "baffled" by some of the critical reactions. "If sensible research is carried out … it is no good hiding your head in the sand. You need to validate the [website] findings and, if true, come up with solutions to overcome the problems. It's a typically left-wing approach to say, 'We don't like the answer, it does not conform with our view of the world so it is wrong.' A bit like the Catholic Church and Galileo/Copernicus and anybody else who challenged certain 'orthodoxies'."

Comparison between extremes

Several readers, both from Bulgaria and Romania compare the Dutch far right with similar political forces in their own countries. Commenting on an article on the Romanian website Honews.com, ‘Xenofobul’ argues that apparently the Romanian news media are eager to cover in depth the PVV website, but are less enthusiastic in covering discrimination against minorities in Romania itself.

"How about the irredentist comings of Tudor, how about ‘Noua dreapta’?" the writer says, referring to Romanian nationalist leader Mare Corneliu Vadim Tudor and an ultra-nationalist organisation founded in 2000.

In the same key, ‘rosko1306’ writes that Wilders is "the Dutch Volen," referring to Volen Siderov, leader of the ultra-nationalist Bulgarian party Ataka in the Bulgarian Parliament. Siderov has often stood against the Roma and the Turkish minority.

"It's the same issue, but in the Netherlands, we are in the role of the Roma, that's why you feel offended! And when Volen comes and tells you 'the truth', you say – he is right. What's the difference? No difference!"

History remembered?

Several posts are dedicated to historic comparisons, which sometimes may appear simplistic. A Dnevnik reader nicknamed ‘dnk’ says that for the Dutch, the relationship between democracy and racism is very close. "Just remember the former South Africa – run by white fascists, mainly from the Netherlands and Germany, with a state form of apartheid and democratic elections."

Similarly, ‘SandraV’ writes under an article in the website DutchNews.nl that Prime Minister Rutte has forgotten the legacies of the past.

"We need a real leader for a change in this country, one that forces political parties to take consequences for their hateful actions once and for all. Many of us here in Breda remember the Brave Polish freeing Breda during World War II. Is this the thanks we give our allies and friends? Wilders, you have no shame!" the SandraV post says.

A Polish reader based in the Netherlands appears also to compare the present days with the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany.

"I live here since 6 years. I bought a house, I pay taxes. I was never unemployed and never took anything from social system. Why you call me a thief, criminal? Am I? This website it's another way of discrimination. Who remember Germany 1933?"

The role of the EU?

Comments are most of the time sceptical on whether EU institutions should interfere in the case and bring the Dutch government to task. "Bubiolino" writes in Dnevnik that "the entire EU is on the side of the Netherlands, undercover". To substantiate the claim, the writer refers to negative publications about Bulgaria in the mainstream German press, which also convey a scary picture of the country's nationals.

But ‘Bill’, writing under a DutchNews.nl article, rejoices that the news on the front page of the Dutch daily Volkskrant was that the PVV website is causing an 'international rebellion'.

"Good, please continue. The international community will 'assist' the Dutch in dealing with Wilders."

Marek Siwiec, Polish MEP (S&D), invited the Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians and others who have visited the Netherlands recently to write about their experiences on BlogActiv. "I believe that the vast majority of them is positive. Let’s put together those who think positively about each other against those who want to glorify the stench," Siwiec writes.

"Pipeloentje" wrote: "The Dutch may be a very loud, stubborn and know-it-all bunch (at least compared to the Belgians), but to be honest doing business with them is the best in the world. What a Dutchman promises, he will always deliver. They are very tough negotiators, but once you have a deal with them, you will get value for your money for sure. This trustworthiness is the same in friendships, they may tell you things you do not want to hear, but they will stand by you when you are in need. All my Dutch (and Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc) friends are great people!!! Thanks for this initiative Mr Siwiec!"

In a commentary titled 'Dear Dutch people', Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska, editor-in-chief of Polonia.nl, the website of the Polish community in the Netherlands, warns that many Poles are afraid to speak their mother language in public, for fear of negative reactions. "That happened to me recently - for the first time in the 31 years I have lived in the Netherlands. Last year, having lunch with a Polish friend in the café in castle De Haar (Haarzuilens), the waitress suspected us of stealing a café macchiato-spoon. Prejudices are spreading rapidly.

"The anti-migrant virus has already spread throughout large sections of the Dutch population. Even children are infected. Another Polish woman told me that she was recently insulted by a an eight-year-old boy (!) in a playground in Amsterdam. That boy shouted at her: "You shit!" Why? Because she spoke Polish with her son. She asked the child’s mother about the incident. The Dutch woman said it was her own fault, that she should speak Dutch. And then went on to say her child was right, Poles are stealing jobs.

"Is that the society we want to live in? Prime Minister Mark Rutte has refused to give his opinion about the PVV’s website. I call on him not to allow local nuisances become national issues and to stop this smear campaign against entire groups. That is playing with fire," Bos-Karczewska writes.

This is another issue that EU hasn't been able to tackle, writes "Observer", in PressEurop.eu.

"Each time a country claims they don't want immigrants from a certain background, EU, UN, certain political parties, begin to scream about racism. Then, once those very people they forced countries to let in begin to give troubles, the institutions limit themselves to a few formal statements on integration, tolerance, vaguely hinting at human rights. Still the problem is unsolved. How can you force immigration into a country that's ravaged by EMIGRATION and unemployment? (Italy, Spain, Greece)? How can you force and even welcome immigration when you already know many of those immigrates will live on the dole (Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Etc.)? You decide, we pay. We pay and they don't even integrate; some even try to alter society according to their very own ones. Here is explained in large part the rebirth of those extreme parties."

The EP group Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) adopted a resolution in which they welcome the statement of Viviane Reding to condemn the PVV initiative and ask the dutch government to also condemn Geert Winders' Party hotline.

"The Freedom Party is a supporting partner and ally of the centre-right coalition government and therefore has direct impact on the policies of Dutch Government. By not condemning this action, the Dutch Government is indirectly supporting this discriminatory initiative that is turning people into second-class citizens."

"We reaffirm that non discrimination based on nationality and freedom of movement of citizens and workers are pillars of the EU construction and they are common principles enshrined in the EU charter of fundamental rights as well as in EU relevant."

The right-wing Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) launched a special website on 10 February, inviting Dutch citizens to denounce nuisance caused by Europeans citizens coming from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria [more]. Types of nuisance that can be reported include pollution, problems related to housing or simply competition on the job market.

Reportedly, more than 10,000 of citizens responded in just a few days.

The PVV website has caused a stir in the countries concerned. Viviane Reding, European Commission vice president responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, vigorously condemned the website for "openly calling for people to be intolerant".

PVV is the third largest party in the Netherlands. Although it is not in the government coalition, PVV has been an active supporter of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative cabinet, a cooperation which was laid down in a "support agreement".

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