“First casualties: tolerance and patience”


"In the Netherlands, we are witnessing a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Belgian author Stefan Hertmans. Due to the rebellion of the democrat Rutte against Turkey, he fears a radicalization of the Turkish population.


Interviewer: To what extent is the dispute that has been sparked between Turkey and the Netherlands part of the election campaign in the Netherlands??

Stefan Hertmans (Author): It is definitely a crucial part of the election campaign! Rutte, who has voiced the ban against the Minister of Turkey, knows very well that – if he had not voiced the ban – half of the population would go along with Widlers. We now feel an entire country in the grip of fear. A democratic politician like Rutte, does something that is incomprehensible especially for us Belgians. This should not be done. In one night, he may have radicalized and stimulated "pro Erdogan" half of the Turkish population in the Netherlands by doing so. He did that because he's afraid of Wilders.
Interviewer: That is, if Wilders did not exist, Rutte would not have taken such a hard line against Turkey?
Hertmans: I ame that. By nature, Rutte is someone who wants to control everything. Wilders is now in a situation where he has to do nothing. He can only laugh and be cynical.
Interviewer: Gerd Wilders' so-called Freedom Party, of which he is only a member himself, could become the strongest party in the Netherlands in Wednesday's elections. That sounds frightening at first. On the other hand, even if the party becomes the strongest, it will get at most 17 percent of all votes. Is Wilders party a little overrated?
Hertmans: This is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. One prophesies it and it will come also in such a way, because one is afraid of it. This is the same force that is at work in France with Marie Le Pen. All the media are talking about it. That's why they are always in people's minds. In Belgium, for example, we have a party that is very separatist and wants to divide the country. Then we would have an independent Flanders – but what should we do with it?? That is nonsense. They say they are the voice of the people, but that's not true. Once you count the votes, it is only 22 percent of the population that is leaning towards them. The majority of the population does not agree with them at all. You can also see this with the "Trump scam" of the populists. They always say that they only visualize what everyone says and that this is common sense. However, this means that representation is greatly overestimated by these parties.
Interviewer: The Netherlands has long been considered a model of a country where many cultures get along peacefully and well together. Why has this changed?
Hertmas: I have only one explanation for this: the image we got abroad of the Netherlands as a progressive-open nation primarily referred to Amsterdam, Den Hag, Utrecht, Rotterdam – the big cities in the West. In the east of the country, on the other hand, have always been very conservative areas. Protestants are also still very conservative in these areas, rejecting some medical treatments, for example. This Holland we have not seen. It's a kind of "revenge movement" of people who felt oppressed by the left and progressives. So there is a rural-urban divide. Wilders himself comes from Venlo, the province of Limburg. You can see how his words roll over. Even people in Amsterdam are now saying, "We've had enough of the Turks," "We always thought they were emancipating themselves, but they're not doing it. Instead, they only radicalize themselves". There is just so much confusion that the first casualty is tolerance and patience.
Interviewer: What must happen now? What can we do to prevent these developments, the increasing nationalism in Europe, and xenophobia from getting worse??
Hertmans: That is a difficult question. I am a poet, not a politician. Maybe we need to defend again more what democracy means. And the dialogue on new thinking must be encouraged. The author David Van Reybrouk has written a book against the elections. He says the electoral system we have now can't change anything. Proper participation is no longer possible through the current system, in which elections are held only every four years. Citizens' initiatives can change that. There needs to be more discussion, more tolerance and more openness. This may sound naive, but there is no other way.

Tonight Stefan Hertmans reads at the Lit.Cologne in Cologne Nippes. His novel "Die Fremde" is published by Hanser-Verlag Berlin and costs 23 euros.

The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.

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