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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

So much is going on that I need to just get you up to date in one fell swoop! So here we go…

1) The elections: the “libertarian lite” VVD party won (31 seats), followed by Labor (30 seats) and then… gasp!… the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam PVV (24 seats, up from 8!). There was no majority, so coalition talks started with the VVD, PVV and the centre-right CDA (that lost big, from 41 to 20 seats). Those talks fell apart last Thursday, opening the door for new talks between the VVD (“libertarian lite”), Labor, D66 (also a “libertarian lite” party, but more left wing) and the Green Party. It’s unclear if these talk will succeed as the VVD and Labor (and D66 and the Greens) have some very different ideas about how to run the economy. But let me tell you, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that talks with the PVV were over. For now. But I’ll take it.

UPDATE: Ok, apparently as soon as I posted this (literally… like 2 minutes later) news came through that the talks between the VVD, Labor, D66 and the Green party failed. Now what??

2) The World Cup!!! Netherlands has played two of their three group play games. The first against Denmark was a 2-0 win… one of those goals as a DK own goal, oops. I watched that match in a bar downtown and it was super fun! The place just erupted when the Dutch scored! It was so loud in fact that you couldn’t even hear the vuvuzelas on tv! Haha. The second match against Japan was a nail biter. NL won 1-0, but there were a few scary shots on goal by the Japanese toward the end of the match. I watched this match in the airport in Denmark. I think I was probably the only Dutch fan there (I was certainly the only conspicuous Dutch fan, decked out in orange). A few people clapped when the Dutch scored, but I really let out a “Yeahhhhhhhhh!” with an enormous fist pump. Apparently Denmark was not the place to root for the Netherlands, given the Danes’ loss to NL in the previous match. Oh well. The Dutch are successfully through to the elimination round, but do have another match on Thursday.

Oh, and apparently the US are playing in this tournament as well? I did see the first match against England, but I’ve basically forgotten about them as I’ve been swept up by Oranje fever!

3) Why was I in an airport in Denmark, you ask? Well, last weekend I headed up to Lund, Sweden for the Nordic Demographic Symposium. It was good fun, professionally and personally. I gave a talk that was well received and was able to catch up with all of my friends and colleagues from Stockholm University and Statistics Norway. The only disappointment, the folks in Southern Sweden really weren’t as enthusiastic about the royal wedding as I had hoped. Indeed, on Saturday afternoon Crown Princess Victoria married her personal-trainer-turned-sweetheart. Although the ceremony was private, there were a number of public events in Stockholm and people turned out in droves to see the Princess and new Prince. I had hoped to score a tea-tray or coffee mug with a photo of the royal couple (or something equally tacky… royal china?), but the demands of the conference and world cup watching left little room in my schedule. Tyvärr.


Prolineserver 2010,
Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)

4) Nearly 2 weeks until I head to the States for the big move out! OMG, I am hyperventilating. But I am very excited to see friends and family!

5) I saw the Hold Steady at Melkweg last night. Again, a great band in a small venue! These guys are such rockers! Their songs are all about rocking out and being young and living like they’re no tomorrow and loving every moment of it. A typical theme might be, for example: being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that guy over there with the messy hair (wow, he’s cute) and the Hold Steady are on stage totally rocking out and they are singing a song about being 16 years old, at a music festival and it’s hot and dusty and everyone’s drinking, smoking and maybe even doing drugs (if that’s your thing) and you’re having the time of your life and you love EVERYONE and particularly that girl over there who is checking out you (wow, she’s cute). To me, this is the Hold Steady. And I think they’re fantastic.

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Today is a big day in the Netherlands! The Dutch are heading to the polls to elect their House of Representatives (de Tweede Kamer).

The previous government was a coalition between the center-right (the Christian Democratic Appeal or CDA), the center-left (the Labor Party or PvdA) and the smaller Christian-right (the Christian Union) parties, with a CDA Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende. (It is a commonly held belief here that Harry Potter will look like JPB in 30 years). This government fell in February when the Labor party pulled out of the coalition because CDA broke a promise to withdraw Dutch troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. As America has been in the business of bolstering European support for a continuing military presence in Afghanistan, the collapse of the Dutch government even made headlines in the USA!


Jan Peter Balkenende, CDA (Source: Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst)

‘OMG, a government fell!?! What does that mean??,” I wondered back in February, as visions of chaos and soldiers marched through my head. Well, it wasn’t so dramatic. Forgive a brief politics lesson, but in a parliamentary system if a government falls before the end of a term, a caretaker government takes over and calls new elections.  In this case, Balkenende carried on as Prime Minister, but without any power to draft new legislation. Apart from a few projects already in the works, very governing has gone on in the Netherlands since February.

With the collapse of the centrist government, it was quite clear that the two center parties would suffer the greatest losses, with voters on the left favoring the smaller center-left party Democrats 66 and the Green Party, and voters on the right turning to the “libertarian-lite” party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the anti-Immigrant, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV).  Indeed, earlier this spring there was a surge in support for the Party for Freedom and it’s leader Geert Wilders, with some pollsters suggesting that the PVV would come out on top in the general elections.

As this is a personal blog, not a news or political blog, I feel no shame in skipping the even-handedness to state my views plainly: Geert Wilders scares the crap out of me. He is an immensely charismatic leader, able to stir up and mobilize feelings of fear and anger in his followers. For Wilders there is no room for multiculturalism. He firmly believes that immigrants, in general, and Islam, in particular, threaten the Dutch way of life and the “Islamisation” of the country must stop. The PVV platform includes banning the Koran, halting all new Mosque construction and a tax on head scarves (what Wilders crudely refers to as “Head Rag Tax”). Wilders’ discourse and policy agenda are so extremely offensive to me it’s hard to even know where to start. In the interest of avoiding an all out rant, I will only say that, as someone who values multiculturalism and as an immigrant myself, I am deeply opposed to the PVV.

Geert Wilders, PVV (Source: NRC Handelsblad)

Not long after the fall of the national government, the Dutch held local municipal elections in March. The PVV strategically ran candidates in only two municipalities where they did exceptionally well, coming in first in Alkmaar and second in the Hague. If the municipal elections were a practice run for the national elections, things looked pretty good for the PVV. However, in the wake of these electoral successes came some failures. As a largely one-issue party, it wasn’t clear that the PVV would be effective leaders. Further, the other political parties in Alkmaar and the Hague rallied together to block the PVV policy agenda. While only the Labor party has publicly declared that they will not form a coalition with PVV at the national-level, moves against the PVV at the local level do hint at a broader anti-PVV sentiment.

Mark Rutte, VVD (Source: Fotograaf Nick van Ormondt)

In the last few weeks, things have changed again and it seems that now “it’s the economy, stupid!” Issues of Greek debt, the international economic crisis, and high deficits and unemployment at home now top the list of issues of greatest concern to Dutch voters. And it’s likely that the “libertarian-lite” VVD and it’s leader Mark Rutte will benefit from the attention-shift to economic issues.  The VVD’s platform includes plans for cutting government spending, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, and replacing university student “grants” with student “loans.” While the PVV will likely gain seats, Wilders is no longer expected to pull off an upset. And, as to the parties on the left, Labor’s popular new leader, the former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, may have managed to help the party recover from the set back of the government collapse. (Does the PvdA’s unofficial campaign slogan “Yes we Cohen!” seem familiar to anyone?)

Job Cohen, PvdA (source: Wikipedia)

Of course this post barely even scratches the surface of the 2010 elections (verkiezingen), with its hundreds of candidates and 17+ political parties. But hopefully I’ve given you a sense of my enthusiasm and nervousness as I wait to see who will come out on top and, given that it’s unlikely that any one party will have a majority, what the new coalition government will look like. Now that I’m an official resident I feel like I have a stake in things, thus making the elections extremely exciting… but it is also frustrating to watch from the sidelines without the right to vote, especially when issues of immigration and integration are on the table.

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