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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 16:15 GMT
Living the legacy of Pim Fortuyn
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

The Dutch plans to forcibly remove tens of thousands of asylum seekers may sit ill at ease with Holland's long-standing reputation as a bastion of liberalism and laissez-faire attitudes.

Pim Fortuyn
Pim Fortuyn started the asylum debate
But the expression "Normen en waarden" - norms and values - has become a catchphrase in the country, whose residents have in recent years expressed increasing unease with sharing their homeland with foreigners who they say do not subscribe to Dutch values.

The meteoric rise of the populist Pim Fortuyn - who campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam ticket prior to his assassination in 2002 - was widely interpreted as a wake-up call for Dutch politicians who had studiously avoided questions of immigration and integration.

The Netherlands was full, Mr Fortuyn declared.

His party achieved stunning election success after his death, and although in-fighting has since taken its toll, his politics - as Tuesday's vote makes clear - live on.

"It's probably fair to say that the Dutch have become less liberal," says Hans Wansing, a political commentator at the Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

"A lot of people feel we have been too tolerant over the years - hence the appeal of Pim Fortuyn when he started breaking taboos. The government is acting on that - what we are seeing is indeed his legacy."

Behind the plan

The clampdown on asylum seekers is seen as inextricably linked to a wider debate about the relative merits of a policy of multi-culturalism, as opposed to assimilation, in the Netherlands.

To those who oppose the plans to expel the 26,000 failed asylum seekers - many of whom have lived in the country for years and have worked hard to integrate - the deportations will only exacerbate the feeling of isolation among first and second-generation immigrants.

The Netherlands must always be a place where those who are genuinely fleeing persecution can come, but it should not be a place for people who want to abuse the system and who have no interest in accepting their responsibilities, learning the language, trying to fit in
Roy, Zwolle
The Council of Churches for example has warned of "major tension in local communities that have adopted immigrants, where their children go to school and where numerous volunteers are involved in settling them in". Other pressure groups note that families will be torn apart, young people sent back to a country they barely know.

But while opinion polls do suggest a number of Dutch believe the plan to be draconian, the majority are behind the plan.

"I think it's the only way to stop things getting out of hand. I'm with the government on this," says Roy, a software consultant in the north-eastern town of Zwolle.

"The Netherlands must always be a place where those who are genuinely fleeing persecution can come, but it should not be a place for people who want to abuse the system and who have no interest in accepting their responsibilities, learning the language, trying to fit in."

European trend

While the Netherlands may be about to embark upon one of the largest deportations in modern European history - the country is not alone in questioning the merits of multi-culturalism and ongoing immigration.

New measures have been adopted in the UK and Germany to repatriate those whose claims to asylum on the grounds of persecution are rejected. Italy and France say they will not repeat the periodic amnesties which have been granted in the past to illegal immigrants.

Mainstream parties across Europe have been jolted into action by the gains made by anti-immigrant, populist parties in a string of elections.

While these parties - as Pim Fortuyn's movement illustrated - are rarely able to maintain a prolonged period in government, if they enter office at all - their policies are frequently absorbed by ruling parties.

Many human rights activists argue that politicians should not kowtow to demands for a clampdown, but politicians retort that, in a democracy, there are voters to consider.


SEE ALSO:
Dutch MPs split over asylum bill
09 Feb 04  |  Europe


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