AMSTERDAM–The Hague’s outspoken Deputy Mayor Rabin Baldewsingh held no punches when expressing his views on immigration, diversity and inclusion.
Speaking at a conference in The Hague last Wednesday, he launched unbridled criticism of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Rotterdam Mayor Aboutaleb who are both on record as telling youngsters of immigrant to descent to “f.ck off” if they do not like it in the Netherlands.
Aboutaleb had made the statement in 2015 to convey his frustration at young Dutch Muslims who “sympathized” with the terrorists that massacred the editorial team of satirical magazine Charley Hebdo in Paris. “If you cannot take it that humorists make a little newspaper, please f.ck off,” said the Rotterdam mayor, himself a Muslim of Moroccan origin.
Rutte used the same phrase in response to Turkish Dutch people who demonstrated in Rotterdam in September last year and appeared to be harassing a Dutch journalist. “Go back to Turkey or – as they would say it in crude The Hague (dialect): Pleurt op (f.ck off),” the Prime Minister said.
Baldewsingh disagreed with how the two highly ranked officials chose to vent their frustration, hinting though that their statement represents the populist language politicians reserve for people they consider non-Dutch. “(But) these are Dutch born young people; Dutch nationals. It was a strange statement for a Prime Minister and a mayor to make,” Baldewsingh said.
The Suriname-born PvdA (labor party) politician is known for challenging controversial subjects head-on. Last year he met resistance when – in response to reports that job seekers with immigrant sounding names were not being hired – he introduced a pilot project in The Hague that allowed people to apply anonymously. The pilot proved successful, but despite being an initiative to create a level playing field for all the city’s residents, it met fierce criticism from right-wing politicians. PVV called it a “racist project”.
Baldewsingh’s career and views landed him the spot of keynote speaker at the citizens’ dialogue “Peace through Culture” held last week Wednesday at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The conference, which attracted some 150 politicians and stakeholders from NGO’s throughout the continent, was organized by the European Culture Foundation. It was chaired by Dutch Princess Laurentien, wife to King Willem-Alexander’s brother Prince Constantijn.
Deputy Mayor Baldewsingh started his speech with a beautiful rendition of a Hindi song about immigration, which he said also represented his background as the grandchild of Indian migrants to Suriname. He then launched into a whirlwind of enlightenments that outlined his views on inclusion. He said that the Netherlands had arrived in a time of fear, distrust and uncertainty in which there is a notion of us versus them and “my people first”.
“There is a lot of social tension that we have been nursing. The divide is omnipresent. People are living side by side, but not with each other. We live in a parallel society. While a large portion of the country’s residents have an immigrant background, many feel like they don’t belong; like they have become ‘the white man’s burden.’ People are not recognizing
their environment anymore and others are not feeling welcome. It’s almost like our identity is only the white man’s identity and that our culture is only the white man’s culture.”
Baldewsingh was highly critical of politicians that stir up society’s sense of nationalism in a manner that is taking the country on a backward slide. “People are letting politicians tell them what to do. It used to be that The Netherlands was proud of being labeled liberal, of having an open eye to the world. We are now closing our eyes. We are losing what used to make us a great country as far as our psyche, our economy and our international reputation was concerned.”
He mentioned Zwarte Piet, the blackface character that resurfaces every year in December as the whacky helper of do-gooder saint Sinterklaas. In recent years resistance against the character has grown with many black people calling it a racist tradition that is due for a makeover. “I grew up with Zwarte Piet, but black people have indicated that they take offense with a concept in the character. It’s something that we have to consider, but instead we’re attacking the resistance with militarism,” Baldewsingh said. He said this speaks of exclusion instead of inclusion. “Diversity is a fact, but inclusiveness is not. People are invited to the party, but they are not allowed to dance,” he said.
He deplored the development. “This is not what we are about. We have to be cautious and not let this fester further. I support the goal of an inclusive society as opposed to a parallel society. To mitigate polarization we need include everybody, work together and not be divided further apart by politicians,” he said, quoting legendary US President Robert F. Kennedy who said that “ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity.” “Kennedy was right. Right now it is time to act. It is not time to debate anymore.”
The Deputy Mayor came with recommendations that the Netherlands should “embrace the notion of acceptance, care and share, and create citizenship as well as a sense of solidarity.” He wrapped up his presentation with a rendition of the same Hindi song about immigration to loud, appreciative applause.
In a brief interview afterwards, Baldewsingh said that he realized that what he came to say was not what other politicians consider the appropriate message. “Gandhi once explained that when you come with an important, but unpopular message people will first try to neglect you; then they will laugh at you and only after that you might win. I do not think they are taking me seriously, especially since I am saying things they don’t want to hear. What the others are saying is populist. I don’t have to be popular. I want to wake up society. I want a movement. Maybe that’s why my party isn’t doing that well at the moment,” he said with a laugh.