By Hans Vogel
On the day Obama was elected 44th president of the United States, a bizarre incident took place in the Netherlands, one of the Empire's most obsequious vassal states. The police invaded the home of a 10-year old boy and impounded his computer. The reason? The boy had left a message on Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's Hyves site (a Dutch version of Facebook). The message was not exactly friendly: “let's kick off Balkenende's ugly head”. Through the boy's IP-address, intelligence and police quickly identified and located the author and took immediate action.
The above incident would hardly be worth noticing if it were not for its wider implicatians and true meaning. Not only does it say a lot about the present-day political climate in the Netherlands, but it is eloquent proof of how freedom of speech has all but disappeared from Europe. The current attacks on the freedom of speech all over the continent, either through anti-defamation and anti-discriminatory laws or through arbitrary and intimidating police actions is the last stage of a broad offensive against civic freedoms that has begun in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Balkenende administration, one of the clumsiest and most mediocre in Western Europe, was put together in 2002. Balkenende, an unattractive and uncharismatic person if there ever was one, was put forward by the Dutch ruling class to fill the void left by Social Democratic prime minister Wim Kok, who after eight years in office decided to step down. None of his heirs apparent seemed able to fill the void left by Kok. To the utter horror of the ruling class, it was the outsider Pim Fortuyn, a charismatic populist with no parliamentary track record who had the best chance to become the next prime minister. Though Fortuyn had always been categorized as a right wing extremist, no one could be sure about his policies once elected. Fortuyn threatened to upset the entire system, riding on a huge wave of enthusiastic popular support.
Nine days prior to the parliamentary elections of May, 2002, however, Fortuyn was assassinated, supposedly by the proverbial deranged lone gunman. It is highly likely the killing was ordered in the utmost secrecy by the highest echelons of the Dutch government: Fortuyn, an avowed homosexual, was doubly dangerous to the system since he openly talked about his sexuality, making him invulnerable to blackmail. Fortuyn had also earned the bitter enmity of the Bush administration. Two days before he was killed, Fortuyn had a three-hour interview with US ambassador Clifford M. Sobel, who fruitlessly tried to convince him to stay in the Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter program. One of the main planks of Fortuyn's platform had been to get out of the JSF project, to abolish the air force and the army and to entrust the remaining Dutch Royal Navy with national defense. Some have therefore suggested the US government was responsible for Fortuyn's murder. Foremost among these was Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh. Coincidentally, van Gogh himself was murdered in 2004 just before the movie thriller he produced on the Fortuyn/JSF affair went into premiere.
Fortuyn's improvised political party, founded only a few months before the elections and bankrolled by a group of ambitious real estate tycoons longing for political influence, scored a landslide victory winning 26 seats in parliament (out of 150). The party was invited to join the government, but its lack of experience proved fatal: after only a few months in office, the government was brought down in a concerted effort by the established parties to isolate and neutralize Fortuyn's party. At the early elections of 2003, Fortuyn's party was reduced to eight seats and in 2006 disappeared from parliament altogether. Within four years, the biggest threat to the Dutch ruling class had been effectively eliminated.
Balkenende, a colorless, unknown Christian Democrat, was pushed forward in 2002 to become prime minister. As if acting on orders received from above, the main stream media, including of course the state controlled radio and television stations, immediately began to build up Balkenende's image, attempting to turn around his total lack of charisma and instead make it look like charisma. During his first term as prime minister, Balkenende was routinely compared with Harry Potter. To some extent, the media succeeded in this magical transformation giving Balkenende, now leading his third coalition government, a very modest and ever so fragile popular appeal.
Domestically, Balkenende has presided over the further dismantling of the welfare state, increasing the tax burden for the poor and the middle classes, while handing out lavish tax breaks to the corporate world. By systematically invoking the 1995 anti-discrimination clause in the Dutch constitution, the Balkenende administration tries to suffocate popular discontent that tends to focus on the one million-strong muslim community. On the other hand, by condoning the violent excesses of muslim (mostly Moroccan) urban street gangs in the ghettoes of dozens of Dutch cities, the Balkenende administration only contributes to the further growth of public dissatisfaction. Today, there is widespread contempt and loathing of the government, causing nearly 150,000 Dutchmen (nearly one percent of the population) to leave the country each year and settle abroad. Another 150,000 are moving out of the big cities to smaller towns located near the German and Belgian borders, unwilling to be subjected by the government's destructive social policies.
Like many other governments in the “Western World” the Balkenende administration has consistently been trying to instill fear into the population and to exploit it in order to carry out its political program. In the name of the bogus war on terror, with its colorful alerts, a watered down version of the US Patriot Act has been rammed through parliament. Police may now willfully stop and search anyone in the street, the government snoops on cell phone traffic, monitors the internet and continually harrasses web masters.
The Balkenende administration has continued the transformation of democratic structures at all levels of local government and in the state-run educational system into one of “democratic centralism”, where most decisions are now being taken unilaterally and enforced top-down. The health care system, once functioning admirably, is now on the verge of breakdown due to what must be called stalinist practices. Each year, hospitals are each assigned a fixed number of treatments which they may not exceed and which they invariably reach before year's end. That means that most surgery rooms in hospitals are closed down for at least one or more weeks each year and for the same period the nurses and doctors working there are given leave. Since the present-day health care system works with (long) waiting lists, many thousands of patients are thus forced to look for treatment in neighboring countries.
The foreign policy record of the Balkenende administration is even more shameful than its predecessor's. Ignoring hostile public opinion, Balkenende supported the unlawful 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since 2006 some 1,700 Dutch soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, where alongside US and allied troops they are engaged in a nasty guerilla war against local resistance forces. The Balkenende administration so far has refused to allow an inquiry into a foreign policy that has compromised traditional Dutch commitments to international law, that is costing hundreds of millions of euros and that has claimed the lives of some two dozen young soldiers. Even in the US and Britain there has been some official recognition that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on fraud. The Balkenende administration has been able to stifle any public debate on this highly sensitive issue.
Across the board, corruption under the Balkenende administration has reached levels usually associated with the so-called Third World. Corruption in the judicial system has become so rampant as to be proverbial. The name of the highest civil servant in the Ministry of Justice hes been linked to countless cases of paedophilia. Rumors abound but there is proof as well. The most recent attempt (on the part of an experienced, high-profile lawyer, citing witnesses from the police and foreign secret services) to take him to court has met with a blank refusal by the superior court of The Hague to even look into the case. In the countless instances where there is proof of judges infringing upon the law the typical reply is: “they are only human.”
The Netherlands no longer is a democracy. Government ministers tend to be incompetent, they can make the most dreadful mistakes and utter the most chilling nonsense, lie, cheat, exceed their budgets with impunity, buy themselves luxury vacation homes in tropical islands, hand out favors to their friends and relatives, increase their salaries while at the same time cutting wages for others and basically do as they please. According to latter day parliamentary practice, the representatives of the coalition parties give governments a blank check to carry out a detailed pre-arranged government program. With the strict party discipline maintained in coalition ranks, it has made true parliamentary opposition virtually pointless.
The Netherlands is not the only Western European state to have undergone the transformation of a relatively benign welfare state into a playground for international capitalism, where the laws of the land are routinely infringed upon, personal fortunes are made overnight and where social inequality is rapidly approaching Third World levels. Significantly, things began to change after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Why? It would seem because the working class in Europe could no longer point to a place where their counterparts were receiving a first-rate treatment and were showered with a variety of benefits.As long as the Soviet Union existed, Western capitalists were compelled to treat their employees decently.
Around the same time, the postwar arrangements in Western Europe that presided over reconstruction and the build-up of the welfare state were beginning to show signs of fatigue. All over the continent, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, who had since 1948 been receiving lavish attention (subsidies, junkets) from the CIA, State Department and other US government agencies, believed finally the time was ripe to complete the americanization of Europe.
Oddly, in spite of all the efforts to the contrary, it seems that the Netherlands, like the rest of Western Europe has not become like the idealized propaganda version ofthe United States it was hoping to create. Rather, it looks more like the old German Democratic Republic, but without the numerous benefits showered on East German workers. Thanks to modern technology, Dutch intelligence agencies and the police now enjoy even more power that the old GDR Stasi. Detailed information on each and every citizen is only a mouse click away for those with access to government-controlled databases. True criticism of the government is not tolerated and has moved to the internet, which functions like an electronic samizdat. In fact, the similarities are so numerous and so obvious as to be disturbing.
Meanwhile, like a resurrected Erich Honecker, Balkenende has become the subject of an official personality cult, being systematically lionized in the media and now also honored with a wax figure of himself at Madame Tussaud's at Amsterdam. However, the protective screen around the Dutch Honecker is not so tight as to prevent persistent rumors about Harry Potter's would-be look-alike being an obsessive bottom-pincher.