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Netherlands: Remarks of Dutch foreign minister set off criticism

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok was recorded making a series of controversial statements about multiculturalism and multicultural societies, setting off criticism from other politicians. Blok’s statements were made during a private meeting on 10 July 2018 with Dutch citizens working for international organisations. One of the participants filmed the statements and sent the recordings to Zembla, a Dutch documentary television programme. The anonymous source told Zembla that many of the event’s attendees were shocked by the statements.

Controversial statements

Among other controversial remarks made during the event, Blok stated, ‘Give me an example, of a multi-ethnic or a multi-cultural society, in which the original population are still living as well… and where there are peaceful community relations. I’m not aware of any.’ After an audience member suggested Suriname as an example, Blok called the former Dutch colony a ‘failed state… mainly due to ethnic division’. The Fragile States Index by the Fund for Peace currently ranks Suriname better than average in terms of overall fragility, scoring similarly to countries like Macedonia, Bahrain and Malaysia. At the suggestion of Singapore as another example, Blok called it ‘a small mini-country, extremely selective in its migration… They don’t allow any poor migrants in. Well, maybe for cleaning.’

Reactions

Members of parliament (MPs) from both the opposition and the governing coalition denounced the statements. Kees Verhoeven, MP from the political party Democrats 66, described the statements as ‘incomprehensible’ and has asked for an explanation. Han ten Broek, MP from the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the same party as Blok, called the comments ‘crude’. Labour Party MP and former Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen described Blok as having been ‘very unprofessional’ and has filed parliamentary questions to ask if Blok’s expressed views are cabinet policy.

Minister’s response

When asked by Zembla to respond, Blok stated, ‘…My aim was to stimulate an open exchange and to hear the participants’ experiences. My contribution during the question & answer session of the meeting partly was aimed in part at sparking a reaction from the audience. During the closed meeting, I used illustrations that could come across as badly chosen in the public debate.’