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Ter Apel is a stain on the Dutch flag. Hanging this flag upside down won’t make this shame go away. As a country, we really need to rethink, not just our asylum policy. This era cries for a fundamental change in political decision-making to address the major issues posed by globalization.
What happens at Ter Apel is a drama for deceived refugees and a disgrace to the Dutch flag. By hanging this flag upside down, that spot cannot be hidden. Because this is not an accident. We as citizens cannot point to the current Minister of State or the Cabinet as the sole perpetrator. This scandal is the result of decades of burying our heads in the sands of our society. The community and the politicians who represent us do not want to recognize that the refugee issue is a permanent issue. We must make sustainable and clear choices about how we relate to this.
For the asylum seeker in question, the road to asylum has become long and arduous to wait. Uncertainty remains, questioning after questioning. Because asylum seekers were not harassed enough and kept waiting, reception has become increasingly sober in the past decade. This is called the policy of disincentive language by masking the language. In fact, it is just bullying the asylum seekers. In half a century, our grandchildren will read it again in their history books, shaking their heads.
All this is the result of apathy. Desire to remain on the fringes of the Geneva Refugee Convention – because yes, we are a civilized country and we want to reap the benefits of that image worldwide – but not wholeheartedly. Because we don’t want the “suction effect”. No, we don’t want an extensive social debate that globalization is more than just a cheap vacation destination on the Turkish Riviera. We prefer voting for political parties that put us to sleep. They suggest that all the challenges of globalization and living in an open system can remain behind dams, or at most be our problem only for a while.
Trouw’s headline last Thursday says all about what’s going on in Ter Abel: “Doctors Without Borders for Ter Apel. “This is not a refugee crisis, this is a political crisis.”
But it also says something about more than just the refugee issue. It says something about where we stand as a society. In a changing world, we stand quite firmly in our heads. We imagine ourselves in isolation. We really have to start thinking and coming up with a different meaning and order for our society. Adapting to this time and its great challenges.
Trouw was originally a Christian-oriented newspaper, and so I remember how on October 31, 1517 Luther, by nailing 95 letters to the church door, turned the meaning and order of society in a large part of Europe on its head.
Of course, the human drama of Ter Apel should be captured immediately! Preferably by bold, no-nonsense technocrats. But Ter Apel’s drama is also a symptom. Our society is crying out for change. In recent years, there has been no shortage of symptoms that point in the same direction: the benefits scandal, the crisis in education, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the rapidly declining purchasing power of the poorest 20% of the population, growing depression among young people, the combustion epidemic, the gas extraction crisis in Groningen.
Those who are able to zoom out a bit can’t deny it: We live in a time of transformation and gentrification and firefighting lists of our politicians who want to play the role of CEOs who don’t offer a sustainable solution, however necessary. It is a time that calls for a shared democratic space where you dare to slow down and think together, where you can express imagination and a desire to invent new competition stories for society. Given our crowded Parliament–more political groups than ever–and the Babylonian confusion of tongues there, I really wonder if this important task should be left to the representatives of the people.
We need other democratic spaces for the big questions of our time. Years ago, Belgian writer David van Reybroek warned in his book Against Elections about the growing impotence and bitter dark side of representative parliamentary democracy. He made a plea to explore other avenues of democracy, as we need to find answers to the big questions of our time in a different democratic way.
Recently, Eva Rovers, co-founder of Bureau Burgerberaad, wrote a powerful appeal pamphlet (“It’s Up to Us”) about the need to engage citizens differently and more forcefully in decisions about the major issues of our time, such as how we relate to climate change.
So there is knowledge, and there are insights. And we have crisis after crisis that shows that with the big questions – today about asylum seekers, tomorrow about the climate, the day after tomorrow about our tax system, etc. – a little pessimism and a desire to please each other does not work. !
The solutions proposed by Van Reybroek and Rovers will calculate that our politicians and our partisan politics are losing relevance. This is, for example, not Parliament but citizens’ deliberations or a referendum or any other political tool that helps us as citizens to strike the nail on our head on major issues. This change to more direct democracy, though paradoxical as it may sound, can only start from the heart of party politics itself. There the mile should get its first payment.
Which politician is brave and which political party is ready to do this? To make an appeal against the professional authority of an individual and dare to put the institution’s standing in perspective? This party and its leader becomes the Luther of our time. After all, Luther himself was a priest of the church he rebelled against.