On Tuesday evening, 4 December, the Queen, the Mayor and 300 guests attended the first citizenship lecture in The Hague. The event, held in the Nieuwe Kerk on the Spuistraat, was organised by Alderman Baldewsingh as part of his drive to improve the sense of multicultural togetherness in the city. (cont.)
Mr. Baldwesingh approaches the thorny issues of integration and multiculturalism with an unflinchingly positive attitude and by taking small, practical steps. This first citizenship lecture was intended to raise the profile of his approach and begin a process of public debate. What more fitting way to begin such a process than by hearing about the Canadian government’s successful approach to similar issues?
The guest speaker, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, ex-governor general of Canada and Founder of the Institute of Canadian Citizenship, gave a resoundingly positive description of Canada’s experiences, raising issues which had the audience nodding in agreement. Is it possible, she questioned, that the reason the Dutch fear immigration is because they have experienced invasion? Can it be that immigrants are subconsciously equated with invaders whose presence is a risk to the Dutch way of life, whereas in Canada, immigrants are seen as future citizens of the country?
Mrs. Clarkson’s speech was edifying and would have been truly inspirational had it been less utopic. There was a sense that Canada is a successful migration country because its people are perfectly tolerant and open.
Mr. Ruud Lubbers, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and ex-Head of the UNHCR, was asked to reflect upon Mrs. Clarkson’s speech. His message was dire, summed up as ‘we are in trouble’. The Dutch live in fear of losing their culture and identity, in fear of the impact of ‘the other’ in their society. This fear must be overcome if the Netherlands is to successfully deal with the multicultural diversity which exists here and which is here to stay. Unfortunately, he didn’t propose any potential solutions to this problem.
It would have been useful for Mrs. Clarkson to mention the fact that this fear of change exists in Canada as well. Currently, commissions explore the effects on the daily lives and opinions of Canadians from all walks of life, and multiculturalism, even in this nation of immigrants, is not without its stress and strain.
It is true that statistically Canadians, both migrants and long-term residents alike, consistently say that they are proud to be Canadian; that second generation migrants are economically as successful if not more so than third-generation residents; that migrants feel that they are accepted as who they are in the Canadian society. So they must be doing something right.
In terms of providing positive steps forward, Mrs. Clarkson did have a few useful points to make. Canada consciously chooses her immigrants because they are the future citizens of the country. This is interesting to the Dutch who feel that immigrants are not selected but ‘accommodated’ once they arrive.
In Canada, future citizens are expected to accept all of the rights and responsibilities attached to citizenship from the first day of their arrival in the country. This includes getting jobs, learning the language and obeying laws. This attitude to migrants is starkly different to the attitude to many migrants in the Netherlands. In the 1970s migrants were seen as temporary workers who would eventually return to their own countries of origin. Much to the surprise of their Dutch hosts, most stayed.
Today, many fear that the same mistakes are being made with the large waves of East European migrants. The government continues to issue short-term work permits to educated ‘knowledge migrants’ without acknowledging the fact that these migrants might play a useful long-term role in the country.
Mr. Baldewsingh’s vision for The Hague is a city of bridges, of communities which do not live beside one another but with one another. This future, however, cannot be accomplished if the debate on multiculturalism remains stuck in looking for ways for cultural groups to ‘celebrate their diversity.’
It isn’t about going to the community Ramadan party and singing Christmas carols together. People fear large, faceless groups which are easily stereotyped and classified: the Moroccans, the East Europeans, the Expats. People do not fear individuals. And the most common place for individuals to meet each other is in schools and in the workplace.
If the Canadian example shows us anything, it is that the Netherlands will need to focus on two things to create its mosaic. Firstly, it will need to provide excellent and equal education to all of its children, which means de-segregating the schools and expanding the opportunities for non-Dutch speaking migrants to improve their language skills.
Secondly, they will need to break down the barriers which exist to equal opportunities in the work place. The incentives not to work which are created by the generous social security system must be curbed to ensure that all Dutch citizens, new and old, take up their responsibilities in society.
by Diane Lemieux