Dutch gripped by 'shop a migrant' website
- 18 February 2012
- From the section Europe
A heated row has erupted in the Netherlands over a website by the Freedom Party (PVV), which invites Dutch nationals to lodge their complaints about Central and Eastern Europeans living in the country, the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague reports.
"Do you have problems with people from Central and Eastern Europe? Have you lost your job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? We want to know."
This is the Freedom Party's latest initiative providing frustrated followers with forum to share their negative encounters with Eastern Europeans in the Netherlands.
Users are encouraged to enter their details anonymously before clicking in the circles each representing a particular "problem" presented by Eastern Europeans.
Categories include: drunkenness, double parking and noise pollution.
Ukrainian-born Irina Kremin has worked in the Netherlands for 20 years. She is worried by the discriminatory undertones.
"It is not just people from Russia and Poland who get drunk and play loud music, is it? Dutch people do that, too.
"In every country there are good and bad people, but to have a site that just targets people from Eastern Europe and asks people to say bad things about them, it's wrong and I don't think any good can come from that," she adds.
The European Commission immediately condemned the populist PVV for presenting a platform for such intolerance.
Now the European Parliament has scheduled a special debate due to take place in March to examine concerns about the site's contravention of those democratic principles.
"I am angered that anyone could attack fellow Europeans," says Joseph Daul, leader of the European Peoples' Party.
"It is against all European and indeed human values to attack a group of people in this way. It is reckless to encourage hate and discrimination."
If success is judged in quantitative terms, the "shop a migrant site" is doing well: it's already generated more than 40,000 responses.
PVV leader Geert Wilders remains defiant, saying the figures are testament to the demand for such an outlet for voters to voice their concerns.
Mr Wilders also dismisses the international condemnation, telling Brussels to "get stuffed" and adding: "They should mind their own business. We are a sovereign country, we are a democratic political party and we voice the concerns of many Dutch."
Strong words, perhaps, but it is not the first time Mr Wilders has been accused of inciting hate speech.
Last year, he won a court battle surrounding his controversial anti-Islam movie Fitna, which compared Islam to fascism and called for a ban of the Koran.
Recently, though, support for Mr Wilders has been dwindling.
Godfried Engbersen, professor of sociology at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, says the Freedom Party has been forced to seek new scapegoats, and now they are targeting the Eastern Europeans.
"Wilders is getting wilder, that is a fact. They say: 'Look, people from Poland are taking your jobs.' But according to our research, that is not true.
"The Poles are doing the jobs that the Dutch people don't want to do themselves. So they are not stealing jobs at all, but Mr Wilders needs to unite the people and he is using hate and fear to do that to try and boost his own political support."
Plea to act
According to the national statistics bureau, there are about 300,000 workers from Central and Eastern Europe currently based in the Netherlands. Four out of five of them are Polish.
That compares to an estimated 168,00 first generation migrants from Morocco and 197,000 from Turkey.
Dutch business leaders are worried about the site's potential to tarnish the country's international reputation.
The chairman of the Netherlands Confederation of Industry and Employers, Bernard Wientjes, says the government should distance itself from the website.
"This is a moment of xenophobia, for our own sake we have to do something to stop it. The backbone of our country is international trade. Eastern Europe is extremely important for the Netherlands.
"We export more to Poland than to Russia, China and India. We are far and away the biggest investor in Romania. The success of our economy is so related to those countries, we are so profitable because of those countries that we cannot afford to behave like this."
Many share Mr Wientjes's concerns. The site has already generated more than 3,000 complaints.
And ambassadors from 10 countries have urged the Dutch government to take action.
So far, though, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has refused to comment.
He said last week that the work of individual political parties wasn't any of his business.
In many ways, the prime minister is in an awkward predicament.
In a couple of weeks, he will be attempting to win parliamentary backing for 24bn euros (£20bn; $32bn) worth of budget cuts. He is relying on Mr Wilders' support.
Parliamentary insiders say Mr Rutte is afraid that if he openly condemns the PVV website he will lose that crucial support - a loss that could ultimately bring down the government.
D66 parliamentarian Gerard Schouw is disappointed by what he calls the prime minister's "cowardliness".
"You have to stand for your democratic principles and he didn't. I told Mark Rutte: You must draw your red line and tell the people who are worried about this website campaign 'I don't want that in my country.'
"He looks scared because he is not standing up to the PVV. I think he underestimated how much it would outrage people and the effect it would have in Europe and now he is refusing to back down," Mr Schouw says.
The debate within the European Parliament will address the Dutch PM's role.
Mr Daul is backing the calls for Mr Rutte to do something about the Freedom Party's anti-European rhetoric, and has summoned him to provide an explanation.
"We call on Mark Rutte to come before the European Parliament and explain his deafening silence."
As the calls of condemnation continue to spread across the continent, this issue is proving to be increasingly hard to ignore.