Holland's New Greeting for Immigrants: 'If it Ain't Dutch, It Ain't Much'

Once one of Europe's most immigrant-friendly countries, the Netherlands has lately been cracking down. A new proposal that only Dutch be spoken on the streets of Holland is just the latest idea. Boot camps for immigrants are also being considered.

Holland was shocked by the 2004 assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.
AP

Holland was shocked by the 2004 assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

What better proof of integration than language? That, at least, seems to be the thinking behind a new proposal from Holland's Minister of Integration and Immigration Rita Verdonk. Speaking over the weekend before the youth wing of her People's Party for Freedom and Democracy -- Holland's largest conservative party -- Verdonk spoke of plans to make Dutch the language spoken on the streets of Holland.

"If you're planning to live in the Netherlands on a long-term basis, then you should speak Dutch," she said in a radio interview on Monday, reiterating her position. "We didn't institute mandatory citizenship and language classes for nothing."

Verdonk based her proposal on the recently unveiled Rotterdam Code -- a behavior charter for residents of that city. In addition to such uncontroversial points as equal rights for minorities and the commitment to treat each other with respect, the code also states that Dutch should be spoken as much as possible on the streets and in the home.

The proposal unleashed widespread criticism. The youth wing of her party said immediately after Verdonk's comments that it disagreed with the idea. Dutch Muslim groups, not surprisingly, were even more categorical in their rejection of the proposal. "Linking integration to speaking Dutch in the street is nothing but an attempt to turn a blind eye to certain realities on the ground," Dris Boujoufi, deputy chairman of the council of Muslim representatives in the Netherlands said. Laetitia Griffith, a Dutch politician originally from Surinam, told the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad, "I can't see what would hurt the minister or others if I spoke Surinamese with a friend in the street."

Verdonk has since clarified her original statement, saying on Monday that she didn't intend to "make a law about it or institute language police." Still, she has become well known for introducing policies making it more difficult for immigrants to enter the country. Last week, a Verdonk proposal which wouldrequire that all immigrants to the Netherlands pass an extensive language test was approved by parliament. The test will be taken in Dutch embassies and consulates prior to arrival in the country and will include an oral portion over the telephone with a computer operating voice recognition software. The test will cost €350 per test-taker. Verdonk has also raised fees for visas and work permits by hundreds of euros.

The Dutch government is likewise taking a closer look at a recent proposal to place unemployed youth in empty military barracks and to introduce them to military discipline as a way of preparing them for the working world or for job training programs.

The increasingly strict measures aimed at immigrants in Holland are largely a response to the May 2002 murder of the popular politician Pim Fortuyn -- who was notoriously anti-Muslim -- and the November 2004 assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a radical Islamist. Since 2001, the flow of immigrants into the Netherlands has been halved, with just 41,000 people entering the country in the first six months of 2005.

The French riots last autumn only served to intensify scrutiny in Holland of its immigrant population. As in France, unemployment among Holland's immigration population is extremely high, with 40 percent of working age foreigners jobless. Violence in immigrant ghettos is likewise not a rare occurrence and many in the Netherlands fear the same type of unrest that hit France's immigrant suburbs could be repeated in Holland.

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