07/03/2006 05:52 PM

SPIEGEL Interview with Novelist Leon de Winter

A Dutch Constitutional Minefield

Author Leon de Winter, 52, discusses the Dutch government's collapse and the continuing arguments over politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Hirsi Ali made inaccurate statements on her asylum application.

Hirsi Ali made inaccurate statements on her asylum application.

SPIEGEL: Did Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende underestimate the affair concerning his Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, who wanted to revoke the citizenship of Islam-critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

De Winter: Above all, Verdonk underestimated her [Hirsi Ali]. The trigger was a TV-program in May about Hirsi Ali, who, after all, is Verdonk's party colleague. The program raised allegations -- long ago admitted by Hirsi Ali -- that she had made false statements about her identity during her asylum application: Her name is Hirsi Magan, not Hirsi Ali. Verdonk should have seen the constitutional minefield she was entering.

SPIEGEL: Did Verdonk condemn Hirsi Ali too quickly then?

De Winter: Yes. Hirsi Ali was a member of parliament and if she wasn't Dutch, the chamber would have had one member too few and therefore all legal rulings up to that point would have been declared invalid. Verdonk should have been clear that the law, by which Hirsi Ali would have been stripped of her citizenship, wasn't applicable.

SPIEGEL: So, why did she do it?

De Winter: Before her political career she was the director of a prison and for them "law is law" -- regardless of the consequences the Hirsi-Ali-affair would have for the image of the Netherlands abroad or the implications for the Dutch constitution. Moreover she hoped her inflexible line would help her to win a power struggle within her own party, which was consumed with internal problems at the time.

SPIEGEL: But the crisis did not begin until now...

De Winter: Indeed, namely by the attempt to save Hirsi Ali's citizenship. Verdonk and Balkenende's administration wanted a legal solution and found it in Somalian law, where it is legal to take the name of one's grandfather: he was named Ali. People quickly started to accept Hirsi Ali's corresponding assertions. But then Verdonk added a coda, whereby Hirsi Ali needed to take responsibility for the confusion over her citizenship. The minister wanted to absolve herself of all mistakes and take revenge on her hated party colleague.

SPIEGEL: Who would profit from new elections?

De Winter: At the moment it would be the social democratic Labor Party under their charismatic leader Wouter Bos. Incidentally the TV show that made allegations against Hirsi Ali is politically very close to the social democrats—and their calculation to overthrow the government turned out wonderfully.


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