Nieuws - 13 juni 2002

Column: Awfully Lawful

Column: Awfully Lawful

Politics in the Lowlands have been thrust into the international limelight of late. Affairs of state traditionally conform to the uniquely Dutch convention, known as the Poldermodel. It is a description you might have thought applied to soil dynamics in a muddy, but otherwise featureless, field. In fact, the Poldermodel entails civilised bureaucracy, the political convention of passing decisions laterally between two or more equally important committees or councils, a problem being that plans elude finalisation, delays accumulate and final judgement is postponed by superfluous banter. It could even be described as democracy to excess!

Mountains of red tape and a wall of officiousness seem to have severely inconvenienced, infuriated or simply failed to provoke the slightest interest from many voters. Disillusionment could be one of the reasons why some gave a receptive ear to more outspoken candidates. The bigoted nature of views was of no consequence where those people=s pockets were concerned. The purple coalition, balancing parties from both left and right wings in cooperative deadlock, is already a fading memory and whether it becomes nostalgia that is sorely missed, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the people tempted change and it duly arrived.

The great strength of the Netherlands is the history of forward thinking, the approach taken with crime-associated activities such as prostitution, euthanasia and soft drugs. They are issues other countries spend vast amounts of time and effort contending with. Gedoogbeleid is not an easy idea to translate; it equates to turning a blind eye where restraint in prosecuting offenders is more advantageous than strictly enforcing the law. So, for instance, while it remains illegal to frequent the so-called coffee shops, nobody is charged with the misdemeanour and thus a lively tourist industry is allowed to flourish. The validity of gedoogbeleid is echoed in the lowest drug addiction statistics in Europe, removal of organised crime from previously hazardous occupations, and the significant tax revenue reaped from practices highly illicit elsewhere.

Here in Wageningen the most contentious issue the authorities have to deal with is squatting (kraken B unlawful occupation of property). One example of this rent-free accommodation borders the Salverdaplein. De Overkant is a cafe run by the inhabitants on Bevrijdingsstraat, squatters there put so much into making the building their home that they could successfully claim ownership. The occupants of the derelict school on the Harnjesweg were not so lucky, a rather less gezellig building-site recently appeared where shelter was once provided.

The law is an unwieldy tool to bring order and security to an entire country but the Netherlands= enlightened traditions have shown the ability to break through tough barriers. Let us hope sense and cents continue to be equally balanced and that the system proves resilient to the reactionary upheaval of recent times.

David Lee Hopkins