It’s early morning and the Italian news is dramatic. The Corona virus hits Northern Italy with a magnitude comparable to China. My mother and my grandmother are there, alone. Confined at home, scared and victims of a wretched television that shows sensationalist news about Corona-virus. Numbers are growing at a rapid pace. Young individuals are safe, they said, elderly and vulnerable are in danger. I am puzzled, between heartbroken for my beloved ones in Italy and incredulous because in the Netherlands one month ago everything was still ‘gezellig’ (cozy, mellow and normal).
I start with my morning routine opening social media platforms on my phone, jumping in a compulsive way between Instagram stories and Facebook, mmmh so booooring. Let’s open Twitter. Twitter is exploding, like a square during a riot. I need to take part in this riot, I think.
Letizia_Chiappini @Molly_Ulysses. 22 March 2020.
“I feel unsafe. The #Netherlands are playing with lives and their public care system. They are the most stubborn country ever. No empathy for countries like #Italy or #Spain, nor expats. Colonialist mindset comes into play also during #covid19Nederland times #LockdownHolland.”
A journalist approaches me on Twitter.
Klaas Broekhuizen @KlaasBroekhuize 23 March 2020. Answer to @Molly_Ulysses
“Care to talk about this? Klaas Broekhuizen, reporter Dutch Financial Daily.”
I respond, “yes, sure”. I would love to expand my 280 characters in a broader reflection.
Klaas Broekhuizen asked me a few questions by email. Here is the rest of the story.
Main question: what would make you feel safe/more safe? What’s missing? What should we learn from other countries, and specifically from Spain and Italy?
I start with a quote by Pierpaolo Pasolini (The Tears of Excavator, from The Ashes of Gramsci, 1957):
“Only to love, only to know,
is what matters; not having loved, having known. It’s agony
to live a consummated love.
The soul, straitjacketed, just can’t grow.”
My sentiment towards the Netherlands, where I’ve been living for three years so far, is one of love. As part of the Millenial-Erasmus generation, I have been in love with Europe and the benefit of traveling as a student during my undergrad. I’ve had a sort of poly-amorous relationship with European countries. I have been traveling and living for a long time in other European countries with the myth of a strong European Union. For me ‘we were family’. When I truly love, I truly want to understand. That’s my motto as a researcher. The sentiments behind my Tweet are love and dismay.
As an intellectual person and a theorist, I have been observing the decline of the ‘glorious thirty years’, the rollback of the state in providing welfare measures, in favour of more individualistic and neoliberal regimes of policy in Europe. The Netherlands, after praising itself for its extreme social liberalism, is trapped by right-wing populism which has been increased after austerity and the consequent blaming of migrants, Islam and expats for the crisis. As Dr Merijn Oudenampsen (Universiteit van Amsterdam), wrote about “the remarkably radical transformation in the 1980s and 1990s of the Netherlands into one of the most liberalised European economies, and the paradoxical manifestation of Dutch neoliberalism in a depoliticised, consensual guise.”
As the Netherlands has become one the most laissez-faire and neoliberal countries in Europe, I am not surprised that Rutte is a voyeur of the Anglo-American project, in particular during the Covid19 crisis, in which the death rattle of neoliberal countries is DON’T CRASH THE ECONOMY! Mentioning ‘groepsimmuniteit’ in a public speech in front of the mournings of other countries, such as Italy where there are tanks carrying corpses because mortuaries are full, felt like the denial of other people’s disasters, of other countries which shows a lack of empathy. Policies often reflect the ‘lokale politiek’ and the cultural ideology of a country.
The journalist asks: And is it the policy, or is it the Dutch people (as well)?
‘’Playing with lives’’ is making presumptions; Rutte and other politicians don’t listen, don’t learn. What about vulnerable people? What about the homeless? What about expats? A fact is that all my international students ran away from the Netherlands after they heard about the crisis in their countries. The Netherlands without expats that hijacked their economy is difficult to imagine. It’s like Amsterdam without Italian, Spanish and Brits tourists is empty.
‘’The colonialist mindset’’ is there, it’s thinking that you are right and righteous. Altruism and solidarity were not sentiments during the colonial historical momentum. Colonialism is not heritage, it is a shame. An indigenous woman told me about surviving during the violence of colonialism which conducted her both to complain and NOT to complain. Both actions were a sort of protection for her and her people. I have found myself in this condition. We must learn a lot from indigenous people. Not from the patriarchal countries and glorious colonialists patronizing other populations. I express myself by sharing in our digital square, like Twitter. I don’t complain, I survive. As Audre Lorde (2017) claims in her book “Your Silence Will Not Protect You’’. That’s why I spoke up. I am not a conflict avoider, I am not passive-aggressive. I am passionate and I love. You can build a wall from silence, but it is difficult to find love from silence and indifference.
Journalist: From the tweet (and LinkedIn) I get you live in The Netherlands? At least part of the time? If so, how long have you lived here?
Before the corona-crisis, I felt I was a part of this country and I am still a part of it. I will stay in the Netherlands to grasp what it is going on in our dysfunctional society. The problem is global, there is no escape. I change tactics. Sara Ahmed wrote in one her recent contribution: “To survive institutions, we need to change them. It can be a difficult deal: how we survive some structures can be how those structures are reproduced.” This crisis shows the cracks of EU as institutions. But it is not a failure if we all try to change it! How the Netherlands is acting shows a failure of being part of Europe. Why did Rutte not act earlier when the crisis started in Northern Italy? Spain and Italy are a part of the EU, so why dismiss them? As an excuse — politicians claim, old people will die, that’s the echo. But old people are my grandmother, your parents, your friends. Would it be fine for you to let them die?
Journalist: Do you plan to leave The Netherlands asap? Maybe even stop your research at the UvA (temporarily)? And stop teaching in Utrecht (temporarily)?
Those questions… the average Dutch person always asks expats those exact questions. I have found them offensive, a sort of micro-aggression and that kind of questions always upset me. Other Dutch minds consider me a part of this country. Now, I ask you. Why should I leave the country and close the door? To build a wall of silence? No, I am sorry, but I will stay and try to contribute with my complaints to a better society. I love my students, I love my colleagues, I love my work. I love my research. I dream of Europe as an institution that protects its citizens.
For populists, right-wing and sovereignist parties the idea to leave your country is absurd and a ‘Wilders-Baudet’-like suggestions. Those are my suggestions for them, but perhaps it works also for the premier Mark Rutte to remind him how important it is to stay united and keep expats in his magnanimous country. If all expats leave, the economy will smash so badly.
The journalist concludes: I might use your answers/story for an article in my paper (Het Financiele Dagblad). Would that be okay with you?
Yes, I am okay with that. Could you kindly send me your article before publishing it?