Dutch FM face fierce criticism over multiculturalism remarks

Stef Blok (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)Stef Blok (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)

Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs is facing the Tweede Kamer on Wednesday on statements he made about multicultural societies. He faced fierce criticism from the parliamentarians, including from coalition parties D66, CDA and ChristenUnie. Only populist parties PVV and FvD outright supported his remarks, NOS reports. 

At a private meeting for expats in The Hague in July, Blok said that peaceful multicultural societies don't exist and that it is genetically determined that people from different groups can't get along. He also called Suriname a failed state. This naturally upset Suriname, as well as a number of other countries with multicultural societies, including parts of the Caribbean Netherlands. The comments also prompted officials to call on Blok to increase diversity at the Ministry

The VVD Minister later said he regretted the offense given by his statements and acknowledged that he chose his words "unfortunately and carelessly".

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold called Blok's statements unworthy of a Minister. "Certainly for a member of this cabinet, who has determined that he wants to be there for all Dutch people", Pechtold said, NOS reports. He added that the remarks were bizarre, disconcerting and harmful. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is supposed to promote the ideal of multi-ethnic societies worldwide. "If he can not, if he does not want it or he does not believe in it, he will not fit in this cabinet."

ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers called Blok's remarks painful. "They suggest that there's nothing in the multicultural society and that it can never become something and I have a fundamental problem with that", he said. If a multicultural society will never amount to anything, then making the Rutte III coalition agreement work will be a "mission impossible", according to Segers. "Because that wants to bridge gaps and counteract conflicts."

CDA leader Sybrand Buma said that a Minister who has to spend an entire summer apologizing to other countries obviously did something wrong to people and groups within the Netherlands. He called the Minister's remarks stupid. "To say that a multi-ethnic society can not actually function and hanging that on genetically determined issues makes working on a functioning modern society essentially meaningless."

Klaas Dijkhoff, faction leader of Blok's own party the VVD, said that Blok's statements were awkward, clumsy and non-diplomatic. But he did add that politicians should be given the space to enter into discussions. According to Dijkhoff, it is strange that someone recorded the statements and leaked the video instead of asking questions during the meeting. Dijkhoff called a multicultural society "in all its factuality as a country in which several cultures live together peacefully and happily" great. But said that the term multicultural society for many people stands for anything goes. According to Dijkhoff, that policy has failed and it must be made clear that freedom and equality are non-negotiable.

Most of the opposition parties were also critical of Blok. According to GroenLinks leader, Blok created an impossible situation with his statements. He questioned the way in which the Minister expressed his regret, by saying his words were "unfortunately and carelessly" chosen. "Could the minister explain to me how he should have told the story he told carefully?"

PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher also called Blok's statements unworthy of a Minister, according to the broadcaster. 

SP leader Lilian Marijnissen repeated the words of Blok's predecessor Halbe Zijlstra, who resigned earlier this year after being caught in a lie. At his resignation, Zijlstra said that the credibility of a Minister of Foreign Affairs must be beyond any doubt. Marijnissen wondered how Blok's credibility stands. "With these statements he does not help anyone at all."

PvdD leader Marianne Thieme said that Blok's regrets seem to be mainly about his statements leaking out to the public, not the statements themselves. ​DENK leader Tunahan Kuzu said that a "polarizing Minister does not help". He pointed out that in 2004 Blok expressed a positive attitude towards multicultural societies as the chairman of a parliamentary committee. 

PVV leader Geert Wilders, on the other hand, called Blok's statements an obvious truth. According to Wilders, this is the first time that a VVD minister gets into trouble, not for lying, but for saying what he honestly thought. "Why did he swallow his words again?" Wilders thinks that Blok meant what he said, but doesn't have the backbone to stick to it. 

FvD parliamentarian Theo Hiddema also has no problem with Blok's remarks. He called the Minister a man of stature, honor and virtue, who would do much better at FvD.