Dozens sign letter against cancel culture following month of BLM protests

Police at an anti-social distancing protest on the Malieveld in The Hague, 21 June 2020
Police at an anti-social distancing protest on the Malieveld in The Hague, 21 June 2020PolitiePolitie

Around 90 Dutch and Flemish students, academics, politicians and opinion makers signed a declaration against cancel culture, which they linked on Thursday to pressure against freedom of speech. The letter invoked the name of George Floyd, killed as a result of police brutality in the U.S. state of Minnesota, and said the aftermath led to intimidating actions by "radical groups".

Floyd's death sparked weeks of protests around the world, including throughout the month of June in the Netherlands, against structural racism and colonialist mindsets. While many of those protests were united under the banner of "Black Lives Matter", the letter stopped just short of naming the BLM movement as those they perceive as being responsible for putting pressure on free speech.

“After the death of George Floyd in the United States, the discussion about (institutional) racism flared up. While every form of racism must be rejected and the fight against it is important, there are concerns about the direction in which this discussion is developing,” the group said in an open letter which was later signed by over three thousand other people. They accuse “radical groups” of suppressing critics of the right to free speech and expression, without mentioning any one groups specifically.

"We shouldn't let freedom of speech be hijacked by a small group of intolerants," they said. "Radical groups want to deny others who do not advocate 'the right opinion' the right to express their opinion," the manifesto stated. "A debate should be possible to be held on any subject. This also includes the possibility of expressing opinions with which you strongly disagree or that go against current social discourse."

The manifesto was written by Raisa Blommestijn, researcher and lecturer at Leiden University, and fellow PhD candidate Bart Collard. According to them, it was signed by people like far right wing nationalist FvD leader Thierry Baudet, four other FvD party members, Richard de Mos - a former alderman recently implicated in a political corruption scandal in The Hague, former parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, professor of law philosophy Andreas Kinneging, war photographer Teun Voeten, former chairman of Amnesty International Willy Laes, and entertainer and singer Marga Bult. Three members of far right nationalist party PVV also signed the letter before its release, but not party leader Geert Wilders

"The urgency is too great: we must start a counter movement now," Blommestijn said. According to her, they kept the manifesto deliberately abstract so that they could reach everyone, from left to right on the political spectrum. "We also do not act as a collective. Everyone signed in a personal capacity."

By 3 p.m. on Thursday, Blommestijn said that over 3,500 people had also signed the open letter.