Movie Introduces Would-Be Immigrants to The Netherlands
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Prospective immigrants to the Netherlands from outside the U.S. or the European Union have to take a new test. Some of the things that they're testing for seem unremarkable, knowing a little Dutch, knowing who William of Orange was, knowing whether hitting women is permitted or illegal in Holland, but there's also a DVD study aid, a two hour video presentation that evidently shows the would-be Hollander things that he might reasonable expect to see once he gets there.
Unidentified Woman: A lot of the Netherlands was designed and built by man, it's the only way because the Netherlands is small and 16 million people have to live here, so Holland is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
SIEGEL: The images in this video also include a woman bathing topless at the beach, two men kissing and a rundown housing project where many Muslim immigrants live. This is evidently the brainchild of Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Perro de Jong reports for Radio Netherlands, he's in Hilversum in the Netherlands. Welcome back to the program, and tell us is the idea here to tell the Turkish or Moroccan immigrants this may not be the country for you?
Mr. PERRO DE JONG (Reporter, Radio Netherlands): Well ideally it suggests to them how they should behave, what they should know for it to be the country for them, but I dare say that many people wouldn't mind if it had kind of a deterrent effect at the same time.
SIEGEL: This video presentation has actually become rather controversial there, I gather.
Mr. DE JONG: Well it was upon its conception last year and in fact the Dutch authorities have decided to bring out another version that doesn't include some of the more controversial images that you mentioned, including the men kissing and the topless beach.
SIEGEL: But that image of the Dutch woman walking out of the surf bare breasted might as well be a billboard to extremely conservative religious fundamentalists, this is a very, very liberal society, get ready for it.
DE JONG: Yes. So what? I mean, that is the purpose of this whole exam. Again, it's an exam for people who have never been to the Netherlands, who may not know a lot about the Netherlands and is basically telling them, this is what you should realistically expect and, if that is something you can live with and if you can sort of take onboard some of the norms and values that you're offered through this course, then, yes, you can go to the next step, which is this preliminary residence permit, which will then be followed by further courses upon arrival in the Netherlands, and, at the very, very end of line, possibly citizenship.
SIEGEL: This seems to be the paradox facing your country, one that was personified by the late populist politician (unintelligible) that Holland is an extremely liberal society, that welcoming immigrants is a very liberal value, but that many of the immigrants who are coming come from societies that deplore those very liberal values.
Mr. DE JONG: Yes. Although I think that where really all of this comes from is the sense that a lot of people have had and not just the followers (unintelligible), that it's been the Dutch authorities who have in many ways gone overboard trying to accommodate the cultures and the needs and the expectations of the immigrants. I mean, you could argue that can't really blame the immigrants for being intolerant, if you like.
If from arriving in the Netherlands, all they get told is that you know it's fine to maintain their own culture, to keep themselves to themselves, if you like, and if by any chance anything in Dutch society will give offense to them, that's in order to show how enlightened and liberal and accommodating we are, then we will do whatever we can to change it. And it's that attitude that basically led to a lot of pressure on the authorities and that pursuit is still in the process of trying to come to terms with.
SIEGEL: Now, one of my countrymen here in America who might want to move to the Netherlands would not have to take this test I gather?
Mr. DE JONG: True. It's specifically for non-Western immigrants, which has been another big debate, because at first the idea was that every single immigrant would have to take it. Well, that was basically laughed off by the authorities who were then faced with the problem of implementing this whole system. So the argument there, the philosophy, if you like, is that people from Western countries and let's say, THAT for instance Australia, New Zealand, etc. are ranked here as Western, would from their own exposure and access to the media already know most of the things that are in this test. Therefore, it wouldn't be primarily aimed at them, and it's been narrowed down for formerly non-Western countries.
In practice, really what you can argue is that there are two countries, Morocco and Turkey that it's really aimed at, and particularly, women and families of immigrants already living in the Netherlands who want to rejoin them. I mean, that is really the very small group that this exam is really meant for.
SIEGEL: Perro De Jong, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. DE JONG: Thank you and goodbye.
SIEGEL: That's Perro De Jong of Radio Netherlands. He spoke to us from Hilversum in the Netherlands. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.