Amerikaanse toestanden

As you all know, the Dutch are renowned for their endless tolerance. We accept everything: from marijuana and same-sex marriage to abortion and euthanasia. We are a complete equal rights society.

In addition, our society cares for all its citizens, employed or unemployed, rich or poor, whatever ethnic background they are from. We don’t discriminate, because we are the noblest people in Europe with the highest morals and the best welfare system in the world. We have no death penalty because we consider that inhumane and cruel, and we are proud of our humane treatment of criminals.

Okay, forget all of the above, as it’s a pack of lies. First of all, we tend to forget that our country was built on the wealth gained by trading slaves and plundering our colonies in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, because those were the olden days. After the Second World War we got even richer. Yes, people worked hard, but we also started exploiting our oil and gas reserves. The economy was booming. Then came personal freedom in the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s when the myth of tolerance and humanity was invented. We tend to think we are the best country in the world, because we have high morals and values, much better than other countries, especially the USA. We see that country as having a nightmare society. We even have a word for it, ‘Amerikaanse toestanden’, which literally means ‘American situations’. And it’s not a compliment.

amerikaanse vlag met handen

The problem is that in real life we have started resembling the USA more and more. Since the end of the last century we have started to realize that our much-praised multicultural society is a failure, because we have a large and fiercely nationalistic political party called the PVV, which basically wants to get rid of all non-western foreigners, and our welfare state – with its national health insurance and unemployment benefits for everyone – is quickly disintegrating.

A harsh wind of change has been blowing for a decade. Different groups in society don’t get along. In fact, they ignore each other as much as possible. Also, everybody complains that it used to be better in the olden days and that we’re heading straight for the Apocalypse.

This general feeling in society has caused a political swing to the right, with emphasis on responsibility for your actions, zero tolerance to crime and a call for more and longer punishments for criminals. Also, please do something about their leisure life in prison, where they have their own room, with television, books, the right to study online at a university and – albeit restricted – internet. The general view about Dutch prisons is that they are just like luxury hotels. They cost a lot of money and, besides, criminals don’t deserve such a luxury life.

So now, after a political debate that has lasted years, the State Secretary for Security and Justice, Fred Teeven, is about to change all that, because you have to listen to what the people say, right? He is proposing to close down half the penitentiary institutions and put two criminals together in one cell. Prison guards expect more problems and fights. Also, we seem to forget that convicts still have human rights, like the right to privacy, based on article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Of course, infringements of these rights are possible, e.g. taking someone’s liberty away after a fair trial and putting them in prison, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to treat them as human beings anymore.

This plan of putting two convicts in one cell is a small but telling example of how our society is moving towards the American system we say we despise so much. ‘Amerikaanse toestanden’ are becoming more and more common. In times of crisis you get to know who you are and we are no better than most other democratic countries. Of course we still think we are, thanks to our collective megalomania since our Golden Age, when Holland ruled the waves, but don’t fall for it. Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but now you know.

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