Controversy over bilingual election campaign
The Radio Netherlands News, February 23, 2010
While the tax department is allowed to send information in Turkish, politicians may only use Dutch.
Can you distribute brochures in Turkish asking voters to elect a candidate of Turkish descent to the town council? Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan says it is not permissible because it goes against the principle that immigrants should become part of Dutch society. Some ethnic candidates disagree, saying their message will not reach many citizens.
Turkish and Chinese-language election campaign literature for the municipal elections on 3 March has sparked controversy in the Netherlands. As a result, a number of parties have banned further distribution of the flyers. Minister Van der Laan says they send 'the wrong signal'. He says Turkish-language flyers contradict the process of integration and that the campaign should be conducted in Dutch only.
The Christian Democrat candidate Mahmut Yazici is distributing a bilingual flyer in Deventer, where some 3,000 first-generation Turks speak little or no Dutch. The Christian Democrats have always distributed literature in both Dutch and Turkish.
'I always distribute bilingual folders with the same information in Dutch and Turkish. Otherwise, the older generation will have no idea of what I am saying. I want to get people to vote. I do it in Turkish so that my message is understood.'
The debate on integration in the Netherlands and being able to speak Dutch are inseparable. Most MPs agree that foreign-language election flyers do not further the process of integration. However, Han Entzinger, professor of migration and integration studies at Rotterdams Erasmus University, believes that the major obstacle is one of trust.
'I believe the real problem is that the native Dutch and party leaders cannot read the flyers. They are not sure what is being said and do not know if it complies with party policy. It is difficult to check so they prefer that all communications take place in Dutch.'
Professor Entzinger finds the commotion about the flyers ambiguous and contradictory. Political parties make a lot of effort to get the immigrant vote. Four years ago, the Labour Party owed much of its success in Rotterdam to voters from the immigrant community. However this week the same party removed election posters praising a candidate in Turkish.
'Many times the vote of the immigrant community has been the decisive factor. And in spite of all the efforts made to integrate immigrants, there are still many older people who do not speak and understand Dutch that well,' says Professor Entzinger. 'That is something we have inherited (from past policies) and with which we will have to live for a while. Recognise this. And dont be so childish about it.'
Christian Democrat Mahmut Yazici points out that government authorities in the Netherlands use bilingual flyers. There are flyers from the tax authorities, against household violence and brochures from municipalities. Mr Yazici thinks the discussion has become absurd:
'During meetings of the town council I hear politicians use English words all the time. Even the alderman. They should stop doing this. For them English is not a problem, but Turkish is. If we are going to be fair, then everyone should speak correct Dutch.'