By Bonnie Klap.
In The Netherlands there is always some kind of national debate going on. Last December it was the debate about “Sinterklaas” and his “Zwarte Piet,” or Black Peter, whom some viewed as racist and a throwback to the times of slavery. This time there is a fierce debate going on about what is referred to in the press as the ‘Sochi-delegation.’ His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, Her Majesty Queen Maxima, Prime-Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Sports, Mrs. Edith Schippers, will attend the Sochi 2014 Wintergames. The fact that such a top-level delegation will travel to Sochi does not sit well with some, as they see the attendance of a King, a Queen, a Prime-Minister and one of his Cabinet-Ministers as an act of condonation toward the handling of gay rights in Russia. Passionate statements are being made on both sides of the issue. Truth be told, The Netherlands is – and always has been – protective of the rights of gay people. Not only do prominent politicians and other dignitaries make it a point of being highly visible at the Annual Gay Parade in Amsterdam, but The Netherlands has even put the rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders on the UN-agenda as one of its key points. Moreover, unlike The Netherlands, its allies such as the US, Germany and France have made a clear decision not to send a high level delegation to Sochi. Hence, the opponents of the Dutch delegation attending the Sochi-wintergames argue that, at the very least, The Netherlands is sending Russia mixed signals. Not so, the proponents counter. Sports and politics should at all times remain totally separated and the two have nothing to do with each other. Indeed, so the proponents argue, the very fact that this high-level delegation includes Royalty and a Prime-Minister, will facilitate the dialogue on this heated topic between Prime-Minister Mark Rutte and Russian dignitaries. Prime-Minister Mark Rutte finds himself in a hardly enviable position, certainly now that several well-known VVD-party colleagues of his, such as EU-commissioner Mrs. Neelie Kroes, have recently openly questioned the wisdom of his decision to attend. Certainly something can be said for both sides and the Prime-Minister is probably handling this thorny issue in the best way he can. In part coerced by several vocal Members of Parliament, Prime-Minister Rutte has promised to “discuss” the rights of homosexuals during his trip to Sochi and “if possible” even mention it to Russian President Putin.