Monday, January 30, 2023

Politics past pillarization

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

By Songül Arslan, economist and international relations specialist.

For decades the Netherlands derived a certain kind of political stability from “pillarization”.  These pillars were formed around the different cleavages of Dutch society, such as religion and political ideology. One of the characteristics of these pillars was the fact that they were very well-organized, not only in a political way but also in a social way. These pillars also had their own social networks, banks, sports clubs and newspapers. The political figures of the different pillars were the representatives of their pillarized part of society and ‘fought’ out their differences in the political arena. People from different pillars hardly ever mingled, the social interaction between them was restricted to a minimum and there was no talk of integration yet. Another characteristic was the ‘social control’ within these pillars.

During the period of pillarization times were different and simpler, or so it seemed. Some opinion makers refer to those times as more stable. Whether that is true or not, it does seem as if the current political system in the Netherlands is not as stable as it used to be. For instance, all past four governments Balkenende collapsed prematurely. The current cabinet is called Rutte II which was formed after the cabinet Rutte I also fell within 2 years which means that in the past 13 years not a single cabinet fulfilled its full term. Rutte I was formed around a minority cabinet. A minority cabinet in general fuels the expectancy of instability. A minority cabinet is the situation where the governing political party or parties don’t have the majority of the seats. In the case of Rutte I it was the VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy) and CDA (Christian Democrats) who governed but didn’t have the majority of the seats. A minority cabinet is not unique in the Netherlands but is still quite rare. The reason for a minority cabinet in the Netherlands was that the Christian Democrats and the PVV (Party for Freedom) mostly differed regarding the topic of Islam, although there were a few other issues that needed to be ironed out as well. The current cabinet with the governing parties of the VVD and the PvdA (The Dutch Labour Party) have their own challenges and complexities. For example, they might even be placed at different points regarding ideology and labour issues which in times of a recession is a hot issue.

However, Islam is still something of a cleavage in the Dutch political spectrum. The alleged lack of integration of Muslims remains a political issue, especially now with young Muslims joining the Jihad of ISIS. Not so long ago, some voiced the opinion that pillarization would have served the integration of Muslims well and therefore stability in society. Although that is an interesting thought to explore, times were indeed different back then. It would be nearly impossible to introduce pillarization again where people lived around and according to the various pillars and where ‘social control’ was omnipresent. People have become more individualized. They don’t need a pillar to organize themselves around, they form their own networks that are not limited to the same religion, class or ideology. Also, society at large and the world have changed. Best practices and solutions from the past are what they are: solutions from the past. Current politics should not only look for ideas in pillarization but past that and beyond that. Pillarization is something to consider and to derive inspiration from but not be seen as more than a remnant of what used to work in different times. To look for stability in the Dutch political system is to look into history, think of the present and see a future in line with the overall changes in society.


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