Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Economic Decline, Immigration Dominate Netherlands Elections SHARING EUROPE'S PROBLEMS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Economic Decline, Immigration Dominate Netherlands Elections SHARING EUROPE'S PROBLEMS

Article excerpt

WHEN a Dutch television station last week aired an investigative report documenting the violent anti-foreigner tendencies of one of the Netherlands' far-right leaders, a country universally known for tolerance may have been saved from a devastating image blow.

Before the now-famous broadcast, which showed the well-known leader describing before a hidden camera how he had set fire to houses where blacks lived, the country's rising extreme-right Center Democrats had been expected to take eight or more parliamentary seats in national elections being held today.

Now observers believe that number will fall as low as three - still higher than the one seat the party currently holds, but short of the publicity-grabbing triumph many in the country once feared.

What no television show will have changed, however, is the widespread anxiety gnawing uncharacteristically at the Dutch as they renew their 150-seat parliament.

"There is a great despair in the country that reflects fears of economic decline, worries about immigration and rising crime, and general apprehension about the future," says Meindert Fennema, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam. "There's a sense of relief about the {far right's} unexpected decline, but the reasons for its support are still there." Social troubles

Although the Netherlands came through Europe's recession relatively unscathed - at least statistically - it faces the same malaise afflicting other European states. Unemployment and public deficits are growing, leading to heated debates about the future of the sacrosanct welfare state. Widespread fears for deteriorating public safety receive increased attention, as do reports of the Netherlands becoming the "human dump" of Europe as neighboring countries tighten immigration and refugee laws.

The elections thus come down to the voters' sense of security, observers contend - whether financial, personal, or cultural. As in other European countries in recent years, foreigners in the Netherlands have increasingly become the scapegoats. Comparing the Dutch to American Indian tribes that believed their social disintegration would end if a great power would take the white man away, Mr. …

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