Migrants in the Benelux countries

Migrants in the Benelux countries

Vestnik Kavkaza together with Vesti FM is implementing the National Question project, trying to figure out how different countries, different nations and different governments have solved issues at different times, including problems among different nationalities. Today the head of the Department of Social and Political Studies of the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences, doctor of historical sciences Vladimir Schweitzer is in the studio, together with presenters Vladimir Averin and Gia Saralidzi. After the terrorist attacks in Brussels he spoke about how the nationalist question was solved in the Benelux countries over the past decades.

Schweitzer: In fact, there was no specific policy, because it was considered that everything is going its own way. Immigrants from Africa, particularly from Congo, settled in Belgium. This was a great African colony, with reserves of uranium ore, which later became a cause of difficult relations between the Soviet Union and the West. There was a fight for uranium, for mines, for sources of nuclear energy. Natives of Africa worked in Belgium at menial jobs, but they lived better than those in Africa.

But there was a junction of two nationalist issues in Belgium. On the one hand, immigrants from Africa, Catholics, who spoke French, and on the other hand Flanders, where the authorities raised the issue that only those who speak the Flemish language could work and live in Flanders. And the Flemish language, for Africans who arrived knowing French, is not that easy. Flanders is now the most economically developed part – there are refineries and all the electronics. The Flemish nationalists believed that jobs there were only for the Flemish.

Belgium is divided not only by a language, ethnolinguistic principle, but also by a social one. Flanders is the prosperous part, it is wealthy and provides most of the GDP to the budget of Belgium. The Flemish were previously required to know French, in Flanders today people require a knowledge of Flemish. All has unfolded in the opposite direction.

Brussels, by the way, is also located in Flanders, but there everyone speaks French, and precisely there that a very large number of people with dark skin are concentrated. At the same time, if those who came from ‘black’ Africa, from Congo, were Catholics, now people coming from Morocco and Algeria to Belgium are Muslims. There are areas in Belgium, like Molenbeek, where people wear Islamic clothing, where you can hear a muezzin, it is a completely different world. Those who live there become targets of terrorist organizations.

There is also a third level of problems – Brussels is a city where about 150 thousand European officials and people working in European companies are living. This is not just Belgium, this is a kind of the international part of Europe. The problems arose largely due to the rejection of many people living in Brussels of the duality of the city into the bureaucratic, prosperous part and the less prosperous parts that look at first with a certain envy. I think that migrants themselves have felt that. As a result, terrorists detonate bombs in the center of Brussels, next to the buildings where the European Parliament, the European Commission and the mass of banks are located.

Averin: It is believed that many aspects of life are synchronized in the Benelux Union. Can we say that a nationalism policy is also synchronized in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, or does each country have its own characteristics?

Schweitzer: The decision to establish the Benelux Union was made during World War II in 1943, they agreed on this. Then it was developed to the level of the creation of the European Community. For a long time they had very much in common, now it is less, but once it was possible, for example, to travel easily with Belgian francs to Luxembourg – they had almost one currency. But from the point of view of the immigration issue and the nationalism question, in general, it is necessary to remember that the Netherlands is a country that had very many colonies. Today in Amsterdam you can see a lot of European-style people, but there are also the features of Southeast Asia. They say: "Our grandparents, our great-grandparents were officers, they went there, and created families there.’’ Therefore, the Netherlands was tolerant to people who came, even lived there. They have Calvinism, it is a branch of Protestantism, which implies brotherhood, kindness, intimacy. People brought up in this spirit perceived immigrants not as strangers, but with compassion and humanity. This is what they had had before a strong influx of people from Morocco and Algeria came to the Netherlands. They speak French, but some additions to the immigrant legislation were adopted recently, which require that all migrants from Syria and Afghanistan have to learn the language.

Saralidze: Once there was shock in the Netherlands due to the murder of the filmmaker Theodore Van Gogh, who directed a 10-minute film ‘Submission’ about how women are oppressed in Muslim countries.

Schweizer: Yes, but many people forget that there was another murder of the leader of the Dutch nationalists, Pim Fortuyn. He was killed not by Muslims, but by a representative of the Green party, who was angered by a thought expressed by Fortuyn about the possibility of killing some foxes (the activist of the radical environmental group Van der Graf said shortly after his arrest that he had taken revenge on Fortuyn for his words about the permissibility of wearing fur coats). Fortuyn had no security guards, that is the tradition there, nobody previously closed their doors, they lived quite openly. These killings have aggression and isolation elements, which are characteristic for the Muslim part. They did not to fall into the fabric of the Dutch economy, which is based on high technologies, where it is necessary to work.

It is possible to talk about multiculturalism when everybody lives together, as we had in the Soviet Union. We had some areas where there were certain nationalities, but if we talk about Moscow or Leningrad, everybody lived together there. There was no Armenian block, or Jewish block. People lived together, and somehow they managed to find a common language. There were, of course, certain national characteristics, nobody hid that, but this was a community. This is what was created in our complex and contradictory country, while in Europe it was not.

Averin: Almost all European countries have problems of a national character, which are not connected with migrants or with visitors from North Africa and black Africa or South-East Asia, but with longstanding, historical problems. The traditions of nationalism are pretty strong, if we talk about France. When the Walloons deal with the Flemish or vice versa, they are quite tough in doing it. There is a male conversation with an appropriate vocabulary and rhetoric in the confrontation of Catalonia with Madrid, Madrid with Basques, the Scots in the UK. The nationalists in Belgium, France do not have this.

Schweitzer: The phenomenon of which you speak is not nationalism, but regional separatism. In Catalonia it was always stated that they were annexed to Spain by force. Now I see a threat to Europe in the activation of those forces seeking to split it. There is a discord between the West and the East. The revival of ISIS coincided with the situation around Ukraine. As soon as they saw that there is a zone where the  West and the East are arguing, the radicals intensified.

But when we talk about Europe and about the separatism of the Scots, the Flemish, who do not want a united state, it is possible to talk about Catalonia, about northern Italy, Corsica, but, of course, to a lesser extent, it is obvious that all of this is destroying Europe. They no longer think about Europe as a whole state, but as about their own states. They believe that they will live well as a separate state. But the collapse of the Soviet Union showed everyone -- learn from our mistakes. We faced this trouble, this trouble worsened the lives of most people. But an elite that lives luxuriously appeared. No one in the Soviet Union would allow a gun shot any Abramovich or Berezovsky… Yachts, football clubs — this is a completely different level. This adversely affects the psychology of most people. They feel their insignificance.

If Europeans had learned this lesson, they would have understood that it is not necessary to destroy their own state. It is necessary to seek improvements in the language, economic and social spheres, to improve the quality of life in each region, but without leaving the state. Save the State! That's why the EU is now fraying, because it appeared to be a colossus with feet of clay. These legs are now being rasped by the Islamic terrorists, who are destroying the EU. And nobody knows how to cope with this situation.

Averin: That is, a common problem will not unite Europe, will it?

Schweitzer: It's complicated. People are intimidated — the Germans, the Dutch, the Czechs, the Poles fear a repeat of the attacks already in their countries. Now it is possible to raise the question of the restoration of the unity of Europe, of the development of certain principles, and not just European but international principles – the inviolability of the borders, the preservation of the territories, the inadmissibility of separatism, the fighting with any deviations from these norms with common efforts. You can create a peacekeeping force and introduce them in the areas where there is danger. This must be done across Europe.

Saralidze: Why are the right-wing parties strengthening in Europe, particularly in Germany?

Schweitzer: Germany was proud that it had been vaccinated against fascism forever, there was a vaccination against those elements of Nazism that had occurred in the past. But as soon as Berlin’s and Merkel’s policy weakened, people appeared who say that there should be orders from Brussels, we would live according to our German law. And this despite the fact that the economy is good there.

So now there is a question to find some common denominator. We should search for it in ways of European cooperation, at least, on matters on which they disagree. Though there are indisputable things that are difficult to unite —  the same story with these sanctions. Heinz Fischer, who stays the President of Austria for a month, said the right thing: "We are against the sanctions. But we are against the fact that gave rise to these sanctions." If we think about this idea, we can understand that it is necessary to seek peaceful solutions to regional, nationalist issues, not to make any sudden moves. Any sharp step, unfortunately, leads to what we see now in the same Brussels. The response to the strikes against Syria became strikes on Europe, on European civilization. This is a very important point that should be considered. Both Russia, Belgium and Germany are a single European civilization. We should not say that we are special, that some are worse and others are better. We should search for commonality.


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