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ZiM Debate #03

[ 19 October 2004 ]

The poor migrant : a public art fantasy?"

Location: Zwaanshals 283 A
Time: Doors open 19.00 uur, Debate: 20.00 - 22.00 uur

By Elisabeth Mayerhofer & Paul Stepan

Featuring: Theo Veld, Instituut voor Sociologisch-Economisch Onderzoek (ISEO)

Many public art projects are focusing onto migrants, above all those who do not suffer only from marginalization due to their ethnicity, but also due to other reasons such as gender and/or socio-economic status. This strong interest is well-founded since it is usually them who are victims of urban upgrading and gentrification programs.
The downside of this phenomenon is the fact that nobody is interested in the migrant middle class. Don't they need any attention? Is everything fine for the 2nd and 3rd generation? Or are they just not "exotic" enough? Are they too self-confident to act within a public art project?

Migration into The Netherlands is similar to other European countries: In the 1960s cheap manpower was needed in Western Europe and thus workers were recruited in countries such as Turkey or Morocco. Mostly young men were coming as "gastarbeiters" into the Netherlands, hoping to earn enough money to go back and live a better live in "their" countries. But in many cases, this dream did not come true - on the contrary. Either they did not earn enough so that the right moment to get back never arrived or they lost their jobs and stayed in The Netherlands receiving dole-money they had paid for while still employed. Many of them were joint by their families by "family reunion". Around 1975, when Surinam became independent, many Surinamese decided to move to the Netherlands. They all represent the 1st generation of migrants, having born and grown up outside the Netherlands. Many of their children were born outside The Netherlands as well, but immigrated as children and went to school in the Netherlands. They are called the "11/2 generation". The "2nd generation" consists of Dutch persons, having "allochthonous" parents, but they have grown up and been educated within in the Dutch educational system. While the 1st generation is a relatively homogenous group of unlearned workers the 3rd generation is much more heterogeneous with regard to education, profession, social life etc. Very slowly, but irresistibly they improve their position within Dutch society.

During the same period of time, Dutch society has been changing as well. In the 19th century the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants were put aside by a mutual social contract of living in parallel worlds. Without much exchange, Dutch society become pillarized, coexisting without much interaction. Each community had its own institutions such as schools and leisure clubs etc. The very basis of this living "together" was tolerance and the shared socio-cultural values such as the respect of authorities, high working ethics or the share of a Christian religion. Everyday politics were negotiated by the elites of both sides. But in the late 20th century individualization affected also the social concept and tolerance turned first into indifference - above all indifference in migrants and their social-cultural integration. All policies focused onto the socio-economic integration of migrants, ignoring the socio-cultural aspects. When cultural clashes happened such as e.g. different concepts about education and authorities, indifference turned into frustration and intolerance. All this ended up in the raise of Pim Fortuyn.

Nowadays, the whole political framework has become tougher and immigration politics is amongst the first fields to become more rigid. 1998 marks a change in immigration politics - since then immigrants (newcomers) have to learn Dutch and follow costly "Inburgeringscursussen".

Today, the segregation within Dutch society continues - there are only few interethnic contacts between persons from different backgrounds. The majority of migrants lives in "concentrated areas", former working class areas where the original Dutch population is constantly leaving to other areas because they feel overrun by migrants. The "allochthonous" who have been to Dutch schools are literally loosing contact to the "autochthonous". The growing distance smoothens the way for prejudices and racism. The multi-cultural society, which has been the political aim during a long time, did not become real. The Dutch kernel institutions are still following their (mono-)cultural rules - if one wants to succeed within them, one has to accept them.

Fostering and facilitating contacts between different social groups such as the different migrant communities, between the "autochthonous" and the "allochthonous" as well as between the generations will be a crucial task of community projects such as "Zwaanshals in motion".

For more information about statistics see also www.cos.nl