Kingdom relations specialists Gert Oostindie and Wouter Veenendaal of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies KITLV drew a large audience during a lecture at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK in The Hague on Thursday.
KITLV Director and professor at Leiden University Oostindie and academic researcher Veenendaal, a lecturer at Leiden University, provided an overview of the developments in the Kingdom based on recently published scientific articles and two surveys of 1998 and 2015 in the Dutch Caribbean.
Veenendaal presented some remarkable results of the recent field research that he did in the Dutch Caribbean as part of the larger Confronting Caribbean Challenges study, and compared the two surveys. The majority of the population on the islands supports Dutch involvement in fighting crime and the right to assume residency in the Netherlands.
However, many people are less enthusiastic when it comes to Dutch supervision of the island governments and meddling in autonomous, internal affairs. And the people’s perception of the respect that Dutch politicians have for the islands totally collapsed between the first survey in 1998 and the second one in 2015.
The ideological resistance against the Netherlands increased the most in the Caribbean Netherlands, especially in Bonaire and St. Eustatius, which is remarkable, as these islands are public entities of the Netherlands.
According to Veenendaal, the “Heart versus Head” dilemma was clearly shown in the surveys.
Oostindie spoke about independence, a desire that has been dwindling on the islands in the past years. “Independence is no longer considered a real option since the ’90s,” he said, noting that since 1983 when St. Kitts and Nevis became independent no other islands had attained country status in the Caribbean.
Veenendaal mentioned the increased polarisation in politics which is mainly visible in Bonaire and St. Eustatius and the political instability on those two islands. The Caribbean political culture often concentrates on one central political person. Politics is made personal and it is defined by a strong hierarchy with the concentration of power belonging to a few persons.
He remarked that politicians often got the blame for being involved in conflicts of interest and doing others a favour in return for political support, but there was also much pressure from voters on those same politicians to get favours in return for their support. “I voted for you, so now you have to give me a job,” Veenendaal quoted a politician from St. Eustatius, whom he had interviewed for his research, as saying.
Oostindie brought up the 1954 Kingdom Charter, which he referred to as a “product of a failed decolonisation of Indonesia.” He said the Charter had not been adapted even though Indonesia and Suriname had long attained independence. “It remained the same, while the context is a different one.”
According to Oostindie, the fictions in the Kingdom are autonomy, equality and reciprocity when considering the asymmetry in size and authority between the Netherlands on one side and the islands on the other. He called on the Netherlands to stop selling fictions and to refrain from setting unrealistic norms which the islands can never meet.
The relations in the Kingdom after 1990 are marked by the recognition of the non-sovereignty of the overseas countries, the democratic deficit and the cultural differences, a greater involvement of the Netherlands in areas such as financial management, integrity in government, migration and the integration of the Caribbean Netherlands.
This results in accusations of colonialism. “Sometimes it seems that the discontent on the islands grows with every euro that the Dutch government spends there.”
Oostindie made a case for a broader cooperation within the Kingdom. “We can’t get away from broadening our collaboration.” He mentioned climate change and sustainable development goals (SDGs), education, culture and science as prospective areas of cooperation.
“This also fits within the Charter. That demands political vision and courage.” He said the Netherlands should invest in the islands, while the islands should stop accusing the Netherlands of neo-colonialism every time the former mother country gets involved.
The Daily Herald.