Multicultural society

Soon after the Second World War, new waves of immigrants began to arrive in the Netherlands, at first mainly from Indonesia. In the 1960s, the Dutch government and companies recruited workers in countries such as Italy, Spain, Turkey and Morocco. Later, the resultant multicultural society came under considerable fire.


1960-1985 Guest workers

Moroccan in digs. Koen Wessing, 1975

As the Netherlands rebuilt and industry began to flourish, a shortage of labour developed. Employers and the government began recruiting cheap workers in southern Europe and later also Turkey and Morocco. Although they were called guest workers and were supposed to return home after their contract finished, growing numbers were given permanent work permits. And they were allowed to bring their families over. In addition, political refugees were welcomed and when Surinam achieved independence in 1975, a huge number of people moved from the former colony to the Netherlands. With the arrival of migrants from all corners of the world, Dutch society was transformed. New arrivals brought their cuisine, their customs, language and religion. Mosques were built, and since the 1980s Muslim and Hindu schools.

Previous Next

1985-2004 Integration

The Scream, design for a memorial for Theo van Gogh. Jeroen Henneman, 2005

In the mid-1980s, a public debate developed about whether and how to integrate migrants into Dutch culture. Migrants were encouraged to nurture their culture, yet this could be a social disadvantage and detrimental to the education and job prospects of their children. The tone of the debate became more acrimonious in the 1990s. Hans Janmaat, a politician on the extreme right, was actually fined and imprisoned for his comments about mass-immigration. He opposed policies design to encourage a multicultural society. Commentators Frits Bolkestein and Paul Scheffer and politician Pim Fortuyn gave a new impulse to the debate. After the terror attack in New York on 11 September 2001, criticism of Islam and Muslims rose exponentially. A leading critic was filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh. His diatribes so enraged one radical Muslim that in 2004 he murdered Van Gogh.

Previous Next

2004-2006 After the murder of Van Gogh

Hirsi Ali announcing her withdrawal from politics and the Netherlands. Roel Rozenburg, 2006

The man who murdered Theo van Gogh stated as his reason the broadcast of Submission. Van Gogh had made this film about the suppression of women in the Islamic world with Liberal (VVD) politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When Van Gogh was killed she went into hiding; she feared that she would also be targeted by Muslim extremists. The reaction to the death of Van Gogh in the Netherlands and abroad was one of shock; it was seen as an attack on free speech. Here and there arsonists attacked Muslim schools, but further violence was avoided. The political debate now focused on how to integrate new immigrants and whether Dutch citizens should be allowed dual nationality. Hirsi Ali found herself in an awkward predicament: she had not been entirely truthful when she applied for citizenship and so doubt was cast on the legitimacy of her naturalisation. In 2006, she left the country.


2006-2012 Freedom and provocation

Geert Wilders PVV election campaign. Joost van den Broek, 2006

Tile frieze Old West–Home is Best. Arno Coenen, 2007

After Hirsi Ali left the Netherlands, it was former Liberal (VVD) politician Geert Wilders who took up and continued the debate about immigration and Islam. He formed his own Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid - PVV) and successfully fought in the parliamentary elections of 2006 and 2010. His provocative comments about people with dual nationality, the Quran and women who wear headscarves frequently appeared in the news. At the same time, other, more moderate voices called for tolerance and acceptance of people with different perspectives in Dutch society.