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EUROPE > Turkish immigrant in Holland killed in racist attack

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Populist Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders reacts at a news conference in The Hague in this March 5, 2012 file photo. REUTERS Photo

Populist Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders reacts at a news conference in The Hague in this March 5, 2012 file photo. REUTERS Photo

As the Netherlands heads for a general election, barely a day passes without a mention of "Henk and Ingrid", or Mr and Mrs Average, in a political debate that has revolved around the economy and the euro zone debt crisis.

The invention of populist politician Geert Wilders - who heads the anti-immigration, anti-euro Freedom Party - this mythical couple attracted a different kind of notoriety after a real Dutch Henk, with a wife called Ingrid, killed a Turkish immigrant, prompting commentators to warn that populism can backfire.

Until now, voters have been receptive to homespun stories about the imaginary hardworking couple who, Wilders says, are fed up with Muslim immigration, and lately with the cost to Dutch taxpayers of bailouts resulting from the euro zone debt crisis.

Wilders' anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric propelled his party into third place in the 2010 election and gave him real power and influence as the minority government's ally in parliament. It was Wilders who brought that government down in April when he refused to support budget cuts to reduce the deficit to meet EU targets.

"The cultural issues that dominated from 2006 are off the agenda since the economic crisis really hit us hard in Europe," said Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at VU University Amsterdam.

Krouwel says the tragic story of Henk and Ingrid highlights the limits to the kind of opportunistic populism that he said had passed its high tide in the country.

Henk was implicated in the apparent racist killing of a Turkish immigrant in the poor, post-industrial town of Almelo.

According to the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, a long-running conflict between Henk, 61, his wife Ingrid, 59, and the family of a Turkish immigrant named Aziz Kara, 64, came to a head last Saturday. During an argument, Henk threw Kara to the ground. Kara went into a coma and later died.

The sad irony of an apparent racist killing being committed by two people sharing the names of Wilders' mythical populist couple has been widely noted, furnishing material for comedians in an Amsterdam club on Friday night. 

Popular Turkish family

Henk and Ingrid used to refer to Kara's family as "the mafia," putting on Dutch music to drown out their Turkish music, and complaining that the Turkish family, popular in the neighbourhood, was "spying on" them, the newspaper reported.

"This is the risk of a strategy that's based on imagery and issue-ownership. They connect with the personal lives of people, but you run the great risk of someone turning up with exactly the name and the position," said Krouwel, who compared Wilders' misfortune to that which befell John McCain when he took up the cause of "Joe the Plumber" in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.

"It's a cynical thing when you take up someone like Joe the Plumber, and then he turns out to be a racist idiot."

The latest opinion polls show the Freedom Party would win only 20 seats in the 150-seat parliament, down from 24 in the 2010 election. This week in a new round of defections, two more lawmakers resigned from Wilders' party, accusing him of running it like a North Korean-style "politburo", and leaving it with just 21 members of parliament.

A survey published on Sunday by the pollster Maurice de Hond also suggests cultural populism may have had its day. Only a fifth of respondents supported Wilders' call to exclude Turkey from NATO, but more than half supported his proposals for cutting value-added tax and fuel duty.

However, Wilders' Freedom Party still lags the other Dutch populist party - the far-left Socialist Party, which also has an anti-austerity, pro-growth agenda.

The Socialist Party, which in the 1970s was still an unreconstructed Maoist-Marxist party, has "social-democratised" itself, according to Krouwel, and is now on course to become the largest party, with as many as 31 seats.

That could be bad news for Germany after the Dutch election on September 12. Under Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Christian Democrat Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager, the Netherlands has been Germany's closest ally in pushing for fiscal rigour and painful austerity in Europe's indebted south.

The Socialist Party, with its focus on jobs and economic growth, could be a much more difficult partner. Although the Netherlands has a consensual political culture and a tradition of big, unwieldy coalitions, Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer would have trouble finding coalition partners to support his economic agenda, Krouwel said.


July/10/2012

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READER COMMENTS

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Chris Green

7/12/2012 1:36:33 PM

To Chas Spencer - completely concur with your point, 100%. The other point too in the Srebrinica massacre is that this was carried out with at least the tacit approval of the Orthodox church.

Chas Spencer

7/12/2012 6:34:16 AM

I always thought of Dutc as fairminded people, until the day, when the entire Government resigned as sign of shame, over their Military's behaviour at Srebernitsa, causing the death of over 8;000 Moslem males at the hands of the Serbs, where the Dutch, U.N. contingent stepped aside and opened the way to mass murder. The Government's symbolic resignation for one day, They returned the next day laughing and joking on this solemn occasion that was intended to commemorate the victims of Mass Murder

Sparks

7/11/2012 1:08:53 PM

Red Tail: yes there were some cultural related problems, but no signs of racism. So in this view it was an ordinary quarrel between neighbours from two different cultures. I also see now that the Hurriyet changed the article and is again telling things that are not true. The SP (Socialist Party) is not the biggest party after the survey from last Sunday. It is the VVD, the liberal party from prime minister Mark Rutte. It would be a disaster if the SP would become the biggest party.

Red Tail

7/10/2012 5:41:20 PM

Do we know that it was due to racism they were fighting? Or was it because they were two neighbours who just did not like each other and during a fist fight.one was killed by accident?

Suhail Shafi

7/10/2012 4:58:37 PM

One of the most widespread myths surrounding the Netherlands is that is is a bastion of tolerance. In reality, as the virulently racist tone and rhetoric of far right politicians like Wilders makes clear, this is light years away from the truth. A whole generation of neo fascist politicians have made this country a hotbed of right wing extremism and acts of violence like this murder are an expected byproduct.

Sparks

7/10/2012 4:51:39 PM

Red Tail: in the past and present history countries/states (and on the micro scale e.g. a family) people are/were pointing to the other side to cover up their own difficulties. It is more easy to battle the other (abroad) than to clean your own chicken shack. As a non Turk, but knowing Turkey very well, I am sometimes very disappointed and astonished about the news published in Turkey. But also you know it is happening in more countries.

Sami Faltas

7/10/2012 4:07:33 PM

'Henk and Ingrid' are an imaginary couple used by Geert Wilders as short-hand for an ordinary Dutch family (not the ideal Dutch family). So when a Dutch couple called Henk and Ingrid are accused of being involved in the killing of a foreigner, some media people who know nothing about the rules of journalism connect the real couple with the imaginary one. Nagidos Akdeniz is right. This is awful reporting. I found the same nonsense in several Dutch media.

Johanna Dew

7/10/2012 3:28:20 PM

Nobody s convicted but Hurryiet thinks differently. The Dutch couple can easy sue Hurryet. No problem at all. In the USA that would be 25 million at least...because trial not even started.Defense would say 'no far trial possible'. Under EU laws you can clam damage these days.

Red Tail

7/10/2012 2:23:49 PM

Nagidos Akdeniz. Thanks for the clarification. I do not understand why the Turkish press is so determined to present life as hell for Tuks living abroad. It is extremely biased. And it makes it even more peculiar when there are maybe 6 million Turks who have decided to stay abroad instead of moving to Turkey. If one Turk is killed by a European it gets a lot of attention. If 7 000 Turks in Germany are killed by fellow Turks, no one writes a word. Why? Does it not matter?

Sparks

7/10/2012 1:49:35 PM

This has nothing to do with the PVV Party. So wrong information from the side of the Hurriyet. Only (and just that) the names of the couple refer to a PVV-item. This was an ordinary quarrel between neighbours with a very bad result for the Turkish man. And if course the outcome is totally wrong and the people who are guilty have to be punished. By the way: also Kara's son Deniz also belongs to the suspects.
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