By Esther Barfoot

The newspaper photo made my (German) mother laugh. The Dutch prime minister visiting king Willem-Alexander on his bike. ‘This great kingdom…’, she laughed. ‘So modest in its representation.’ We agreed a cycling prime minister looks good. Unfortunately, the reason for his visit to the king wasn’t so good.

He was there to hand in his resignation, because the Dutch tax authority had cracked down on innocent families for almost a decade, and no judge, no minister and no prime minister for that matter, had stopped it.


Rutte is definitely modest in one department: idealism. Perfected nihilism, the Dutch political commentator Marc Chavannes calls it. Rutte, he writes, runs the Netherlands as a business. And for its institutions the citizens have become clients, who basically are to be distrusted. The Dutch have leaned into it, because it has been a pretty profitable business.


Yet, after ten years of Rutte, the Dutch might be paying the price. The Netherlands is starting to feel less safe as a country to its inhabitants. Especially now another, brand-new report has shown many more civilians are cornered and squeezed each year by other government institutions.

Rutte runs the Netherlands as a business. The Dutch have leaned into it, because it has been a pretty profitable business.

Marc Chavannes in De Correspondent

This fading sense of security of course is the perfect breeding ground for populist politicians. With the Dutch elections coming up on 17 March more and more of them are crowding the scene, driving golden oldie Geert Wilders to write his most extremist program so far.


But, there is an antidote. Two members of Parliament were pivotal in bringing the case of the families duped by the tax authority to light and creating a breakthrough for them. For years, Pieter Omtzigt (CDA, biggest christian party) and Renske Leijten (SP, socialist party) were prodding and probing, investigating and advocating, and asking many, many questions.


According to writer and columnist Bas Heijne, this is exactly the kind of politicians we need. In the broadcast of Nieuwsweekend (Radio 1) on January 9 he argues that more and more people distrust the political establishment and they have reason to do so. He also argues we need hard-working, critical politicians who are committed to holding the government and its institutions accountable. Politicians who act out of compassion and community spirit and not out of some kind of narcissistic need for attention.


He says about Pieter Omtzigt: ‘He wants to restore trust in the government and he does that by being very critical. Not by rejecting the government and radicalising, but by being very precise and by really holding politicians to their promises and monitoring them.’ Later in the conversation, he says: ‘I don’t see many other politicians doing this in a real way and not just rhetorically.’


We need hardworking, critical politicians who stand between the people and are committed to holding the government accountable.

Bas Heijne on the Dutch Radio 1

This statement of Heijne on the Dutch Radio 1 resonated with me. On many levels. Like many people, I am worried about the rise of populism and rightwinged extremism. Also, in recent years I have become a fan of the outspoken activist politician Omtzigt. And then, I especially liked what Heijne said about politicians who act out of compassion and community spirit. That is exactly what we need in a societal, economic and political system where humans are often regarded as clients or, worse, as resources. Where humans are frequently respected and appreciated in words, but more rarely in actions.


But what resonated with me most of all, is the optimism of what Heijne says. It is easy to lose confidence sometimes in politics. To fret at the rise of populism, especially with the increase of conspiracy theorists and fact free politics. But Bas Heijne shows us the way forward. He shows us how politicians actually working from a sense of humanity and, working their fingers to the bone doing it, can help us move forward.


He shows us how, we, the people, by not losing confidence in democracy and justice, and fleeing towards those promising us ‘the good old days’, but by acknowledging these hard-working politicians with a solid sense of  community and voting for them, can help us move forward. And he shows us how realizing that we ARE society and we CAN BE those politicians, can help us move forward. And that that way, yes, we can bring about change.


The values that Heijne promotes, are values that lie at the core of my activist communication: community, humanity, standing among the people, giving a voice to the undercurrent and a large dose of optimism.


However, there is one mayor difference between what Omtzigt does and my activist communication. I generally work in a context where we can make change attractive, fun and seductive. Where we can use the arts and creativity to bring the voice of the undercurrent to the surface. In the case of the hard working politicians such as Pieter Omtzigt and Renske Leijten, there is no fun or seduction for the victims. There is only justice. If that.


You can find the episode of Nieuwsweekend here.  The interview with Bas Heijne takes place between 0:45:59 -1:01:53.