Netherlands PM says those who don't respect customs should leave
Mark Rutte publishes open letter saying Dutch citizens should defend country’s values, in apparent bid to woo PVV voters
Mark Rutte: ‘If you don’t like it here, leave the country, go away.’ Photograph: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has published an open letter to the country’s citizens ahead of elections in March, telling anyone who cannot respect its customs to leave.
People who “refuse to adapt, and criticise our values” should “behave normally, or go away”, Rutte said in a full-page newspaper message seen as a bid to win over voters drawn to Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration, anti-Muslim Freedom (PVV) party.
He said the Dutch were “increasingly uncomfortable” with those who abused the freedoms they enjoyed after coming to the Netherlands, who “harass gays, or whistle at women in short skirts, or brand ordinary Dutch people racists”.
Rutte, whose liberal VVD party narrowly trails PVV in the polls with elections less than two months away, said he shared the feelings of those who thought: “If you so fundamentally reject this country, then I’d prefer it if you leave.”
He said the solution was “not to tar everyone with the same brush, or insult or expel whole groups” but to “make it crystal clear what is normal, and what is not normal, in our country. We must actively defend our values.”
The message did not mention PVV by name, but Wilders struck back on Monday, calling Rutte “the man of open borders, of the asylum tsunami, of mass immigration, Islamisation, lies and deception”.
Seeking a third term in government, Rutte is credited with leading the Netherlands to recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, but has seen his popularity slide and was accused by a centre-right rival last week of presiding over a “moral crisis”.
Wilders, who spoke on Saturday at a meeting in Germany of Europe’s far-right populist leaders, was found guilty in December of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans but is appealing against the conviction, which he called “shameful”.
The 15 March elections will be watched as the first of several in a “super-election” year across Europe that could see rightwing populists make major gains in France and Germany, although Wilders will struggle to form a government since Rutte last week ruled out forming a coalition with the PVV.
The prime minister’s letter, published in several Dutch newspapers and on the VVD’s website, took aim at “antisocial people who believe they should always have priority. Who dump rubbish on the streets, and who spit on the conductors on the trains and trams.”
In a separate interview with the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, he described as bizarre a recent ruling by the Dutch human rights board against a bus company that had rejected a man applying to be a driver because he refused to shake women’s hands.
“It can’t be right for a bus driver to say: ‘I refuse to shake a woman’s hand because that doesn’t fit my belief,’” Rutte told the paper. “That’s why people are rebelling. Because the norm here is that we shake each other’s hands.”
He added that he had “the same message for everyone: if you don’t like it here, leave the country, go away. That’s a choice you have, isn’t it? If you live in a country where the way we treat each other drives you mad, then you have the choice. Go away. You don’t have to be here.”