Yellow vests in action in the Netherlands

Edition 8 March, by Bárbara Luque

Fuelled by the December protests in France, originally aimed at rising petrol costs, which involved tens of thousands of demonstrators, the Yellow Vests movement has arrived in the Netherlands.

Hundreds of people under the name of ‘Gele Hesjes NL’, fully equipped with banners, flags and their distinctive fluorescent vests, flooded the streets of several major cities in the Netherlands. Their main aim was to show their dissatisfaction and distrust of a government which, they say, is not concerned about their situation.

Magazine HP/de Tijd interviewed Meindert Fennema, emeritus professor of political science, about the Dutch copying the behaviour of the French protesters, and he said it is no coincidence. “All forms of social protests tend to be imitated: at present it is blowing from France, to Belgium and the Netherlands. The same goes for the protests of 1968: social protest is contagious.”

They are angry, and they want changes, but what exactly are the concerns of the yellow vests in the Netherlands? Protest themes have a varied range, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the system, and everything else that the Dutch are mad about. Newspaper NRC headlined its coverage of the protests: ‘Also in the Netherlands, the yellow vests are very angry about everything’, a title that suits perfectly. Each demonstrator seemed to have their own reason to join the movement: the participation of the Netherlands in the EU, Zwarte Piet, the media, the pact of Marrakesh, taxes, poverty, a lack of opportunities for young people, migration policies, vaccinations and the abolishment of the referendum, among others.

The organization of the protests started via internet, with ‘Gele Hesjes NL’ being the largest group on Facebook. More and more people join the platform to show their accumulated dissatisfaction with the government. Contrary to their French counterparts, the Gele Hesjes protests have been, so far, rather peaceful. This is due in part thanks to the extra bureaucracy needed to be able to protest in the streets: a permit. Additionally, police and organizers want the protests to take place without incidents. “We have a common goal, a peaceful meeting. Let’s keep it nice”, an agent said to a yellow vest organizer in The Hague. Still, the police performed several arrests in The Hague and Maastricht during the protests.

Asked about the violent nature of these protests, Fennema said: “It’s different in the Netherlands. Trade unions or environmental movements are often immediately included in consultations with the government, so that violence is not necessary. The yellow vests will initially not have much success. My estimation is that the yellow vests are a kind of coalition of SP and PVV supporters.”

In Maastricht, the main objective of the protest in February was to show dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Rutte and to promote the Netherlands leaving the European Union, just like UK. Dutch protesters for this event were joined by demonstrators from Belgium, France and Germany.

Contrary to what one may think, political parties are embracing the movement and understand where the anger is coming from. For example, Lilian Marijnissen (SP) thought that people in yellow vests “demand their fair share”. Geert Wilders (PVV) called it “great, a good initiative”. And CDA leader Sybrand Buma thought that the yellow vests deserved a place at the climate discussion tables. Even Prime Minister Rutte, who is at the center of the heat and demands, had a positive view of the protests: “We all have a yellow vest to some extent. We all naturally have our concerns about developments in society.” Although most political parties are struggling with the movement, they are showing a willingness to listen to the dissatisfied citizens and their concerns.

Asked about the success of the first Dutch demonstration in December, Lodewijk de Waal, former trade union chairman of FNV, said he does not think it was effective and even considers it “completely amateurish”. He stated to HP/de Tijd that “for a good protest action you must have a clear demand, which is shared among all layers of society, as is now the case in France. In the Netherlands, there is currently not enough discontent to organize such a thing. I suspect that the yellow vests in the Netherlands will not succeed.”

In the meantime, everyone should get used to these manifestations, as the Gele Hesjes NL see every reason to continue with their movement. They have stated that their protests will continue until food banks are no longer needed and nobody has to live on the streets.