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Editorial Open Letter to the Dutch Ambassador to Slovenia

In recent years the Tulip Award has been presented to human rights activists in Uganda, Armenia and Pakistan. In this case we have an EU Member State handing out human rights awards to organisations in a fellow Member State, whereby the main merit of the nominees of the award appears to be that of having protested against another Member State's government. The Netherlands hardly appears to be in a position to take the higher moral ground and to patronise other EU Member States ...

07.12.2022 22:00
Ključne besede:   Letter   Netherlands   Johan O. Verboom   Slovenia   Tulip Award   human rights

Your Excellency, Mr. Johan O. Verboom, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Slovenia,


On 8th of December, Human Rights Day, you will be awarding the Dutch Embassy Tulip Award 2022 to "outstanding and courageous human rights defenders" in Slovenia. The news that this prize was being awarded in Slovenia by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was first met by many with dismay and disbelief. To be honest, we first thought it was a prank. 


Please allow us, Your Excellency, to explain why we disagree with your decision to award this prize in Slovenia, as well as with your choice of nominees. Your award is widely perceived as being "political" in its essence 


As such it is contentious and highly divisive. The nominees are all best known in Slovenia for their activism against the previous centre-right government. On the centre-left side of the political spectrum (currently in power) the nominees have been commended for their opposition to the measures adopted by the previous government during the pandemic and for their role in the street demonstrations that took place at the time. On the centre-right side (current opposition), they are seen as organisations that undermined the previous government’s anti-Covid measures. 


While the former government undoubtedly made some mistakes in adopting and implementing its anti-Covid (and other) measures, it should be recalled that during the pandemic the demonstrations were, as elsewhere in the EU, unauthorised and as such illegal.


Furthermore, protesters, including activists from the organisations nominated for the Tulip award, were involved in offensive activities potentially inciting violence, such as the symbolic stoning of the then Prime Minister and burning of the puppet of the then minister of the interior.



"The Tulip award is perceived by many as an offense to Slovenia"



In recent years the award has been presented to human rights activists in Uganda, Armenia and Pakistan. In this case we have an EU Member State handing out human rights awards to organisations in a fellow Member State, whereby the main merit of the nominees of the award appears to be that of having protested against another Member State's government.


For reasons of partisanship and political convenience, your decision will probably be met with the approval of those close to the current government (or, to be more precise, those against the current opposition). In this respect the award is not even a "brave" gesture that rewards "underdogs" fighting for the respect of human rights; you are providing recognition to organisations that continue to this day their activism in favour of the current political establishment. This was clearly visible during the recent referendum campaigns.



"It is hard to see how the Netherlands can take the higher moral ground when it comes to handling anti-Covid protests" 



Those who are likely to approve of your Tulip award have frequently pointed to the curtailment of rights in Slovenia during the implementation of anti-Covid measures under the previous government. The newly elected President of the Republic and the Speaker of Parliament, for example, have both accused the former government of having infringed human rights with the use of disproportionate repressive measures against protestors (such as the use of a water cannon) and of having "gassed its own citizens" with tear gas when the demonstrations against the restrictive measures turned violent. Putting aside the fact that the use of the expression "gassed its own citizens" in this context is an offence to the victims of the Holocaust, allow us to remind you how the Dutch authorities reacted to unauthorised demonstrations against restrictive measures in the Netherlands:



Two wounded as Dutch police fire shots at protest over new COVID-19 restrictions | Reuters


Woman left with fractured skull after being blasted with water cannon during Dutch lockdown riots | The Independent



"It is hard to see how the Netherlands can take the higher moral ground in general"



The EU is increasingly polarised between the illiberal conservative (nativist) right on the one side and the likewise increasingly illiberal progressive left on the other ("either you agree with us or you are a fascist"). Both forces are tearing the EU apart. 


The "progressives" appear to apply double standards when it comes to their concern over the application of human rights and the rule of law (including media freedom) in the EU. Some Member States are under continuous scrutiny, especially when "non-progressive" governments are in power, others seem to avoid EU-wide scrutiny even when worrying developments occur. 


It is most unfortunate that the trial for the murder of Dutch reporter Peter R. de Vries (shot on the street in Amsterdam in 2021) had to start anew this November due to procedural reasons. We hope that justice will soon be served, also for the sake of Dutch journalists and media freedom in the Netherlands.



"Your award risks damaging the cause of the EU and NATO in Slovenia" 



In the EU, "old" Member States appear increasingly prone to lecturing "new" Member States. Your Tulip award is in our view a further divisive step in this direction. It understandably irritates those in Slovenia who have traditionally been most pro-EU and pro-NATO, while it panders to organisations and political forces that are not intrinsically in favour of the EU (in particular of the four freedoms) and market forces in general and are sceptical of NATO, if not outright opposed to it. As such, your award does not further the cause of the EU and NATO in Slovenia, neither of the principles they stand for.


Again, the Netherlands hardly appears to be in a position to take the higher moral ground and to patronise other EU Member States. In this part of the world the memory of its role in the atrocious Srebrenica massacre is still fresh.


Fortunately, the country you have the honour of representing has gone a long way towards making amends. In addition, the recent ruling of the District Court of the Hague, obliging the Dutch state to compensate the victims who succumbed to the unlawful bombing of a residential complex during the battle of Chora in 2007 in Afghanistan, is proof of the functioning of the rule of law in the Netherlands (no irony intended).


The same can be said, to some extent, of the "childcare benefits affair" concerning false fraud allegations made by the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration between 2013 and 2019. We understand that the thousands of parents wrongly accused of making fraudulent benefit claims and in numerous cases driven into severe financial hardship are being gradually compensated. The resolution of the complaints against the tax agency due to alleged racial discrimination is still ongoing. Prime Minister Rutte has called the affair a "colossal stain". Still, anti-racism and human rights campaigners in the Netherlands claim that ethnic profiling persists.


There certainly seem to be Dutch human rights defenders that would deserve a human rights award for their activities in the Netherlands. Perhaps they will receive formal recognition through an award presented by the embassy of some other EU Member State.


Thank you for having taken the time to read this letter. Your intentions in awarding the Tulip award were undoubtedly those of promoting the respect of human rights in Slovenia. We assure you that this is a noble goal that we share. Unfortunately, we do not believe that this initiative has contributed to its achievement.


Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration

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