What the Dutch taught me about the Migrant Crisis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to remain uninformed when it comes to the migrant crisis that’s shaking Europe right now – and why should you? This is something that, whether we want to admit it or not, concerns us deeply. Asides the political and economic implications that the situation obviously highlights, the whole issue encroaches on the base of all racism and fear mongering – the instinct to divide things into US and THEM. Without becoming too preachy, I’d like to use Dutchreview, hopefully your go-to site when it comes to all things..Dutchy…to talk about something Holland taught me, that can perhaps aid you when you want to solidify your views on this entire ordeal.


The Migrant Crisis: An outsider’s view on race

As usual I have to make my patented Serbian disclaimer: I come from Serbia, a small country in the Balkans. The population in Serbia is very dominantly white – until the early 2000’s being racist to someone other than the Roma people was considered a form of fantasy; who exactly are the black people you are rebelling against, pre-2000’s-Serbian-man?

The closest the average Serbian got to seeing ‘black people’ till the new millennium.


This is important because racism (asides the very problematic kind we harbor towards the Roma people) was largely a non-issue in Serbia; we had the much more damaging, endemic and problematic issue of Nationalism to cripple us (in much the same manner, funnily enough.). Coming to Holland, I couldn’t really understand why some Dutch people have problems with, say, the Moroccans or the Turks…which leads me to…


The Dutch are Strange

… how I perceived the Dutch. In my teenage mind, the Dutch were very conflicted – on one hand they can be incredibly racist and condescending, sometimes without even perceiving it. On the other side, their Anglophilia and general status as a developed nation has ingrained in them a kind of political-correctness, a form of forced empathy and overall desire to fight for every individual’s freedom and rights.

A Serbian Man from a Dutch perspective.


This conflict was always obvious in their attitudes towards mentioned Moroccans, but also towards me! I was completely shocked whenever I encountered this very vague, faint form of demeaning racism (“Oh you have internet there in Serbia eh, cool?” “Its not like I wanna go on holiday to some buttfuck nowhere, you know, Romania, Serbia”.). At first I was enraged by all this, but then….


Its very easy to start doing the same


…I began to notice I was doing the same. My initial shock at certain Dutch people’s racism was very quickly joined by understanding. I realized how strange and jarring it must be for, say a 70 year old Dutch lady that’s been living her gezellig calm Dutch neighbourhood lifestyle to suddenly leave her apartment and realize she’s in Istanbul (or what she thinks Istanbul looks like).

Hey look, its HolyShitWhatHappenedStraat!


I also began to mutter obscenities at Moroccan (but also white Dutch!) youth that almost hit me with their scooters and cat-talk to ladies in the street. The more time I spent in the Netherlands and the more I learned of its history, the more I realized….


It’s a chaotic melting pot


…that with such a complex history of colonialism, imperialism, social reform and European advancement, the Netherlands are a hotspot for these kind of debates, opinions and attitudes. Sure, the condescending, snide and subtle racism never disappeared – but neither did the understanding, the support, the solidly thought-out systems of integration. It’s a struggle, a socio-political evolution that can only be achieved through time and sheer effort. Should the little granny be forced to wake up in her own version of Istanbul? Is that such a bad thing? Is it the principle of her being ‘forced’ to do anything whats at stake here? These are complex issues, and they aren’t going to get easier…but it’s obviously a work in progress.


So now what?

I use the Netherlands as a small example and reminder for myself whenever I need to think outside my very narrow views. The migrant crisis has affected Serbia as said migrants have had to move through our country on their way to Austria and Germany. There’s been issues on the borders, refugee camps  hastily built in my hometown, Belgrade and others – some of my friends are still working 24/7 to help them out. In these chaotic times, I needed some experience to fall back on to when thinking about these migrants, who they are, the way they are treated and – above all – the extremely difficult predicament faced by countries such as Austria and Germany surmised in the question: Should we let them in!??!


The answer is YES!


I don’t have the answer yet, but my life in the Netherlands helped me form a clearer opinion. The Dutch are coping with these issues in their own unique way…and are they succeeding?  What’s your take?


Mateja Vidakovic
Mateja Vidakovic
Matt Vidakovic has a hard time thinking of witty author blurbs. He runs a self-serving rant blog called No One Cares, Matt (noonecaresmatt.blogspot.com). Add him on Facebook or Twitter if you want to check if he is good looking.


  1. Great article Matt, makes you think about all aspects on the migrant crisis. I’ve always found that the large majority of the Dutch wants to help refugees from Syria and other wartorn countries. But that same majority despises economic migrants and has no understanding why it takes so long to ‘deport’ these economic migrants – hence the ‘Dutch grandma’ in your story (and rightly so somewhere!). This situation in return is not aided by politicians who are afraid to take a stance or put up a proper story, ‘allies’ such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, political correctness and Islamic fundamentalism etc. etc.

    Anyways, great read 🙂

    • Thanks Abu! Most of these things come from a lack of understanding of the entirety of the problem; people form opinions based on bits and pieced of information (usually from lord-knows-where) but then they defend these views to the death like its their creed. A perfect example would be a Serbian nationalst screaming “KOSOVO IS THE HEART OF SERBIA” but couldnt point it out on a map to save his life xD

  2. Hi,

    You point out that racism was largely a non-issue in Serbia, because the society was largely not multi-racial. I recognize this very well, because it was pretty much the same in Belarus (where I was born) – I have probably met two black people in my life before I left Belarus, and indeed it was probably a non-issue. However, it is enough to catch just one (still relatively rare) occurrence when a Chinese student (or tourist) tries to buy an ice-cream from an old woman in Minsk and watch this transaction carefully to understand that IF Belarus would be a multicultural country, you WOULD get exactly the same issues and sets of prejudices.

    And the reason for this is that racism is, in fact, NOT a separate problem. It is part of a typical humans’ xenophobia. I wanted to say “natural”, but then it would sound like I am justifying it, so I changed the word. But well, yes, it is natural. Natural and bad. People are xenophobic. In every and each society. Period. They divide themselves into groups based on different criteria, starting from the very childhood, when a boy with glasses or curls doesn’t belong to the group. The only thing is that the society teaches its members the criteria based on which they will apply their xenophobia. 3-year old members have different criteria than 30-year old.

    So indeed, as long as there are no black people in Belarus, it will be a non-issue, and members of that society will apply their xenophobia based on different criteria. Jews…? Americans…? As I said, the society supplies the criteria, based on a wide range of factors – politics (of course!), integration vs isolation of the group, difference in rituals and culture etc. etc. – I’ll get back to this below.

    So just like you said, you didn’t have racism, you had nationalism. Well, what is the difference really? I cannot say much about the criteria that Serbian people use to apply their xenophobia, but maybe the best guess would be the neighbor countries (Croatia?).

    • Hey Dmitry, thanks for the comment!

      I completely agree with you – I never implied Serbs weren’t racist because they are simply goody-two-shoes 🙂 As a matter of fact, I am certain that if Serbia had black people or (more) Chinese people or even an issue with Muslim immigrants, it would end in a horrible bout of racism. As I wrote and you pointed out, our version of this ‘racism’ was war and nationalism…in the end it does boil down to the same thing – us vs them and mindless rage.

  3. Another point, in addition to my previous post…

    You also avoid (probably intentionally?) the question about WHERE the refugees are coming from. I am risking to be called “fascist” very soon (and it is always nice to be called “fascist” by people who never met you and read only 1-2 of your posts), but I insist that this question DOES make a difference and therefore should not be ignored. Other way around! It should be discussed!

    I do know few refugees from Balkans, one of them was actually my Dutch teacher =) And for sure, like with any immigration, she also had to deal with prejudices, some weird misconceptions and many black sides of the Dutch system which are not visible to the others. It is not difficult to Google and find similar stories about any other country of your choice, because frankly speaking I don’t think that it can be much different. Every immigration, ESPECIALLY every massive flow of immigration will cause fear and concerns, that’s nothing new. It was like this when Bulgarians and Romanians got open borders two years ago (oh no! they will come massively and abuse our social system!!!). It is all one big combination of fears, some are based on real things, others are just prejudices, I don’t want to go into it.

    But the current refugee flow creates a higher resonance. And I believe there are reasons for it.

    First of all, because it is actually happening (unlike the fake Bulgarian/Romanian flow).

    Second of all, because it is happening pretty much in an uncontrolled way. Which is a big guilt of EU as well, but we are not talking about guilt now, we are talking about the situation. It became pretty messy last year, and EU leaders couldn’t really control it, neither could they come to a reasonable agreement between them. Existing procedures clearly failed, the “legal” way (Dublin agreements) wasn’t followed neither by the refugees nor by the member states, but it also could NOT be followed, since it was definitely not scalable for this flow.

    Third, you cannot ignore the behavior of some part of these refugees. Even if you try to balance it on the TV with many success stories (that definitely took place!), you cannot completely ignore it. Because it happened. I am not talking about bullshit like some garbage that they left near the road in Hungary (oh c’mon… just come to Amsterdam after any major event in Ziggo Dome, look at that garbage and then shut up and just do your job as a city council and bring the cleaning services for which you get the budget – just like they do it in Amsterdam!). But there were more serious things. There were riots, hijacked buses, people DEMANDING to let them in, DEMANDING to go ONLY to Germany, there were events in Cologne and other European cities… The point is: it is hard to estimate how serious those events are, without actually experiencing them. So saying “it is an apocalypsis!” is probably as much exaggeration as saying “Ah that’s nothing!”. But you cannot say that this is not a valid reason for concern at all! There are events that clearly fall outside of the concept of poor helpless refugees! Now, how big is this issue? Is it 10% of the total? Or 1%? You don’t know, you cannot know and frankly you don’t even need more to start having concerns. And how effective will be the police to help you with these issues? How effective was it so far in preventing the incidents and/or punishing the offenders?

    Fourth – and now I will be called fascist for sure: the story with muslims. There is a phenomena in the today’s world called “terror performed by islamists in the West”. I don’t want to even start discussing politics of the West, IS, Syria etc. I am talking about the following situation. The acts of terror in the West today are performed, organised and justified by people, who identify themselves as islamists and come from the Islamic world. They are a very small percentage of the total Islamic world, meaning that 95% or 99% or 99.9999% of the muslims did not, would not and will not participate in these acts. But WHEN somebody does it today in the West, he/she is from the Islamic world (with nearly the same probability). And you don’t need many terrorists, just few guys are enough. Which means that this group is seen as more dangerous for the Western people, and the lack of any ability to screen and filter those who arrive definitely contributes to these concerns. Even though PERSONALLY I do believe that these concerns are highly exaggerated. But I understand where they come from.

    Fifth, you cannot ignore the fact that many of these refugees do not fit the definition of war refugee. Some of them were even interviewed, and their story doesn’t fit the definition. So a typical representative of a “west-european elite” finds himself in State 1, which is “We must help anybody who suffers from the war, so we must let them in!”. Then he hears a story like: “I was in Syria, there was a war there, so I took my family and ran away to the country X, where there is no war. There I stayed for 3 years, earned money enough to pay to the guys with boats and fled to Germany (the Europa!), because it is much better there, more opportunities for me and my family, so I go!”. This, frankly speaking, doesn’t fit the term of “war refugee”, and big portion of discussion went about this. So our “west-european” moves to State 2 which says: “Should we really apply the war sentiment to those who are not war refugees? Economic refugees are maybe also fine, but then it can be done in a more regulated, controlled way, with more screening, more limit on numbers and so on?”. But then he thinks a bit and says: “How the hell can we distinguish between them when they come on rubber boats, almost dying (or actually dying)? First we need to save them and then screen!” So he moves back to State 1. And so on… this is basically the combination of all the above items, if you think about it.

    So in summary, it is not that simple… It is not just a “subtle Dutch racism” that makes the Dutch to have these concerns.

    And going back to your first point that racism in Serbia is largely non-issue… as you said, the refugees traversed Serbia on their way to Austria and Germany. But what would be the reaction of Serbian population if they would ask to stay? I mean, if instead of “Germany! Europa!” they would scream “Serbia! Europa!”. What would be the reaction, in your opinion? Not for SOME refugees (you have lots of them already living in Serbia for a long time), but for THESE SPECIFIC refugees.

    We do know the reaction of the Hungarians, we do know the statements made by Slovakians, those who know Russian can easily get the opinion of many Russians on this topic… and I think that comparing to these opinions, the “subtle Dutch racism” is really very subtle =)

    • Hi again 🙂

      Its very hard to form a concrete opinion on such a touchy subject such as the migrant crisis without being at least partially certain you have the right information. Off course, how does one verify it?

      In the research I’ve done it turns out a lot of the rioting etc was blown up or made up by the media – but some surely happened.

      This is where we slowly get to the gist of it, and its something that you mentioned: How does one decide if another person is “eligible” to suddenly just come live in your country. If they are running from a war? Ok. What if they THINK there is going to be a war? Thats ok too? What about if there is no war, but they are just poor and miserable. Oh, thats not ok? Fine. Why?

      Countries like Serbia were very gracious and welcoming to the immigrants – as long as they are just passing though! If such a large number of people were to suddenly declare, “Serbia! Europa!” there would be a complete mess, for many reasons…but the chief reason is actually quite simple: Serbia does not poses the infrastructure to sustain such a large influx of people. Germany, on the other hand, does – and that leads us straight back at the little Dutch granny, mortified that her neighborhood changed overnight….Should she be? What should she have done, told them to sod off? Would that be right? And if it wasn’t right, why?

      National borders, national identity – these are just hyperbolic versions of ‘my town’ which is in turn a version of ‘my neigbourhood’. A person knocks on your door. They are poorer than you, but more importantly, they are different than you. They say – hey, can I move in in your garden? You’ve heard other people had problems with this happening, but then others said its perfectly fine. What do you do?

      One more thing – I’m not blaming the Dutch for anything! Each of us has our own cross to bear; at least the Dutch dont go to open war over their subtle racism, like the Yugoslavs did over their nationalism….But,..its something to learn from. 🙂

      • “What about if there is no war, but they are just poor and miserable. Oh, thats not ok? Fine. Why?” – I think actually this one is pretty simple. You have rules for immigration. So it is perfectly OK for those poor people to apply for this, but it is not OK for them to just cross the border and say: “Here I am, I think your country is better for me, so where do I stay here?”. You know, NL is my second immigration country, and I still naively believe that immigration is a bi-directional contract between you and the accepting country. And as with any contract, BOTH sides should be interested and BOTH sides should be able to say YES or NO. So it is not about “why not?”. It is actually about “why yes?”. I don’t understand why the right to enter Germany should be automatically granted to anyone who desires that. If half Belarus just comes to German embassy tomorrow and asks for residence permit, do you think Germany should just approve that? And if not, do you think the answer should be different if half Belarus just crosses the border without even asking?

        And here comes one important exception: emergency. This is precisely why war refugees are different. They can be poor or rich, they can be highly educated or not. If their life is threatened, then (so was decided) they are granted asylum to save their lives. So in short: for emergency – come in, for non-emergency – go through the standard process of immigration into a given country, after proving that this country should be interested in you. This is how I see it.

        So regarding your example with a stranger knocking on my door. He is poorer than me and he is asking to move in to my garden. To live there. Very simple: my answer will be “Sorry, no”. Why? Because I don’t want anybody living in my garden. I think I am supposed to have this right, is there anything wrong with that? And note that it doesn’t matter AT ALL whether the guy is different than me or whether he is my twin. When will I let him in? In two cases:
        (1) He tells me something interesting, so I understand that actually he is a nice guy, so maybe we can be friends, and it will be interesting for me to get to know him better;
        (2) Emergency – it is raining really heavily, and the guy asks to stay in my place until it stops.

      • One more point regarding the infrastructure – I think this is a popular misconception that can be generalized as: “The strong always own you something, just because they are strong and you are weak”. I don’t accept this concept. I believe if you are strong, it doesn’t automatically mean that you own everybody else. Like I said, NL is my second immigration country, both countries were more rich than Belarus. But I never had a feeling that they own me something because of this. Why…?

  4. great article and wanted to add a couple of thoughts – one on your article and one on a point you and Dmitry’s first comment below touch on

    1. I believe that the dichotomy / dutch conflict is relatively unique and stems from the tolerance attitude ingrained in society in the Netherlands. In other countries people accept or do not accept ‘foreigners’ in a very black and whit eway. In the Netherlands it is much greyer and passed off as tolerance – i.e. i do not accept you personally but i must be seen to accept you for fear of being compared to a fascist so i will tolerate you. I have experienced this in so many forms in the years ive lived here and been told to go home so many times ( yep even a white western european gets ordered out by some).
    There is
    – the year in year out Zwarte Piet debate – slavery and racism are unacceptable but we want to see a white man on a horse with all his blackfaced stereotypes slaving away for him doing his every wish because its was a tradition (hmmm so are slavery, racism, oppression ritual mutilations, misogyny etc etc etc )
    – the love of the middle aged morrocan with his open night shop so we can buy the hagelslag we forgot to get at albert heijn at midnight but we dont want to see the moroccoan teenager on our street at midnight
    – the real concern that we need to rehabilitate and educate criminals rather than just locking them up but we dont want the hostel in ‘onze buurt’
    – the LGBT community must be free from persecution worldwide but lets remember we need to strengthen our trade links with russia
    – everyone migrating to the Netherlands must learn Dutch but our dutch children need to be able to use as much paraphrased english slang taken form american tv to show how cosmopolitan our country is
    etc etc
    My issue with this is that this form of tolerance is in my opinion hypocrisy – everytime i enter into a discussion about it with dutch friends they immediately start claiming that my own country ( i am british) is far worse and what right do i have to claim they are worse than me and i should go home ! – i never claim any country or nationality is better than another and there were very good reasons why i left that country but any criticism (even constructive) is not allowed from a buitenlander.
    An odd country but still a loved one
    2. you refer to the them and us mentality and Dmitry refers to people dividing themselves into groups based on criteria. I truly believe this is a very natural thing and stems form the fact that we are animals. If you look at wolf or lion packs, monkey or ape troops, antelope herds, etc etc you will see groups of animals coming together for different criteria. Fear of and protection from the different, the new, the outsider , the predator is a common theme. Another is mutual benefit or more accurately increasing slef benefit – i will be more successful and eat more if i hunt in a pack, I have a greater chance of survival if i have others who are taasked with watching out for me. I truly believe that this is actually the basis of all racism and xenophobia, as well as other bigotries. We are at heart, an animal species and the only real thing that we differ from other animals in is our species’desire to distance ourselves form that fact.
    For both i believe that education and individual self improvement are the key and to achieve that awareness is needed. That’s the reason i point out dichotomys to people in a manner that i intend to be enlightening or helpful rather than critical. that is also the reason i enjoyed this article and Dmitry’s comments so much and felt i wanted to contribute in some way

    i havent touched on the migrant issue as i only know what i see in the media and in my neighbourhood and do not believe that my knowiledge or opinions based on those are balanced or educated enough. This is especially given that i left the UK to feel safer and to have a better life in every way and feel everyone person has the right to live without the fear of violence towards themself and their loved ones and the righth to try and improve their lot.

    • Hi Harry, thank you very much for the comment and the nice words! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Concerning your first point: All those things you mentioned, I’ve seen and experienced myself. It’s these tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) hypocrisies that baffled me when I first came there. Everything from Zwarte Piet (we post articles on this very issue here annually 🙂 to the deli owner vs scooter kid stuff, all of it rings very true and familiar. What I noticed with the Dutch was this struggle to inflict ‘proper values’ on themselves whilst subconsciously resisting some of them. Anything from ‘well, he’s black because he went down the chimney’ to ‘well Islam is backwards and they just cant fit in’ – all of these thoughts are something the average Dutch person has to actively resist.

      In Serbia there is an almost ingrained animosity in many people towards the Roma people, and its very hard to defeat it even though, as a person, you’re fully aware its just a malignant prejudice form, not your actual thoughts.

      I also applaud your honesty about not being informed about the migrant issue, as I am not as informed about it as I’d like to be – read my answer to Abuzers comment for my take on that 🙂

    • Regarding the hypocrisy – well, what you are implying is that this kind of tolerance is hypocriet, but there is another, pure kind of tolerance which is not hypocriet. But since we both agree about the natural roots of dividing into groups and xenophobia, I think that “tolerance” is sort of “hypocrisy” by definition. And so the negative connotation of this word is simply not applicable here.

      Any “abstract” layer that we put on top of our animal base – like morality, tolerance, etiquette, politeness etc. – any layer like this can be considered “hypocrisy” of some sort, since by definition it hides our “true” animal instincts. So in a “hypocriet” country people will smile to somebody who has different race, sexial orientation, country of origin etc., while in a “honest non-hypocriet” country they will just honestly tell him that they hate him and honestly spit into his face =)

      By the way, this kind of “honesty” is one of the most popular patterns in typical anti-Western talks, for example, on Russian forums. Which is funny. Because the simplest way not to be hypocriet is simply behave like a douche and then honestly admit this. But is it really something to be proud of…?


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