Netherlands: Government resigns

As was expected, the purple government has just fallen (16/04/02) over the report about ’Dutchbat’, the Dutch army unit, and its operations in Srebrenica in 1997.

Dutchbat was responsible of the ’peace keeping’ in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica (not far from Tuzla). When the Bosnian Serb soldiers under General Mladic conquered the town, Dutchbat did nothing. When asked by Mladic not to let male Muslims into Dutchbat’s compound to seek protection, the Dutch army complied. When Mladic’s soldiers mistreated civilians and ordered the separation of Muslim men from women and children, the Dutch soldiers stood by and watched. In the few days after the conquest of Srebrenica, 7-8,000 Muslim men were murdered, practically under the eyes of the Dutch soldiers.

Dutch army cowed and bribed

The video footage of Dutch commander Karremans being cowed by Mladic, the gifts that Karremans accepted from Mladic ("for your wife at home") after the killings, and the scenes of soldiers partying later – all this provoked widespread anger and outrage. Dutch soldiers who reported the “surrender” to Mladic were gagged, and pictures taken by a Dutch soldier of the atrocities were “disposed of by accident”.

The few Muslim men that survived, and the women and children, of whom quite a few came afterwards to the Netherlands for refuge, were highly critical of Dutchbat.

Military high command to blame

Dutchbat – or at least Karremans – always blamed the lack of air support for rendering his forces powerless. Others blamed the Dutch military command. An official investigation that was completed last week claimed that Dutchbat was not in a position to do anything during the massacre, and that it was indeed the military command back home that had failed, and afterwards tried to cover this up. The report also showed that Dutchbat was badly prepared, did not try to gather information from the Canadian forces that had been in Srebrenica before them, the military leaders did not know what they were in Srebrenica for (there had never been peace, but constant fighting instead), the soldiers did not really know what the war was all about and did not know the local customs or culture, etc.

Political scandals, growth of Pim Fortuyn…

The official report was clearly very, very mild about Dutchbt and Karremans, and did not indict the ’guilty people’. Last week, the main parties in parliament accepted the report. However, when De Grave, the present Liberal minister of defence (although he was not a minister or otherwise responsible in 1997) thought about stepping down (“politically responsible”), and then the Social Democrat minister, Pronk, who had been very critical over Dutchbat all along, stated that he felt “personally ashamed to be part of the government that could not prevent the killing of thousands”, the prime minister, Wim Kok, had no choice but to resign.

The end of the Wim Kok government comes after a series of political convulsions and scandals that led to the crumbling of the base of the “purple government”: the growth of Pim Fortuyn (an anti-immigrant, right wing populist), the big scale fraud of building companies that work for the government.

National elections

The government was just four weeks away from the national elections (15 May), when it resigned, so in that respect not much will be really different (they will remain, but are ‘decommissioned’). We will have to see how the events of the last few days will affect Pim Fortuyn’s party (LPF), and the Dutch SP.

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April 2002