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Black front was a myth

30 June 2006 – Ten years ago, the Bijlmer was startled by the Black Council, which demanded a prominent place in politics. The image of a popular revolt with broad support turns out to have been a myth, writes researcher Thea Dukes, but this myth did help bring about change.

In 1995, a programme to deal with disadvantaged neighbourhoods was set up in the Bijlmermeer, with almost five million euro in European subsidies. The announcement of the programme served as a catalyst which brought popular discontent to the surface.

‘Concerned residents of the Bijlmer’ thought that the district was doing too little to deal with socio-economic problems. Also, there was discontent with the lack of consultation with ethnic minorities.

In response to these developments, politicians founded the Black Council, and organisation that tried to escalate a conflict with ‘white’ politics. For example, the social-democrat Wouter Gortzak was called a ‘white colonial boer’. In addition to the Council, the Foreigners Broad Consultation (ABO) was founded.

The entire country was rather shocked by what happened in the Bijlmer. The security service (BVD) kept a close watch on developments, because it was feared that groups might radicalise. Also, possible connections with separatist movements in America were considered.

In order to close the gap between black and white, Gortzak founded the Bijlmer Platform. Its chairwoman was Hannah Belliot, who would later become chairwoman of the district. Their strategy differed from the one of the Black Council: “First get the people in the high rise buildings to vote. Then you will get your black politicians”.

At that time, a popular revolt with broad support was feared, but in retrospect this was hardly the case. The protest groups where divided among themselves, and popular support was limited. This showed at the 1998 elections, when all ‘black’ or ‘ethnic’ parties failed to make the electoral threshold.

However, the revolt did have its use, writes The Dukes, who is a PhD student at the University of Amsterdam. Thanks to the preferential votes for candidates of the regular parties, the share of ‘black’ district council members rose from thirty percent in 1994 to 48% in 1998. By now, the discussions about black and white have disappeared. The district now presents itself as ‘diverse’ and ‘colourful’, writes Dukes.

Her article does not deal with the most recent developments. At the 7 March elections, ethnic voters helped the social-democrats secure an enormous victory, after which new discussions about the representation of minorities in local government arose for a while.

Thea Dukes, De ‘zwarte Bijlmermeer’. Agora 22(3).


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