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Between pampering and hounding

4 July 2007 - Once upon a time, he left for Afghanistan with five guilders in his pocket. Now he holds practive at the crammed offices of the Psychiatric Care Clients’ Union (Cliëntenbond) at the Wilhelmina Gasthuis terrain. Eddy Marsman, speaking in a personal capacity: “The idea that we as world citizens should be able to broaden our minds, drove me to leave the country”.

My father had a concentration camp syndrom. I was raised to survive a camp. Perhaps that was the only positive to come out of it, having a really strong survival instinct, but otherwise it was crippling. Nothing was good enough, I got no encouragement whatsoever, and of course anything I went through was nothing compared with the war.

Then, when I was twenty, I started to wander, finally ending up in India. I have also been in Afghanistan; I have stood at those Buddha statues that the Taliban blew up. It was the time of the hippies, 1968, 1969. Though never actually abandoning the idea of personal possessions, but I had simply lost everything on my way.

Today many people visit India, but at that time it was still pioneering?

A large movement was starting just then, I think they called it the Afghanistan Hash Trail (laughs). So I was sort of staying ahead of the crowd, but sometimes the masses caught up with me. In the beginning I had company now and then, but I travelled large parts on my own as well.
In Orissa I ended up in jail. Apparently, an English woman had smuggled rifles to the Communists. When I was arrested they first wanted to know my nationality. I said, I have no nationality, I am a world citizen. I stayed there for eleven months. In fact you could say I suffered from psychosis.

Where you staying on your own, or in a group?

In a group. But I spoke only a little Hindi, and people around me were speaking all sorts of languages and dialects. From time to time near prison riots broke out, and I was walking around, well really like the fool who is walking through anything and everything. Living in my own world was my way of protecting myself.

At last, the consulate found out that I was staying there and I was sent back to the Netherlands. They were waiting for me at Schiphol Airport. Would I like to come along for a chat? That is how I ended up in a psychiatric institution.

I thought, psychiatry is basically talking, but it turned out I was wrong about that. I was given a shot which I first thought to be against tropical diseases, but when I came to I thought I had really gone mad, my brain felt like rubber. The first thing I saw was someone who was protesting and was forced into a padded cell by three gorillas.

So that is how you ended up in the Netherlands?

Yes. And while leaving may have caused a culture shock, I had my real culture shock when I returned. I had left when everybody was outraged about race discrimination in America, the murder of Martin Luther King and all that. On my return, those were the very same people constantly making racist comments.

When I was hitch hiking, it was still relatively stable, but shortly after it seemed like hell had broken loose everywhere. Revolution in Iran, Yugoslavia, Bangladesh Crisis in Pakistan. On television, you saw refugees in Calcutta, where I had lived on the streets for quite a while, you saw people standing in line for food and still trying to make the best of it. But then these images where replaced by the Berend Boudewijn Quiz, in which armchairs and luxury appliances were given away abundantly. That resulted in a very cynical view of the world.

At a certain moment I discovered that I was apparently staying voluntarily at that institution. I eventually ended up living in a squat. I further found out that I could still go to university at my age.

What course did you take?

Cultural anthropology. The strange thing was, before I came into contact with psychiatry myself, there used to be two things I wanted to do. On the one hand I was thinking of nuclear physics, on the other hand psychiatry. But in view of my experiences, I had my doubts about psychiatry’s individual approach, to focus only on the individual without looking at the context. I thought sociology was too broad, but I ran into someone who had studied anthropology and had some books. That’s when I realised, this is what I am looking for, the connection between the individual and the social context.

Was that when the patients’ movement was starting?

Yes. At the beginning, the Cliëntenbond was mainly anti-psychiatry, as in, ‘crazy is beautiful’. Unfortunately, we have also seen the negative sides of that. On the other hand, today there is a tendency to move to the other extreme. In the 1970s, people could still say, let’s leave the system behind. Now, there is a tendency for people to see themselves handicapped only.

You see, I was able to survive for a long time because there was a number of alternative places, squats, cheap places to meet such as Paradiso, Kosmos. There were sanctuaries for people who had become unstuck, places that were not as stigmatising as psychiatric institutions.

And in fact you are saying, people come out better when they can go to a place that is not part of the psychiatric care?

Yes, in that respect I think that there should be room in society for people to be different without having rely on their handicap as an explanation. Look, there are a lot of things that I cannot adapt to, but the question is whether I really want to adapt to everything the system is asking me to. I cannot and I do not want to. However, I can no longer use ‘I do not want to’ when talking to the institutions, as that would result in severe repercussions, so I can only say ‘I cannot’.

The ideal situation would be if you did not have to struggle constantly with the things you are failing in, to get support with those things, so that you can start doing the things that you are good at. And that balance is missing. Either you are stuck in the institutions and being pampered, or you are being hounded.

Is Europe an issue for the patients’ movement?

A lot of people from the patients’ movement have voted against the Constitution, out of distrust of the government, which I think is very legitimate. I have to say that I hesitantly voted yes after a lot of deliberation.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been very useful in the past. It gave a voice to the handicapped. The thing is, the Dutch government has a habit of doing as it pleases, with judges acting to accomodate them. It takes five years before it reaches the European Court. In this way, they manage to maintain five years of lawlessness.

You also get the impression that governments use Europe whenever they cannot get their way democratically. That is crippling for the European Idea. It also provokes a lot of distrust in the concept of Europe.

If you transfer responsibilities to Europe, the democratic accessibility of its institutions should improve. It should be made clear what issues are the responsibility of your government and which ones are European. The reason why I voted yes is that there seemed to be something of a first step towards a separation of responsibilities.

I think that parties such as Wilders, right-wing groups, have benefited much more from the no-vote than the alterglobalists. The government’s response to the no-vote is much more consistent with their agenda. Take France’s Sarkozy, or the Netherlands, where it has moved in the direction of turning down Turkey and xenophobia, while the other story has receded into the background. So I would recommend the other side of the no-vote to present their views more effectively.

You are a proponent of the European Idea?

Yes, although I am not in favour of a Fortress Europe. I have to say that since I have been caught in the chains of welfare and psychiatry, I have not come around to visiting other countries. But the idea that we are world citizens who should be able to broaden our view, that idea was also on my mind when I left the country”.

This article was originally published in Sociaal Europa, a publication of the Euromarches organisation's Dutch chapter. Photo: Diana Snabilé


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