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
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
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
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
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
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
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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