Opinion: Opinion of an opinion pollster

POSTED: 05/2/12 11:43 AM

We know Maurice de Hond as the Dutch national opinion pollster. He’s been doing this stuff like forever: since 1977 to be exact. He will turn 65 in October of this year, but there are no indications that he is about to slow down. On Wednesday he jumped over his own shadow – a popular expression in The Hague these days – when he gave an address at the opening of the exhibition tragedies to remember at the House of Democracy and Constitutional State. From polling opinions, De Hond suddenly became a man with an opinion.

He told his audience about his parents – who were both Auschwitz-survivors – and about the miracle that he actually exists, because the Nazis did experiments on his mother to make her infertile.

De Hond noted that several tens of thousands of Dutch people actively resisted the German occupiers during the war. You get where this is going: most people did not resist at all. And De Hond, with an understandable emotional link to that war, said that he reproaches especially the people who were appointed to maintain the constitutional state for this behavior. Many of these people, De Hond said, showed when it really counted that they were unaware of their true responsibilities.

As an example he referred to the dismissal of the Jewish chairman of the Supreme Court, Visser, by the Germans. All other members of the court stayed put. After the war this behavior did not have any consequences at all.

De Hond notes that democracy and the constitutional state went out the window during the war. That was bad, of course, but today those same institutions are again under threat. This time it is not a foreign power: it is the negligence of the people we appointed to honor the constitutional state, de Hond asserted, adding that “these people” fail at important moments.

De Hond compared the situation with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The number of priests that committed the acts was relatively small, he noted, but the number of people who knew about it and did nothing was much larger.

He also is not optimistic about the Dutch legal system. People have been imprisoned while they later turned out to be innocent. Their convictions were based on their phony confessions. He was also critical of the Dutch public prosecutor’s office.

De Hond furthermore lashed out to politicians: their actions have undermined the people’s confidence in the democracy. In the past ten years five cabinets fell and, De Hond notes, every time there is a combination of parties in the government that fails to achieve important reform. Measures are often a weak compromise between the opinions of the different coalition partners and on top it takes a long time to execute the measures.

His judgment is scathing: the Netherlands is of all countries with a democratic parliamentary system the country where the citizen has the least influence. There is for instance no direct election of the Prime Minister, the government or mayors.

Turning back to his account of the Second World War, de Hond put this question: Is it important to ask yourself whether you would have been a hero then? It seems more important to me to ask yourself what you can do to withstand the threats against the constitutional democracy. The best way to commemorate the tragedies of the Second World War is to combat today’s threats against democracy and the constitutional state.

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