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The Hague: A 'pragmatical' approach of cultural diversity (30.1.07) [EN]

The Hague: A 'pragmatical' approach to cultural diversity


I participated in two study-visits to cities with the Regenera teams.  We were in The Hague (December 2005) and in Budapest (March-April 2006). (I wrote something about that in the Journal - entries list, in December 2005 and April 2006.

I hope to be able to correct and to update my impressions and observations at the Regenera Final Conference in Lyon, 22/23 February 2007.

The City of The Hague (Netherlands) will present its 'pragmatic' approach to health policies in Workgroup 2. The approach consists in a promotion of initiatives of traditional health care as it is applied in the South American countries of origin of certain groups of immigrants. Thisd approach is in line with a local The Hague tradition that stems from its role as principal reception area of people from the Dutch Indies (now: Indonesia). This relates as well to the Dutch nationals who had been "indised" as to the influx of original and mixed (Indonesian/Dutch) immigrants.

This policy is based upon a mutual respect betweenthe Dutch local authorities and the voluntary organisations of the immigrants. It is part of ther governance system, the Dutch had developed in the former Netherlands Indies.

This system was based upon a delicate balance between the dominating world of Dutch officials and traders at one side, and the local nobles at the other one. The old structures of power, mainly on the isle of Java, had been preserved and continued to function. Governance by the Dutch resulted in an endless series of compromises, that maintained the ascendance of the local nobles upon the population and served the Dutch interests at the same time. It was a policy of non-intervention into the indigenious lifen traded against an effort by the nobles to keep the population calm. This policy has been maintained and refined during more than a century. It has been made redundant, whan, in 1945, the Indonesians started their successful struggle for liberation.

Why is such a system still practicable? - It is, because of the Dutch history: The Dutch state is a communautarian state. It has been built upon the independence and self-government of local and regional communities. Generally speaking, this is a big enhancement of formal democracy. It lays the foundations of successful intervention by self-governing cities into many of the key domains of urban regeneration. But it has also its limits: To Antillean elites, to "Indo" (mixed) communities and to Chinese groups, it works very well. But when we look at rural, massive, immigration by Moroccans and by Turks, it fails. In The Hague neighbourhoods like the vast southern part of the city, where the Turks and the Moroccans are at home now, this experiment in self-governance is a failure: Moroccan and Turk élites have no tradition of their own to manage such a situation. The subtleties of a typical Dutch 'tolerance' policy cannot be integrated into the tribal structures they come from.

Which lesson is there to learn, then, from the The Hague experience?

Positive: It is adapted, to the Dutch colonial history as well as to the local (and national) governance traditions. It presents a chance to deal with immigration otherwise than as aan assimilation policy. Self-governance capabilities are mobilised, and the effects of the commercialisation of health care in the Netherlands are (potentially) softened.

Negative: The policy tends to keep the targeted groups in a dependent position: They cannot continue without state support. It provides also an ascendance of local cadres over the whole group, that has to be broken, sooner or later. It cannot be applied either, to groups who have no autonomous structure of their own, or who have a primitive, tribal, structure. It could work out very negatively, as it tends to preserve primitive ways of handling health care, that are even no more applicated in the countries of origin.

A more general observation, in relation to the 'capitalisation' efforts of URBACT, is this: The The Hague approach is in itself an interesting one. It shows that tools can be found within the colonial and local governance tradition. In another situation, for instance in France or in the U.K., it could be useful for dealing with 'Harki' communities (France) or British Indian communities like they exist in many bigger UK cities. But there, the applicability ends. Rural, more primitive communities of immigrants, will not pass trough such a phase. In health care, they will tend to depend upon the state care, or the state control over public and private health care. One cannot count upon their own initiative and should not relegate immigrant patients to ethnic or cultural organisations. They will have to have full rights to the best of heath care that a developed society can offer.

The The Hague experience is a typical example of the diverse composition of the 'urban capital': It shows, that experiences have to be analysed and continuously diagnosticated, in order to be transformed into 'capital' that is dealed out to cities. The 'urban' capital is more like the 'micro-capital' that is put at the disposal of starting enterprises in the Third World and much less like an 'accumulation' of capital that would be applicable to investment in whatever you choose. The 'micro-investments' are continuously refined by the dialogue between the recipients and the providers. It is 'intelligent capital', not a dumb investment strategy that is based upon profit maximalisation. (See the lemma diagnostic*) in the Urbipedia).

For, in our profession, it is always about unique solutions, practical solutions in a given environment. On a small scale. It would be wrong to neglect certain ones, only because they are not generally applicable as 'best practices'. But it is also bad, to make an absolute recommendation out of a local success. Often, that what is best for some, is worst for some others!


    ') Health, Dutch reform of health care, see e-urban Journal, in:

    *) Diagnostic: Click to read this post in the UrbiPedia (in English) ...

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