Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes Fotografie
The turnout was not overwhelming, with some thirty students in the auditorium on the Minderbroedersberg last Thursday evening. However, this did not affect the liveliness of the debate about the integration of foreigners in the Netherlands.
Student party Novum had invited four speakers to throw light on the changing climate with regard to foreigners in this country, partly as a result of the rise of the PVV, and on the situation in Maastricht and at this university.
UM Executive President Martin Paul, a German, gave the kick off putting everything into perspective with the words: “Throughout Europe we can see that openness decreases as a result of the economic crisis. Under the surface, the Netherlands is still open and tolerant.” The originally Jordanian researcher Zina Nimeh from UNU/Merit supported that: “Many people vote for Wilders mainly because of his economic programme.”
This placating tone was immediately criticised by someone in the audience: “Wilders nevertheless has 24 seats and the government parties collaborated with him. So it is not going so well.”
That internationalisation is good for Maastricht and the university - one of the subsequent statements - was widely endorsed. But from the audience came the comment “if we, the international students, want to organise something we are frustrated. Look at the events in the Muziekgieterij. The city council does not support initiatives, it actually puts up barriers. There is no place for us in the Maastricht cultural capital 2018 project.”
Panel member Mieke Damsma, alderwoman, stirred things up by asking: “Which of you will still be here in 2018? And what is your contribution to the city? You are only here for a short while.” Loud protests from the audience and also from the stage. UM Executive President Paul emphasised that students contribute a lot in the city and the university. “The problem is that different groups coexist, there is not enough communication, and people do not know of each other's wishes or who the others are.” A little later, he adds that we should stop all this talking about integration and do something. Take action. The audience appreciated this, even though doing something for integration also includes something like offering cheaper language courses, according to Novum chairperson Veronika Brantová, cheaper than the rate the UM is charging now. “The city council has no money, ask the business community in the city,” replied alderwoman Damsma. Only to add a little less polemically: “We should join forces in the city.”