The struggle for the Political Support of the Surinamese Diaspora

Posted on | augustus 29, 2012 | No Comments


Ze hebben 50,000 gegeven om hun verhaal aan de Diapora in Nederland te verkopen. Maar de steun die ze in NL aanboren is onstabiel en labiel, een groep die nergens geworteld is, en die zich nergens thuis voelt…..Wat ze doen is de mensen afhouden van de samenleving waaruit ze nooit meer vertrekken, om ze lekker te maken voor iets wat ze nooit zullen krijgen, nl stemrecht in Suriname (Natascha Adama, FACEBOOK).

(Dutch Translation: They spent 50,000 euro’s to sell their story to the Diaspora in the Netherlands, on an unstable and fragile support market. What is the purpose of this action, when taking into account that the Surinamese Diaspora in the Netherlands, specifically in Amsterdam South-East is not rooted in neither the Dutch society nor the Surinamese……Why are they (NDP) keeping the Diaspora rooting, given the fact that they will never leave, baiting them with voting rights, that will never be granted (by this government)

The 2010 elections in Suriname uncloaked a new support market, a market determined by the Diaspora in Europe. Why is this development so very interesting? And what is the relevance of said support market?

What immediately springs to mind is why is this category so important for the National Democratic Party (NDP), what are they trying to achieve by wooing a group of foreigners, albeit with Surinamese ancestry? Will they offer this category people the vote?

Separation of Nationality and The Rights of the Diaspora

The Independence treaty dictated a strict separation of nationalities, a legal separation that also became a social and economic divide, between Surinamese and the Diaspora. “We” in Suriname and “they” in “Holland”. The unambiguous character of the law on which this legal and social separation was build, was to rule out dual citizenship. Some members of the Surinamese government, the nationalist Eddy Bruma said that the Surinamese negotiators acquiesced to a monstrosity, and in fact betrayed the Surinamese people. Indeed very prophetic words, because the separation of nationality law infringed upon the rights of the citizens. Lawyers and law-makers had a hard time discerning the inner workings of this law, and could therefore not help repair the damage brought on by statelessness and loss of Dutch citizenship.

The issues surrounding citizenship enhanced the fraught, bitter and unequal relationship between Suriname and the Netherlands. At first it seemed that the Netherlands was calling the shots, specifically when after 1980, Surinamese citizens could only enter the Netherlands on a visa. The strict attitude of the Dutch government ensconced the fact that Suriname had up the 1980 exported its social and economic problems to the Netherlands: unemployment, lack of housing, political woes and economic misguidedness, all were exported, a demographic shift of epic proportions!

But the people who during the 1960 and 1970s sought economic refuge in the Netherlands came from different socio-economic backgrounds than the group that came in the 1950s and the people that came in the 1980s. The latter mentioned categories are typically better educated, middle class citizens, who left Suriname because of the political situation. This category had typically less difficulty to integrate into Dutch society and find employment. Specifically the group of immigrants that arrived in the 1950s are typically less interested in returning home.

At first people feared that the total loss of Dutch citizenship would prevent them from returning to their homes in case things did not work out. The political and economic situation in the 1980s and 1990s deterred many would-be immigrants from moving back to Suriname. There are no credible statistics on the number of people returning to Suriname, the Dutch Statistical Agency only records the number of people living the Netherlands. What we know is based on other sources, that 74% of Surinamese born, so called first generation immigrants, have indicated not to return to the motherland. This significant number might be interested to shuttle between the two countries, but of course that is private matter.

There is a small group of people living in Diaspora, whose identity appears to be closely connected to that what Suriname signifies, an identity tied to the soil, national pride and family relations. This brings us to a different dimension of identity, a dimension debated and prodded by a wide array of scholars. What actually constitutes identity? And what is the currency of identity? To make the aspect of identity more tangible, I want to focus on the plans by the incumbent government to grant the Diaspora certain social and economic rights, allowing them to work and live in Suriname, to start and own a business and to buy property.

It is unclear what brought on this move, because based on the aforementioned percentage, enthusiasm to return to the motherland is slight, at best.

Looking behind the backdrop of this plan, unveils a slew of ultier motives, a hidden agenda, to cash in on ‘identity’, ‘feelings of kinship’ and ‘nostalgia’…..For example, online discussion boards are swamped by individuals who decry the fact that they are discriminated against by the Dutch because of the color of their skin; Many of these individuals share the anti-colonial sentiments kindled by the incumbency,many also share the notion that the Netherlands has to compensate the descendants of slavery.

But it was the voting advice uttered during a speech by the Surinamese envoy, Jules Wijdenbos that tied the lose ends together. Mr Wijdenbos asserted that the Dutch treat Surinamese citizens ‘bad’, and that they should vote for a party that treats Surinamese better…..He also lamented the bad blood between the two governments, stating that the Surinamese government will no longer pay courtesy to the ‘high and mighty’ Dutch….Indeed the words of ‘nationalist’, a man whose mission consists of challenging the former colonizer, a man still living in the past. A man who appears to be living in a different reality, because in the recent months, the focus of Dutch foreign policy is firmly set on the European Union and Greece.

But what is the value of these words, when placed in terms of concrete action? Will it help the Diaspora, specifically the category that feels disenfranchised and marginalized by the Dutch government?

Political Support and Voting Rights

Before answering that question, it is imperative to find out if the social category in Suriname, specifically the category comparable to the Diaspora in Amsterdam South East (where the envoy gave voting advice) shows signs of social and economic improvement. In other words can the incumbent empower the Diaspora, by granting them certain rights, given the fact that their domestic track-record on reducing poverty and job creation is poor, at best?

What if anything will the Diaspora gain from this possible citizenship, given the fact that in Suriname today debate and opinion occur in the confines of society? What is the added value of moving from a free society to a partly free society, beside reaffirmation of identity and blood-ties?

Why did these people leave Suriname, in the first place? Was it not to escape poverty, lack of housing, and economic uncertainties? The social welfare state in the Netherlands remedied all these ailments, providing housing and economic security, without demanding that they become actual citizens. In fact the Netherlands always assumed that people would return to the fatherland, and consistently supported foundations and organisations, typically run by Surinamese, that claimed to work on solutions or schemes for return. There are no publications indicating possible success; a transformation in Dutch policy to drastically cut down subsidies for this type of foundation is also not a viable indicator, because said policy was brought on by other objectives.

There are other aspects that strengthen the notion that the Diaspora stands to gain little from this arrangement, other than perhaps a few token privileges. The incumbent government most likely bets on the docility of this specific category, their proclivity to abstain from political participation and their opportunism will benefit the Surinamese government tremendously. The fact that many feel disenfranchised by the Dutch government will help the Surinamese government to establish a solid support base abroad.

Indeed, there are indications that this category is supportive of the current Surinamese presidency. I found an intricate web of networks that run from the underworld back to the upper world, networks involving the earlier mentioned foundations and organizations, that help spread the message of “neo-colonialism” , “White Oppression”, Uncle Toms and Bounties. These networks also involve a number of individuals previously active in foundations and grass root organizations that worked to empower specific social categories., and who are currently active as consultants in Suriname.


The relevance of the Surinamese Diaspora will however become more clear if the crisis in Suriname really starts to hurt the socially and economically weak. At this moment, things are slowly but surely progressing in a downward fashion. Poverty and unemployment are on the rise, while political infighting and corruption are soaring. There are strong indications that democracy is under tremendous pressure; observers mention lack of public opinion and debate, and a growing culture of fear. One observers calls Suriname, a cowboy country, or a country consisting of individuals who totally disregard the law.

The paradox here is that opinion and debate on the internet is on the rise, FACEBOOK and other social network sites, as well as the primary discussion boards. Polarization Rules, there is no middle ground, people are either pro Bouterse or anti Bouterse, just like the Cubans in Miami or the Venezuelans in Cary N.C., all avid haters of Castro respective Chavez.

But as the Surinamese political and economic crises crystallizes, becoming a full blown conflict, the role of the Diaspora will become more relevant……and it will be more challenging to unify the Diaspora, under the circumstances described in this blog….and that is the hidden agenda of Surinamese government, to divide and conquer, no matter what the cost.

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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