Both La Furia Roja and the Oranje will kit up for a shot at their first ever World Cup titles and it’s hard to tell who might emerge the winner. With both teams never having won the World Cup before, they will be going after the trophy with an equally bloodthirsty zeal. With both teams in peak form, a comparison of their form stacks up pretty evenly too – both won all their qualifying matches for the World Cup, and David Villa and Wesley Sneijder are currently tied for the tournament’s Golden Boot award (although Sneijder has committed 13 fouls in the course of the tournament, while Villa has just two fouls to his name).
Tough to tell who will win? Well, it’s equally tricky to say who I’ll be cheering for come Sunday evening in the spirit of Who Should I Cheer For? – both countries stack up evenly against one another in the statistics as well. While Netherlands does well to set aside over 0.7% of its GDP for aid, Spain has the highest degree of gender equality in government, with 50% of its leadership undertaken by women. If we examine these countries beyond the WSICF? rankings, both countries have an illustrious colonial history as well – both nations had expansive and prosperous empires up until the 20th century. How did these colonial pursuits play out, and what socio-economic legacies have they left in the two countries today?
Both the Dutch and Spanish empires spanned the globe, and resulted in eras of great economic and social growth. However, the process of empire building was inevitably problematic and exploitative. The Spanish infamously brought smallpox and famine to the indigenous populations they colonised, as well as brutal slavery in the plantations and mines whose bounty fuelled their prosperity. Colonial rule under the Dutch was considerably less cruel than under the Spanish, primarily because they occupied their lands primarily through means of strategic trading posts, and commerce treaties. Indeed, the Dutch East India Company (the world’s first multinational corporation) was an unparalleled commercial force, particularly in Asia where the Spice Islands and Indonesia provided numerous export and trading opportunities.
Interestingly, the ancestors of the Oranje are also responsible for the initial conception of modern development policy. Primarily focused on the Dutch East Indies, or modern day Indonesia, this policy recognised the moral imperative to improve the material well-being of the lands from which it had gained such great riches. By introducing education, irrigation technology and transmigration to reduce population pressure on certain areas, the Dutch sought to improve the lives of the people without the over-arching imperatives of culture transfer or recruiting “brown Dutchmen” to aid the Dutch settlers. Despite the fact that this policy came up against significant budget constraints and internal opposition, the intention of the policy was undeniably noble.
Centuries later, how has the dynamic between the Netherlands, Spain and the ex-empire played out? As with the rest of the Western world, both countries are struggling with the multiculturalism and diversity that result from the global migration of people and ideas. On one hand, the immigration pol¬icies that both countries enforce have been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism; on the other, both countries have been subject to violent attacks by people from various immigrant communities.
The 2004 attacks on Madrid’s trains during peak hour left almost 200 people dead, and another 1,800 wounded. When a group of Moroccan terrorists were convicted for the bombings, a wave of Islamophobia swept the nation, putting the already-marginalised Moroccan community in a weakened, powerless position. In a country that has a staunchly Catholic tradition, the Moroccan Muslim community has been characterised by low-skilled labour, a struggle for economic survival, and largely low levels of education amongst the community. In a recent report by Human Rights Watch, incidents of Spain deporting illegal, unaccompanied Moroccan children back across the Straits of Gibraltar into detention centres that leave them open to abuse and exploitation has attracted much international criticism. While it’s no justification for terrorism, the uncertain, insecure and impoverished circumstances low-skilled migrants from Spain’s ex-colonies live in is certainly a fertile breeding ground for resentment against the Spanish.
Netherland’s struggle with multiculturalism and the influx of immigrants from the developing world – countries such as Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia – has also resulted in several controversial outcomes, such as a overseas integration test (that immigrants from the European Economic Area and other prosperous nations such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States do not have to take), which examines factors such as language proficiency and the ability of migrants to support themselves. This discriminatory test makes it very difficult for the families of poor migrants to join them in the Netherlands. In a nation whose respect for love and family life has made it amongst the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, this denial of the right to family life for certain migrants seems particularly ironic.
Against a backdrop of violent riots by minority migrant communities in nearby France, as well as high rates of unemployment and immigrant crime reported within Dutch borders, the political tide is shifting towards anti-immigrant legislation and perhaps more importantly, towards hateful and resentful attitudes towards existing communities. Of course, the counter-reaction of these communities only complicates matters further. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Moroccan immigrant following the production of Submission, a film that accuses Islam of great cruelty and injustice towards women exemplifies this perfectly. The medium of filmmaking has also been used by the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The anti-Islam sentiments portrayed in his 2008 film Fitna are also echoed in his broader political rhetoric against Muslim immigration into the Netherlands.
Indeed, it’s not difficult to see that migrant disenfranchisement and strict, conservative immigration policies in both Spain and Holland are simply two stages in what seems to be an endless, vicious cycle. One must acknowledge that the situations in these countries are underpinned by broader economic, political and social problems. Questioning how just immigration policies in the Netherlands and Spain is looking at only one side of the coin – what can be done to stem the exodus from unfavourable circumstances in these migrants’ home countries? Issues of migrant rights, the security and safety of a nation and the socio-economic welfare of a country’s citizens are inextricably tangled up with the broader global problems of exploitative and violent colonial legacies, a global tide of religious fundamentalism and its equally problematic counter-measures by Western governments.
It’s hard to say, then, who I’ll be cheering for in this World Cup final. Spain has been a long-standing personal favourite, and I’m reluctant to support Netherlands against them. So I’ll be cheering for a fair, exciting and high-scoring game, for the safeguarding of the rights of the most disenfranchised inhabitants of these countries, and for the gradual, peaceful resolution of the economic, political and religious tensions fragmenting both nations today.
Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.