Welcome and historyI would like to welcome you to Amsterdam. As Councilwoman Van Es said this morning, weare proud that Amsterdam has the privilege of being your host this week. The conference isvery much in line with our history and beliefs. At the end of the 16th century, Amsterdamwas a refuge for Jews, the Flemish and people from Brabant who were branded as hereticsin the Spanish Inquisition. Decades later, Huguenots found a safe haven here. After theSecond World War, Indonesian-Dutch, Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese and Antilleanssettled in Amsterdam in large numbers. All of these groups have made Amsterdam what itis today: a dynamic city where 180 nationalities feel like Amsterdammers (Amsterdamcitizens) and are Amsterdammers. What is the current state of this highly diverseAmsterdam society? This is what I would like to talk about today.Mayor of BeijingLast year, the Mayor of Beijing confirmed that we have remained true to our history. Hisvisit to Amsterdam included a canal cruise. When he got out of the boat in front of myhouse, he said “What I find most attractive about Amsterdam is…” and I thought he wouldmention the canal district. But instead, he said: “its openness and inclusivity”. This is veryimportant and, by the way, tells also something about the fast and substantialdevelopments in China. And of course, it is nice to have one’s beliefs confirmed as well.Response to the idea that the multicultural society is bankruptShortly before the mayor’s visit, several prominent European leaders (Angela Merkel,Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron) declared the multicultural society bankrupt. Certainparties here in the Netherlands employ the same rhetoric. These statements call to mindthe story of Octavius, the later Roman emperor Augustus. In 31 B.C., after defeating hisrival Marcus Antonius, Octavius returned to Actium where he was given a hero’s welcome.There was a man in the crowd holding a raven. “Ave, Caesar, victor imperator!” the birdcalled. Flattered by the compliment, Octavius gave him a generous reward. A jealousspectator spoke up: “He has a second raven, he should get thát one, too”. The bird wasbrought out and appeared to have been taught a different cheer. “Ave, Antonius, victorimperator!” it cried out.The birdman had trained a raven for each possible outcome of the battle between therivals. The rhetoric about the multicultural society has often the same opportunistic feel to it.
Not belief, but the tendency of the day determines whichever raven is presented. Yesterdayit called “Muslims!” Today it calls “Eastern Europeans!”Extreme diversity is realityThis is not an option for a city. A city is not about abstractions. In a city you are dealing withreal people, with real lives. Extreme diversity is a fact here, a reality. And ‘funny enough’,over here, in the city, the society with its 180 nationalities is seen as an enrichment ratherthan a failure.Despite the fact that only a third of the city’s residents was born in Amsterdam, studiesshow that people feel at home here. Many third generation immigrants consider themselvesfirst and foremost Amsterdammer, followed by “Turk” or “Moroccan” or “Dutch”. The cityforms an important part of their identity. Yes, the ties to individual communities are oftenstrong. However, especially schools and the workplace (but also sports and culture) serveas ‘integration machines’. Ten years ago 30% of the immigrant families spoke Dutch athome. Now, it’s 70%.Good foundation, still plenty of room for improvementThe foundation is good, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The hyper diverssociety does come with difficulties, too. Certain groups feel excluded, don’t participateenough and are falling behind. For example, unskilled Amsterdammers of Turkish andMoroccan descent have less contact with people with a different background. Some areconsiderably less tolerant with respect to gays and Jews. And they are more likely to feeldiscriminated against. The crime rate among youth with a foreign background is still toohigh.Amsterdam’s diversity policyAmsterdam is working hard to further improve it’s diverse society. We began to implementan active diversity policy in the nineteen-eighties. Of course, this policy has changed a lotover the years. For example, we started off giving sewing classes to women with a foreignbackground. For them these classes were free of charge, Dutch women had to pay,however. Government was institutionalising inequality instead of dissolving it. Today, wehave a different approach. We believe integration is a two-way street, which results in morehonest and transparent expectations. Now, all parties acknowledge that both the
government and the people have responsibilities and must take efforts. The equality ofrights and of duties, deriving from the rule of law, constitute the fundament of our policies.Over the years these policies have shifted from “taking care of” to “taking care that”. Ourjob is to establish conditions under which people can live together in harmony. That meansradiating trust, maintaining the public space, and stimulating interaction. At theadministrative level: we aim to achieve the most accurate representation of the Amsterdampopulation possible in the local authority, the police force and the city council. At the sociallevel: we foster dialogue between institutions. Jews and Moroccans team up in a Network,gay rights groups visit schools, for example. At the residential level we use good facilities toencourage informal contact: with good schools, safe neighbourhoods and public sportsfields.Living in a society is like living in a familyA safe and pleasant society does come easy. It takes hard work. On the part of the city,organisations, businesses and last but not least (first of all) by the citizens of Amsterdamthemselves. Ultimately, it is up to them to do it together. In the end, living in a society is likeliving in a family. It’s about willingness to invest time. About sharing visions and thoughtsand about setting your boundaries in a respectful way. It must be a two-way street of giveand take. Although this is easier said than done, looking at the dynamics of Amsterdam, Ithink we succeed quite well. The 180 nationalities have become an important asset of thiscity. An USP that plays an important role in attracting international business. People fromall over the world feel welcome and at home here.Integrating Cities: we practice what we preachWhen it comes to Integrating Cities, we practice what we preach. This is why I am proudthat Amsterdam is hosting this year’s conference. Coming together and sharing ourthoughts and visions is what keeps the dialogue going. With the Integrating Cities Platformand this series of conferences, Eurocities is certainly a good first step in the direction thatwill be followed in the future.In this way, the participating cities are taking responsibility. A Europe that recognises theimportance of cities and their best practices for both EU and national policy is in our bestinterest. Why? It provides a twofold counterbalance to national policy, which is often too farremoved from reality. And which as a result ends up overly influenced by frames andemotion.
ClosingLadies and gentlemen,What is the state of Amsterdam’s extremely diverse society? Good, with room forimprovement. We will continue to adapt our policy, not to short-lived fashionable topics, butto the real issues of the day. During the last 30 years we have tried many different ways tomake our diverse society pleasant for everyone. This has provided us with a list of do’s anddon’ts. We keep adding to this list every day. The same is undoubtedly true for otherEuropean cities.This is why this conference is so important. It gives us a place to share our best practices.To collectively have an influence at European level. And to get national governments tobase their policies on the reality. Which, as it turns out, is more diverse than portrayed.I wish you a very nice stay in Amsterdam, with interesting dialogue and fruitful exchange.Thank you.