In the Netherlands, the rebellious spirit of the “Bible Belt”
The fishing village, located 80 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, has not been an island since 1941, when a dike created the northern polder. Eighty years later, in the alleys of Urk, fishing nets are still hanging like Christmas decorations. The village has also retained its political insularity. It remains a stronghold of the Reformed Political Party (SGP), a Calvinist group that obtained 56.1% of the vote in the 2017 elections. The fallen island is even the capital of the Bijbelgordel (“Bible belt” or Bible belt in English), an area which sweeps the Netherlands from southwest to northeast.
Jan Hakvoort, civil servant for twenty years for the province of Flevoland, chairs a polling station for the legislative elections stretched from March 15 to 17. “Here, we do not play politics to govern, but to serve the word of God, there is no question of diluting it in other parties”, he insists, his finger raised to the sky.
The SGP and its social counterpart, ChristenUnie, can hardly gather more than twelve out of 150 seats in Parliament. “In a way, these parties remain quite marginal”, notes Hans Vollaard, professor of political science at the University of Utrecht. “And at the same time, they gain influence in a very fragmented political landscape, their vote can become essential. “ With the help of the Christian Democrats (read the benchmarks), they manage to keep the status quo on abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection or prostitution.
Guardian of traditions, the SGP has recently had to evolve by admitting women. “It’s a good thing, we have things to say, we are the ones who take care of the day-to-day”, underlines Jana, 34, who takes care of her four children while waiting for their fisherman father to return to port. This is the classic configuration at Urk, where a statue of a woman scanning the horizon has been erected facing the sea, on a stele bearing the names of the dead offshore.
Urk is also one of the cities in the Netherlands where, in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic, the sling against health measures was expressed. Here, the brick houses clad in painted wood are sometimes so close to each other that it is enough to reach out the window to knock at that of the neighbor. Jaap Bakker, the city poet, likes to say that “If you are sick, the neighbor will cook for you for a while”. Jan Hakvoort sums up the village’s thinking as follows: “To be vaccinated for those who want is good. Praying is better. “
One evening in January, dozens of young people in cars – from Urk and neighboring towns – started honking their horns in the port to protest the 9 p.m. curfew. After a series of confrontations with the police, some set fire to a Covid test center. Three people were arrested. The SGP strongly condemned these acts. “These are conspirators who think that the coronavirus is a story made from scratch to control us”, denounces Jan-Teun, a young 19-year-old villager. The public management student does not hide a generational malaise against a background of social inequalities. “The state grants tax credits to the wealthy at the end of their careers to buy their Tesla, while the cost of housing increases by 10% in one year in Urk, again for the benefit of elderly owners. “
Anger is smoldering among retirees too, in a country where food aid has tripled in ten years of power by liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte, of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). On the quay of the old port, Jelle, a former captain, is busy on a fishing boat from another time. The man lost an arm when he fell from a lock. He never voted for the VVD, “The party of the rich”. But he opts for the first time for Geert Wilders’ xenophobic party, the Party for Freedom (PVV). “He’s not a good guy, I know that. As a Christian, I want to help migrants. But maybe we don’t have to bring them all. “