From left to right, politicians and administrators are bumbling over each other in condemning the peasant protest action last night at the house of nitrogen minister Van der Wal. The crux of their criticism: that farmers are angry about the nitrogen policy is understandable, but they should not have the debate on that in the private domain of a government representative.
However, the campaigning farmers are in their right before the law. “Although it is morally objectionable what has happened, it is not a criminal offence in itself to stand there,” says Jan Struijs, chairman of the Dutch Police Union. “It really depends on the situation whether you can intervene, for example, what is called, how people behave and how threatening the situation is.”
The police were present at Van der Wal‘s house last night, but let the farmers commit because they did not commit criminal offences. “If you don’t find an offence or crime anywhere, you can‘t just send citizens away,” Struijs explains.
The minister herself said today that she experienced the visit of the farmers as unpleasant, although she believes that the campaigners “sincerely wanted to talk”:
Formally, there is no threat, says Letty Demmers of the Resilience Board Network, which trains politicians and administrators to deal with aggression, among other things. “People stand where they stand and they’re shouting something. But it does come across as very threatening.”
This is not the first time that campaigners have visited politicians at home. Previously, this happened to Minister De Jonge, among others. A man who stood at the door of Minister Kaag with a torch at the beginning of this year has now been sentenced to six months in prison.
Debate in freedom
According to Demmers, these incidents, no matter how annoying for those involved, have contributed to the topic being discussed. “You notice that basically everyone is saying: freedom of expression is a great thing and we need to be able to have a debate about everything, but democracy also benefits from allowing everyone to do so freely.”
And that is not the case in someone‘s private situation, says Demmers, who also faced threats when she was mayor in Brabant at the beginning of this century. “If a debate is being held in your private domain and you feel that your partner and your children are not comfortable with it, then your reaction becomes different too.”
Minister Van der Wal also referred to her children yesterday:
According to Demmers, actions in the privacy of politicians and administrators are not completely preventable, because they take place in public space. She calls on political officials who have to deal with it to always report that. “And politicians need to realize that their decisions affect people in their personal situation. Someone who is against something should be able to tell their story. But in the place where the debate is held, and not in someone’s private environment.”
Harassment or “top action”?
This is yet another minister to whom this happens, says chairman Jan Struijs of the police union. “It‘s getting completely out of hand and it just has to stop, because there’s a lot of harassment coming from it. But it‘s hard to intervene when you’re doing a one-off action and you‘re peace-loving at your doorstep.”
Incidentally, not everyone sees problems in looking up politicians and administrators at home. Mark van den Oever, leader of action group Farmers Defence Force (FDF), spoke today on YouTube of a “top action”. That the protest took place at Van der Wal’s home address is “not at all bad”, because politics are also “at the kitchen table” among farmers, he said, referring to the consequences of the nitrogen measures.
FDF himself also visited a politician at home: in 2020, five members of the action group stood at the door of then D66 party chairman Jetten. They came to bring him a food package when he was quarantined because he had corona.