Dutch Political Blogs: It’s Not Only Zalm!

The Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad has an interesting section covering tech developments called Internet and PC, in its on-line edition too, and the subject of weblogs written by Dutch politicians was recently treated there, in an article entitled Blogging for the People by Reinoud den Haan. The star Dutch political blogger, whose on-line work has already attracted some attention due to his leading role in several current controversies (such as the French & German violation of the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact), is of course Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm. (Edward, are you out there?) Den Haan’s article does not disappoint: we learn quite a lot about Zalm’s blogging habits, such as that he regularly sits down to write an entry, with “iron discipline,” on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, and even then he has to be careful, as he finds his weblog to be verslavend, that is, “addictive.” But probably the most surprising thing is that, when he prepares his latest contribution on that regular schedule, he does so at his kitchen table and with pen-and-paper – i.e. not with a laptop, or indeed with any sort of keyboard whatsoever! (“That’s faster,” he explains. “I’m still in the department of those who type with two fingers.”)

But Zalm is hardly the only Dutch politician who blogs, although it’s also true that there still aren’t that many who do – as Den Haan notes, “It is a lot of work and demands discipline,” and it’s no surprise to learn that few of his fellow politicians are as Prussian as Zalm manages to be. For example, representative for the CDA (that’s the Christian-Democratic party that’s in the majority in the government, to which the premier belongs) Rendert Algra claims his is the only true weblog among members of the Tweede Kamer, the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament, since he’s the only one who actually publishes something new every day. But there’s a catch to this: Most of the time he writes in Frisian (the language of the Dutch province of Friesland, which long ago was independent, with its own language and culture), not in Dutch. “I can express myself more easily in Frisian,” he explains. He certainly has what any true Netherlander (and Frieslander, of course) would quickly recognize as a Frisian name. (Note: We can’t go on to say that his writing in Frisian also makes sense because Algra represents a Frisian constituency. Dutch members of the Tweede Kamer don’t represent constituencies; it doesn’t work that way. Instead, they are chosen from party lists.)

BLOGGING IN SELF-DEFENSE

Then there’s Annette Nijs, who also maintains a weblog and who is the current government’s state-secretary for education. The seal for that department of the Dutch government really should have incorporated into its design a bull’s-eye; for years now that state-secretary’s main job has been to carry out the plans of the government-of-the-day to cut back on the state’s education expenditures, and naturally whoever occupies that office finds him- or herself the target of hundreds of thousands irate Dutch university students and their parents. Alas, it seems her weblog has also not managed to escape such unpleasantness: Den Haan writes about how, when the state-secretary for education apparently let some spelling errors creep into some entries, the site was swiftly swamped with uncomplimentary e-mails. But Nijs is sanguine: “If people make it out to be a problem, then that’s what they have to do. I often have to type my weblog quickly, with my laptop on my lap as I’m riding in my official limousine.” She is also quoted to the effect that it has become noticeably more “official,” i.e. less personal, over time since the days when she started it in the middle of an election campaign; now it makes up a part of the Education Ministry’s official site. Could that be in reaction to getting burned for the spelling mistakes, State-Secretary Nijs?

Opinion in the article is divided as to whether weblogs really are the ideal communication medium between the 21st-century politician and his/her constituency. Frans Weisglas is the chairman of the Tweede Kamer (similar to, say, the US Speaker of the House), writes no sort of weblog, and anyway is sure that putting word out via the traditional (i.e. paper) press remains the best way to ensure people find out what you have to say. But, among others, Gerrit Zalm is not so sure. He is quick to say that he never has used his weblog as a tool to propagate “leaks,” and never will, but it does often reveal secondary information (who he had lunch with, for example, and what they spoke about) which expert observers, in particular, could find valuable as they try to piece together what is really going on in the government. He knows, for example, that journalists are the most and the most-regular readers of his weblog.

By the way, for those familiar with Dutch (or Frisian, as the case may be) who want to check out some of these political weblogs, De Haan ends the article with a comprehensive list of links.

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