Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok came under fire for saying multicultural societies could never be peaceful, and former colony Suriname was a "failed state" because of its diverse ethnic makeup.
Blok also categorized a neighborhood with Turkish nationals as a place where Dutch nationals would not want to live in.
"Give me an example of a multiethnic, multicultural society, where the indigenous population still lives... where they live in a peaceful, societal union," Blok told a gathering of Dutch employees of international organizations.
Blok, a member of the conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, made the comments at the gathering in The Hague on July 10, but the remarks came to wider attention only after video appeared on Dutch TV program Zembla on Wednesday.
Someone in the audience suggested Suriname, a former Dutch colony on South America's Atlantic northern coast populated mainly by the descendants of Asian indentured workers, African slaves and indigenous people. "I admire your optimism," he replied. "Suriname is a failed state and that is very much linked to its ethnic composition." During the discussion,
Blok also made remarks that categorized a Turkish neighborhood as a district where the Dutch citizens would not want to live in.
He argued that it is in people's genes to want to live with people who are like them, claiming that it would be hard to relate to others.
He gave the example of Dutch citizens going to a Turkish neighborhood and visiting a bakery there, which he said could be nice to do, yet when a person of Dutch background actually starts living there, they are bothered by the surrounding "others."
Blok told Zembla on Wednesday that his "aim was to stimulate an open exchange and to hear the participants' experiences."
"My contribution during the question and answer session of the meeting partly was aimed in part at sparking a reaction from the audience. During the closed meeting, I used illustrations that could come across as badly chosen in public debate," he said. Suriname, which became independent from the Netherlands in 1975, has had an occasionally troubled political history. President Desi Bouterse, in office since an election in 2010, previously ruled the country in the 1980s after taking power as the leader of a violent military coup. He was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands for cocaine trafficking, on charges he says were trumped up by the Dutch government.
Lawmakers from several Dutch political parties, inc
luding all members of the governing coalition, demanded an explanation for Blok's remarks.
Lawmaker Kees Verhoeven of a the center left D66 party, a coalition member, called the remarks "incomprehensible" in an open letter asking Blok for an explanation.
"The job of a foreign minister is to maintain diplomatic relations," Verhoeven said. In the same video, Blok discussed African tribes and religious groups as examples of people's inability to get along. "I can't see the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi, nor between a Sunni or a Shiite," he said, referring to two central African tribes and the two major sects of Islam. "Unfortunately, they can. Probably somewhere deep in our genes, we want a defined group" to belong to, he said.