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Multicultural Holland

The face of Holland has changed dramatically since World War II. New arrivals have created a melting-pot society, and today the Netherlands is one of Europe's most ethnically diverse lands. But many don't realize the country is merely continuing a long tradition.

The first immigrants started arriving in the 17th century, during the Netherlands' Golden Age. While the gulden (guilder) was pouring into Holland, the rest of Europe struggled with poverty and high unemployment. At the time, around half the people in the city were first-generation migrants. Regardless of what they thought of all these foreigners, the pragmatic Dutch tolerated them because they realized they were vital for keeping the economy moving. The country also gained a reputation as a haven for refugees, and at various times offered shelter to Portuguese and German Jews, French Huguenots, and the Pilgrim Fathers.

In the 20th century, things stepped up a gear. Funded by Marshall Aid, the Dutch economy experienced unprecedented growth in the 1950s and 1960s. Labor was needed, and migrant workers were invited. Initially they came from Italy, Greece, and Spain; then in large numbers from Morocco and Turkey. Today there are around one million Muslims in Holland—about 6% of the population. At the same time, the dismantling of the Dutch empire meant new arrivals from the ex-colonies of Indonesia and Surinam.

More recently, refugees arrived from war-torn places like Iran, former Yugoslavia and Somalia. Then, since the country joined the European Union in 2004, a new wave has flooded in from Poland, Romania, and other points east. However, despite the nation's outwardly tolerant face, there are discontented rumblings. Many view the influx of different cultures as a threat to the traditional "Dutch" way of life. Theo van Gogh's brutal murder by a Dutch Moroccan youth for "blasphemy" caused huge shock waves. In the 2010 elections, there was a shift away from liberal parties in the Netherlands, as in other European countries, and the rise of the PVV (Freedom Party) and its flamboyant anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders is viewed with some trepidation.

Updated: 11-2013

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