Read the original text on Europeiska Pravda.
Just a few days the Netherlands to hold a referendum on Ukrainian Association Agreement. A referendum that could change too much for Ukraine and Europe.
On Thursday, we published a report on "governmental part" of the campaign and the Dutch Business Forum - the main event of "official propaganda." Governmental activity was only a tiny part of the preparations for the referendum.
* * * * *
"We want to help Ukraine. And we are going to vote against an Association Agreement, because Ukrainian people are against it."
In Kyiv this phrase could be perceived as a bad joke, and in the Netherlands it sounds daily.
The meeting with voters in Rotterdam, Arminius hall, began with these words. For Thierry Baudet, one of the ideologues and key actors in the campaign against the Ukrainian association, this thesis is one of the key points.
There are others as well.
"Association Agreement is a key step towards EU membership for Ukraine and we have to stop it"; "By ratifying the agreement, we split Ukraine, because it can be a new zone of instability and new conflict between East and West"; "Disabling association, we are saving Europe from Putin," this is an incomplete list of abstracts that we could hear from Thierry overnight.
These theses really "work," the Dutch find them convincing.
This is not the greatest oddity of the Dutch campaign. The entire campaign in this state can seem completely illogical.
5 euros per meeting - paid campaigning in the Netherlands
Every day in the Netherlands many political meetings, debates devoted to Ukrainian referendum are held.
Only in one evening, March 29, correspondent of the "Europeiska Pravda" was invited for four "Ukrainian events" in only one region of the country - two in the Hague and two in Rotterdam.
And these are not empty meetings that conduct "for show".
The electronic ticket for propaganda meeting can be purchased in advance
Can you imagine Ukrainian voter who would pay their own money, to see political agitation? In the Netherlands it is a reality.
5 euros - this is the price of admission to the meeting in Rotterdam
where politicians of "warring" camps debate - one of the organizers of the campaign against the agreement and Thierry Baudet and Dutch parliament deputy Case Ferhuven, one of the most active supporters of association with Ukraine.
There is no shortage of the audience.
The place of the meeting could be easily distinguished by the queue, which stretched for cash. In the room of more than 200 spectators left not a single free sit. At the beginning of the debates there was a meeting, how people plan to vote in a referendum on April 6; 90% selected the "undecided". Those who would vote "against," clearly prevail.
To sell agitation (literally), the Dutch present it under guise of a show.
The two-hour meeting with voters was vivid and emotional. In the pit there was a dozen of those who are able to add some emotions; Ukrainians or their local supporters and opponents of the Ukrainian Association. Some of them organizers invite themselves without collecting fees for the tickets.
In Rotterdam everything necessary for qualitative show was prepared: tears of one of the parties; the cries of others; quarrels, scandals; provocateurs, walking from one meeting to another.
Well, this time without a fight: there is no such a political tradition.
And now let us proceed to the most interesting part.
Rotterdam meeting was actively promoted by the organization "Forum for Democracy", one of the key players in the anti-Ukrainian campaign (according to some data, Forum was also involved in its preparation and organization). But this does not prevent "forum" to promote debate involving the political opponents. Strong ones. Otherwise, people will not come.
And it is one of the components of defeat of Ukrainian activists.
How to play the race. Ukrainian experience
If you look at the number of events in the Netherlands dedicated to Ukraine may appear that our question is in the spotlight. But this is not exactly true.
Rotterdam example is one of the "successful" if we estimate the spectators. And perhaps one of the sad, when assess the impact on the audience.
"It looks like we did not win, but there are meetings which are more successful. In addition, this audience was from the beginning more favorable to vote against it, because you know who the organizers are," deputy Ferhuven began to make excuses, when EvroPravda asked to sum up the discussion.
Why pro-Ukrainian forces did not organize exactly the same meeting and did not become the winners of these debates? In practice it does not work.
On the same day, our correspondent visited the discussions, organized by the pro-Ukrainian organization Brand New Ukraine.
The difference is striking.
"Star structure" speakers gathered at the Ukrainian event. MPs from Verkhovna Rada and the Dutch parliament, experts from both countries. Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy was also announced as invited. After all, Ukrainian event was free and visitors were promised a buffet.
Despite this, about 30 visitors gathered in the hall. The vast majority was Ukrainians or those who already supports Ukraine, that one does not make sense to convince.
One of the reasons was lack of "second hand". Opponents of Ukrainian agreement were not invited. The only manifestation of the show was the appearance of Pole Tomasz Matejcek, whom Ukrainian and Dutch community called "Russian embassy staff provocateur." Matejcek goes from one panel discussion to another, calls himself a journalist (though refused to mention the media) and blames Ukraine of oppressing Russian-speaking people.
And at debate, where only Ukrainians were sitting in the room, his speech had no effect.
However, pro-Ukrainian participants has not affected.
And the event did not involve the ordinary voters, it was an example of inefficient spending of Dutch taxpayers.
Dutch Ukrainians tried different approaches. The organization Brand New Ukraine, received the grant for the campaign of the Dutch government also held "Library Tour" - local libraries throughout the country traveling Dutch citizens who once lived in Ukraine.
In these towns advertising is carried, inviting local people to the library and talking about our country.
And activists admit the lack of success.
"Only a few people comes here. At the first lecture on Sept. 17, there were five Dutch. Certainly, further interest was growing, now there are 20 people on average. But still it is not enough," says Svitlana Seysens, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Without elements of the show you cannot win voter’s attention.
"Russian friends" in Dutch campaign
In support of the Association Agreement in the Netherlands several parties and organizations that are not connected with one another, agitate to vote “for.” And their arguments are the same.
Of course, there are differences in emphasis. Some are paying more attention to trade issues (proving that free trade is profitable for Dutch business), others have focused on shared values and experience in the Maidan.
In the camp of those who campaigned against the deal, the situation is fundamentally different. It includes groups that use very different approaches and arguments.
Among the opponents of Ukraine, there are two key forces. The "lush" non-party activists of GeenStijl and "reasonable" representatives of parliamentary parties (including socialists).
One of the drivers of the campaign GeenStijl is activist Thierry Baudet, whom we mentioned at the beginning. Most accurately he could be described with the phrase: "Dutch Lyashko, but a bit younger." Local journalists, of course, do not know about such an analogy and say about him differently: "He wants to enter the political elite through the back door."
Ukrainian referendum was the finest hour for expressive 33-year-old lawyer, trying to make a quick political career before the parliamentary elections, which are to be held no later than 2017.
An interesting detail: Thierry now is impersonating the victim of Ukrainian radicals. This week he said that he hired the security guard in order to escape from Ukrainian aggression.
Another notable point: until recently, Thierry was a critic of Putin.
Common interests unite, and now his team has joined notorious Russian Sergey Marhel, that is often involved in the activities of Russian embassies in EU countries.
Now the speeches Thierry contain Russian propaganda.
Here are allegations that Ukraine is integrated into the EU against its will; and the "revolution" times of Maidan; and the need to respect the interests of Russia. And finally, the most important:
Supposedly stopping the Association Agreement, the Netherlands will save EU from the wrath of Putin (?!)
Pro-Ukrainian activists claim that this point is the most difficult to fight.
"This is the main reason that we hear during the library tour - if I vote for the deal, it will make Putin angry.
It is voiced at each lecture, without exception. Ordinary Dutch literally said the following: ‘Putin wants to have Ukraine – let him do it. And Europe must stay united, but in its own borders.’ This logic is the biggest challenge," says Svitlana Seysens.
It should be added that most of the allegations of Thierry Baudet contain logical errors or distortion.
For example, a favorite of his allegations is that against the majority of Ukrainians are against the Association, could be refuted by a recent study, in which 72% of respondents asked the Netherlands to vote on the deal.
And no wonder we call Thierry a representative of "violent" camp activists. This is his strength.
"Arguing with opponents of Ukraine is not easy, because they yell too loudly," says the Dutch Baya Kleuters-Abers, who participated in a series of debates on Ukraine.
Campaign to Ukrainian referendum proves that populism is not only Ukrainian feature. In Western Europe it is widespread too.
For example, the debate in Rotterdam was attended by a local professor that tried to explain the audience the essence of the agreement with Ukraine and its impact, but Baudet broke his phrase that is "propaganda" and "nonsense."
Not only Putin
Of course, it makes no sense to build a campaign only to "Putin's influence."
Dutch problem is much deeper. In addition to "violent" GeenStijl, the campaign involves the traditional parties and trade policy rhetoric which are fundamentally different.
Another center of campaign are Dutch socialists. They do not touch "Putin's theme", but try to prove to citizens that voting "for" contains a hidden threat. This is a quick reaction to new data. For example, to support the association in Ukraine.
"Yes, most of Ukrainians are for, but there are those who oppose, even if there are only 20% of them. They are ready to protest, so ratification of the agreement will lead to conflict between the Ukrainians. And we already have 9,000 dead," said Harry van Bommel, an MP from the Socialist Party, that leads the campaign.
An important detail.
Parliamentary opponents of the agreement recognize that free trade zone will work even if the ratification does not take place.
"I have nothing against free trade with Ukraine. If it was only about trade agreement, I probably would support it. But the agreement goes much further than just the FTA. The association with the EU will lead to problems," said the deputy, one of the key NO-agitators.
"A free trade zone to act in the future. Perhaps, Brussels will have to sign a new agreement with Ukraine," he said.
The referendum against the EU
In addition, despite the fact that only.
Indeed, opponents of the deal have greater support.
"Those Dutch politicians and activists, who are campaigning for an agreement, have one big problem: they essentially want to help Ukraine and support the construction of Western-style democracy. But it is much more difficult to persuade the voters than with some selfish argument of opponents of the agreement, who say, 'why do we help these people when we made a lot of problems," said in a conversation with Ernest Klassen, editor of the foreign department of Dutch TV channel NOS.
An important factor that will affect the outcome of the referendum, will be the turnout. The Dutch citizens must not only decide whether to support Ukraine or not. They also have to find time and desire to come to the polls on Wednesday. Even the weather is important - rain is able to significantly change the results.
Unfortunately, not in our favor, because opponents of the agreement are much better motivated.
Many of them sees the referendum as a vote not against Ukraine, but against the EU.
April 1, NRC, one of the leading editions, interviewed GeenStijl, in which they described how did they manage to arrange the referendum.
Referendum organizers recognized that our state purely by chance was the subject of a referendum. This is the claim of the Netherlanders to Brussels.
The publication has a very eloquent headline: "Ukraine? We don’t care about it"