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Amsterdam’s New Scum Villages

 It’s is hard to believe that one of the most liberal cities in the world is proposing to move citizens exhibiting anti-social behavior to residential punishment “villages.”

Although Amsterdam has long been known for its very relaxed social policies, the city’s current Labor Party mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, has unveiled a draconian new government plan to crack down on the behavior of some its more anti-social citizens that sounds more like a policy cooked up in the Stalin-era Soviet Union than a plan originating in the liberal capital city of the Netherlands. That Van der Laan has proposed a $1.3 million plan to address the thousands complaints of anti-social behavior his office receives each year is not totally surprising, but his proposed method of dealing with the problem is.

Van der Lann’s plan is a radical departure from Amsterdam's famous tolerance for social issues like prostitution and soft drugs, and reflects the city’s new and less-tolerant attitudes toward anti-social behaviors that are problematic, but not necessarily illegal. The Mayor says his office receives more than 13,000 complaints of anti-social behavior in the city every year, and that more direct government action and consequences are needed to halt the problem. Harassing the offenders with complaints and minor tickets for the civil violations has not worked, and Van der Lann says it often leads to situations where the law abiding citizens are driven out of a problem area, and the offenders inherit the neighborhood instead.

Amsterdam already has a squad of city officials charged with identifying the worst anti-social behavior offenders and sending them to a mandatory six month course in how to behave properly with other citizens. Currently, repeat offenders and those who fail to show any improvement in their social behavior are threatened with eviction and homelessness, but the law is rarely enforced to that degree today.

Van der Lann’s new approach to the anti-social behavior problem involves creating what are being called "scum villages" where nuisance neighbors and outwardly anti-social tenants will be exiled from within the city and relocated by the government to “containers” with "minimal services" that will be under constant police supervision. To test the new plan, the Dutch government has already set-up several trial projects in and around Amsterdam where “villages” of 10 shipping container ‘homes” have been set up to house persistent offenders who live there under 24-hour supervision and observation from social workers and police. The plan also calls for setting up an independent telephone hotline system that allows victims to report problems to the authorities at any time of day or night.

The new punishment plan’s housing camps for repeat offenders have already been called "scum villages" by the Dutch press because they resemble a prior proposal from Geert Wilders, the leader of a populist Dutch Right-wing party, that had called for “special units” to deal with persistent troublemakers. Wilders told reporters last year that “Repeat offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighborhoods and sent to a village for scum to put all the trash together.”

Although current city officials refuse to call the plan “punishment camps for scum," several have acknowledged that the housing units would aim to enforce good behavior. When (and if) the new policy takes effect, the victims will not have to move in order to escape the anti-social troublemakers who will be forced to move to the new “scum villages” instead. City spokesmen have stressed that the new plan is supposed to be a deterrent and is not aimed at rewarding the people who behave badly with a new home.

Although a team of district "harassment directors" have already been appointed to spot social behavior problems and gather reports of nuisance tenants, the Dutch Parool newspaper has pointed out that the radical policy is not really new and that back in the mid 19th century, troublemaking citizens were moved to “special villages” in the towns of Drenthe and Overijssel just outside of Amsterdam. Even back then, most of the “punishment” villages were rarely successful, and instead became squalid neighborhoods full of lawless hooligans. Whether or not Van der Lann’s proposed revival of the “scum villages” will become law, or will work any better than they have in the past if they do become law, remains to be seen.