Dutch Government and Educational Institutions

in Response to the invasion of Ukraine

By Céline Zahno | International | April 27, 2022

Cover Illustration: Protest for Ukraine at Dam Square, Amsterdam. Gabriele Stravinskaite / Unsplash

From a reflection on the Netherlands’ reaction to Ukraine’s plea for immediate EU membership, to evaluating the cutting of ties with Russian education institutions, Metro International Reporter, Céline Zahno, critically dives into the response of the Dutch government and that of educational institutions towards the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Since the current Russian invasion of Ukraine began, many of the largest cities in the Netherlands became sites of protest as thousands gathered in Amsterdam, Groningen, Den Haag, Heerlen, and Arnhem. However, the response of the Dutch government and the country’s financial institutions seems to be less decisive in their direction than those of the people. 

In the beginning of March, EU member state leaders met in Versailles to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A significant point of discussion at the meeting was Ukraine’s application for immediate entry into the EU. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been leading the opposition to Zelensky’s appeal for immediate admission, stating that “you shouldn’t try to have an express train”. Nevertheless, Rutte insisted on the possibility “to be together with all Europeans” by working out more short-term solutions. 

The form of one such short-term solution took shape through a government statement issued in mid-February, declaring that the Netherlands would support Ukraine by supplying military goods, including air defense rockets and anti-tank systems. At the end of March, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the Dutch parliament in a video, urging them to provide more weapons to Ukraine. He criticized the amount of gas that the Netherlands still purchases from Russia, claiming that it contributes billions to the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy also directly addressed Rutte: “Our membership depends on you Mark” he stated, criticizing his reluctance to allow talks of Ukraine’s entrance into the EU. 

Another action implemented by Dutch financial institutions, has been the freezing of 6 million euros of assets owned by sanctioned Russians. However, this sanction has been deemed insufficient, as many of those affected are multi-billionaires. Jasper van Dijk, MP of the Socialist Party, has claimed this to be merely “a token amount” since – according to Financieele Dagblad calculations – 35 billion euros of Russian investments in the Netherlands are associated with sanctioned individuals. 

Dutch education institutions, on the other hand, are more relentless in action, recently cutting all research and education partnerships with Russia and Belarus. The Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, has indeed pushed to end formal contact with Russian institutions and while he admitted this risks leaving academic freedom “temporarily at stake”, he stated it as a necessary response given the current events. 

Oscar Galeev, a Russian junior lecturer in Political Science at the University of Amsterdam thinks this to be a mistake. “It doesn’t serve any purpose related to the war and isolates precisely the people that need to be reached out”. Not only during times of war such relations could be important, but they are “essential” to imagine a world afterward. “Sociologically, we are cutting ties with the most educated and pro-democracy people, and what we reach by sanctioning them is only a strengthened Russian regime.” He also sees a financial motive in the advance of such an ideologically based response. “Dutch universities don’t see the Russian educational market as financially lucrative. They do not have any pragmatic reasons not to cut the contact but all ideological reasons to do so”.

On-site of the University of Amsterdam specifically, he would wish to see a more responsible humanitarian reaction instead of initiatives that promote military aid to Ukraine. “What I see here is the opposite of a pacifist response”. He is confused about such messaging bringing militarist ideology to the university space. “The fact that we see this on campus is alarming”.

Céline Zahno is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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