Students
Anastasija Zihareva during the shooting of a promotional film for the municipal elections on the Grote Markt. Photo Winchester Creatives

Why the council electionsshould interest you

Internationals, represent

Anastasija Zihareva during the shooting of a promotional film for the municipal elections on the Grote Markt. Photo Winchester Creatives
If all internationals in Groningen would vote for one single party, that party would be the second largest in the local council. But instead, they don’t even know they have a say. ‘Internationals should vote, because it’s their city, too.’
23 February om 10:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 February 2022
om 15:52 uur.
February 23 at 10:20 AM.
Last modified on February 23, 2022
at 15:52 PM.
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Door Christoph Schwaiger

23 February om 10:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 February 2022
om 15:52 uur.
Avatar photo

By Christoph Schwaiger

February 23 at 10:20 AM.
Last modified on February 23, 2022
at 15:52 PM.
Avatar photo

Christoph Schwaiger

‘Elections next month? No, we haven’t heard about them. We can vote? No, we didn’t know that, either.’

International students Daniele Pezzera and Celina Jüngling, from Italy and Germany respectively, just found out that the city they study in and care about is holding elections in less than a month. Both are students of European languages and cultures and immediately start asking questions about the election to learn more.

And there are many more like them. Less than four weeks before the citizens of Groningen will be choosing their next local council – on March 16 – many international students are unaware of the fact that they, too, have the right to vote. That is: if they are from an EU country or have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years. 

Raise awareness

‘There are almost 15,000 internationals who can vote in the upcoming elections’, says Anastasija Zihareva, a campaign manager for the municipality of Groningen. She wants to raise awareness about the upcoming elections. ‘We’ve conducted research and found that 75 percent of internationals don’t know that they can vote.’

75 percent of internationals don’t know that they can vote

When she came to Groningen in 2012, she didn’t know herself either, she says. ‘But then I had an internship with the municipality and my Dutch colleagues were talking about the election, like: “Yeah, you have to vote!”. There was no English information available, though.’

She did want to vote, because she thinks it is important – as many internationals do, according to her research. ‘But I went to the voting station and saw a list of names and I didn’t recognise the people.’ Now she’s on a mission to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. The slogan the municipality chose for her campaign: It’s your city too.

Representation

What is more: internationals are a force to be reckoned with. If they – hypothetically – would all vote for a single new party, that party would become the second most powerful one on the local council, without even needing to attract a single non-international vote.

However, it can be hard for internationals to decide who to vote for. Is there a party that actively represents the international community of the city? 

Student of technology and operations management Steven Bosch, who is the leader of the Student en Stad party (the student and city party) did try, he says. ‘I asked two board members of a student organisation to join our list and to support our party, but they wanted to remain politically neutral.’

Not interested

Bosch, who himself was elected to the council in the last elections, contacted two other internationals, but they weren’t interested in local elections. ‘They said: “I’ll live here for half a year or three years and then I’m going back to my home country. So I’m not really interested in spending time on it.”’

You can’t follow any of the debates, but you can vote

Finally, he found a student from India who is now helping out with the campaign. Still, he does think it’s important that international students are represented in the municipality. And that they can actually understand what is going on in their city. 

‘I believe that when we have a municipality that only speaks Dutch, even when we discuss topics affecting internationals, it isn’t inclusive’, he says. ‘We can’t say we are a municipality that is welcoming to internationals. We’re telling people: “You can’t follow any of the debates, but you can vote.” That’s really crazy, right?’ 

Dominika Łykowska during the shooting of the municipality’s promotional video. Photo Winchester Creatives

Specific problems

Marinus Jongman, who previously chaired the Groningen students’ union GSb and is now contesting the upcoming elections with labour party PvdA, also believes that internationals deserve better representation than they now have. ‘In a general sense, most issues overlap with those of Dutch students, like the nightlife or cultural institutions.’

But when it comes to – for example – housing, international students experience a specific subset of problems. ‘It’s important to put these specific issues on the agenda’, Jongman says, ‘but it’s also hard, because you tend not to hear enough about the things that international students deal with.’

He encourages internationals to either join a party and contest the elections or alternatively contact a council member and explain what issues they are facing. ‘But I also see internationals going into activism to have an impact on what’s being discussed and what’s happening in Groningen.’

Involved

According to Zihareva, though, it’s not only internationals who can represent internationals. ‘They can see which candidates are standing for the topics they are passionate about and vote for them’, she says. 

They have a right to say what happens in their town

That is something that Dominika Łykowska, who is the commissioner of intellectual activities of student organisation SIB Groningen, wholeheartedly agrees with. She too was one of those students who never knew she could vote. ‘I feel integrated enough to feel part of the community of Groningen, but even I only found out about it like half a year ago’, she says. ‘It’s a bit difficult to know if other internationals feel the same.’

‘I like being involved and always vote back home. I like the idea of voting where everyone’s voice is heard. Growing up, my parents always spoke about the importance of taking part in elections.’

And so Łykowska decided on organising a debate in collaboration with the Groninger Forum on February 28. Parties will debate – in English – their views on the city and international life and many other topics. 

Direct influence

‘Internationals should vote because it’s their city, too’, says Zihareva. ‘Priorities decided by the local council will directly impact their life. It doesn’t matter where they come from. If they have a home here, then they have a right to say what happens in their town. We believe that having internationals participate in the elections will help them feel like they belong and that they are also responsible for the city.’

Both Daniele Pezzera and Celina Jüngling intend to use their vote in March. ‘Since we’re a big chunk of the population, I think we should be represented’, says Daniele. ‘We’re also active in society and participate in the economy and the community.’

When is the election?

March 16, 2022. More information on how and where to vote can be found on the council website.

Who can vote?

Internationals over the age of eighteen can vote, as long as they’re citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland. People from other countries can vote if they’ve been registered in the Netherlands and living here for at least five consecutive years. Those who were registered as eligible by January 31, 2022, will be able to vote.

The top 5 issues for the upcoming elections:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Housing
  3. Quality of life
  4. Fighting poverty
  5. Students

How do I decide who to vote for?

Find out which political party aligns the most with your vision for Groningen by responding to 30 statements in the online quiz Stemwijzer (Vote Pointer), available in English. Or join Groningen votes!, the election debate for internationals organised by SIB Groningen and Forum Groningen on February 28 from 8 to 9.30 PM.

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