AMSTERDAM–For years, W.B. Kranendonk was a lone ranger in Dutch politics – the editor of an orthodox Christian newspaper in a nation that has legalized prostitution, euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage and allows the personal use of marijuana.
Today, with an orthodox Christian political party in the government for the first time, and with immigration anxieties fuelling a national search for identity, the country that has been the world's most socially liberal political laboratory is rethinking its anything-goes policies.
And suddenly, Kranendonk no longer seems so alone.
"People in high political circles are saying it can't be good to have a society so liberal that everything is allowed," said Kranendonk, editor of Reformist Daily and an increasingly influential voice in the shifting mainstream of Dutch public opinion. "People are saying we should have values; people are asking for more and more rules in society.'"
In cities across the Netherlands, mayors and town councils are closing down shops where marijuana is sold, rolled and smoked. Municipalities are shuttering the brothels where prostitutes have been allowed to ply their trade legally. Parliament is considering a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms."
Orthodox Christian members of parliament have introduced a bill that would allow civil officials with moral objections to refuse to perform gay marriages. And Dutch authorities are trying to curtail the activities of an abortion rights group that assists women in neighbouring countries where abortions are illegal.
The effort to rein in the Netherlands's famed social liberties is not limited to the small, newly empowered Christian Union party, which holds two of the 16 ministries in the coalition government formed this year. Increasingly, politicians from the more centre-left Labour party are among the most outspoken proponents of closing some brothels and marijuana shops – known here as "coffee shops.''
"Has the Netherlands changed? Yes," said Frank de Wolf, a Labour party member of Amsterdam city council. "There is not only a different mood among our people and politicians, but there are different problems now.''
The Netherlands is going through the same racial, ethnic and religious metamorphoses as the rest of Western Europe: Large influxes of black, Arab and Muslim immigrants are changing the social complexion of an overwhelmingly white, Christian nation struggling with its loss of homogeneity.
But here those anxieties are exacerbated by alarm over the international crime organizations that have infiltrated the country's prostitution and drug trades, the increasing prevalence of trafficking in women and children across its borders, and dismay over the Netherlands' image as an international tourist destination for drugs and sexual debauchery.
"There is an uneasiness about globalization that the Dutch don't have control over their own country any more," said James Kennedy, professor of contemporary history at the Free University of Amsterdam. "There is a more conservative mood in the country that is interested in setting limits and making sure things don't get out of hand.''
De Wolf, the Amsterdam councillor, is part of that movement.
"In the past, we looked at legal prostitution as a women's liberation issue; now it's looked at as exploitation of women and should be stopped," said de Wolf, an HIV/AIDS researcher.
He said Amsterdam's police force is overwhelmed and ill-equipped to fight the sophisticated foreign organized crime networks operating in the city. Laws designed to regulate prostitution and brothel operators have instead opened the trade to criminal gangs, according to de Wolf and other city officials.
"Amsterdam has a reputation that you can do everything here,'' de Wolf said. "That's not the way I want people to look at Amsterdam.''
Ivo Opstelten, the mayor of Rotterdam, the second-largest Dutch city, announced this month that he will close all marijuana shops within 75 metres of a school – nearly half of the city's 62 shops.
Michael Veling, 52, proprietor of an Amsterdam coffee shop where a marijuana joint sells for $5.50, said politicians increasingly are looking for any excuse to scale back the sale of soft drugs.
"This toleration policy goes back 35 years," said Veling, snapping the lids off plastic boxes of pungent marijuana blends marked Neville's Haze and White Widow. "Now the word 'coffee shop' has become a symbol of something we don't like about society.''
But historian Kennedy describes the attitude as a national "weariness with moral squalor – the Dutch have grown tired of it and are unwilling to put up with it.''
He said the rise of the orthodox Christian Union party, many members of which shun television as part of their strict religious code, has coincided with the changing public attitude.
Editor Kranendonk said his Christian Union party is realistic: "When you're a small party, you can't change everything in four years.
"If you had said to me in 1995 that one of the main orthodox Christian parties would be in the government today, I wouldn't have believed it," Kranendonk said. "The number of Christians is diminishing, churches are closing.''
He paused and smiled, "But there are other ways of believing."
Only a few things need to be said. First of all, this article should be a stern note to everyone who thinks we should follow the Netherlands down the path of regulated prostitution and legalized drugs. The country hates where they are now. They are trying to reverse many years of damage. We don't need to make their mistake.
Secondly, I find it interesting that although the Netherlands is a purportedly progressive country, many people share the beliefs of the recently elected conservative Christians. People simply cannot do whatever they want and then expect their society to turn out well.