Thursday, September 27, 2007

Typical Dutch/Typisch Nederlands?

Call it navel-gazing. Lengthy discussion on the BRMB about a speech (Dutch link) given by Princess Máxima of the Netherlands in response to a report of the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy on Dutch identity and what that means.

Background link (in English) on the report and speech.

Martin Wisse of Wis[s]e Words writes perceptively (link) --

No Dutch Identity

I never thought I would say this, but a member of the dutch royals actually said something yesterday I wholeheartedly agree with: that there is no such thing as a Dutch identity. Not surprisingly this was said by somebody who had married into the family, princess Maxima, daughter of an Argentinian junta leader, now wife to the heir to the Dutch throne. She said that during her seven years of integrating into Dutch society she never really saw what made the Dutch Dutch, which not entirely coincidently is also the outcome of a major scientific study commissioned by the government's science bureau. This said that the sole thing that could be thought of as a shared identity was a shared history.

Which is somewhat of a nobrainer. For any given country, trying to pin down a shared identity will either result in a list of vapid platitutes which any other country could subscribe too (We love freedom, we're tolerant of others, etc.) or else a list of lazy cliches based on some well out of date ideas of what Dutch people like (Andre Hazes, boerenkool, one cookie with the coffee and no more, clogs and bloody windmills). The whole idea of a national identity is reactionary, based on the idea that everybody is the same and out of place in a country that has always been a nation of immigrants (Hugenots, Spanish/Portuguese as well as Polish Jews, economic migrants from Germany, Chinese and Italians before the war, Morrocans and Turks after, Surinamers, not to mention a whole horde of other nationalities -- 172 different ones in Amsterdam, the most ethnically diverse city in the world), as well as a nation forged together from several very different regions. A Limburger is nothing like a Zeeuw is nothing like a Hollander is nothing like a Fries, though of course all have many more things in common than they differ on.

There are some on the left in various countries (One example) who are trying to reshape nationalism and the idea of a national identity into a more progressive form; I personally think this is a venture doomed to fail because of the above objections. Nationalism only works if you can bring yourself to believe your country is the best in the world, rather than remaking it into something simular to supporting your favourite football side.

Not so unrelatedly, snapping about Máxima's Spanish-accented Dutch is ridiculous and just another attempt to marginalise and classify people as "other." [Kon jij de prinses verstaan? Zij zat echt onverstaanbaar te mompelen tijdens de toespraak..." ("Could you hear what the princess was saying? She was mumbling really unintelligibly during the speech...")] They seem to be saying, "No matter how you try, princess, sweetie, you'll never be a 'real Dutchie'." I applaud her efforts wholeheartedly. She has defined her role, and acted upon it, to speak up for the marginalised. I've seen no official moves to put restraints on her. What I don't like are those xenophobes on the right who act in pure ignorance (and fear) in racist assaults on recent immigrants to NL. They just don't get it, and hallelujah! Máxima does!

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