Saturday, October 13, 2007


"Identity" has already for some years been an item in the Netherlands. Princess Máxima, the spouse of the heir-apparent, recently and unwillingly put some oil on the fire that refuses to go out. (See my earlier post.)
World citizens?

As an indication of her world citizenship, Princess Máxima pointed to a signpost outside her house the gives the distance to all the most important places in her life; Buenos Aires, New York, Brussels, The Hague and Wassenaar.

She's got some nasty criticism. Almost every day there are articles, LTE's, and polls about her speech. Toby Sterling, an American living in Amsterdam, chimes with his humourous opinion of this recent Dutch media navel gazing.
What she probably meant is that this is a multicultural society, with recent immigrants from many places mixing together with 'native' Dutch (native as in Germanic/Scandinavian/Frisian/Spanish/Celt/Pict/Gaullic/Roman) _ who themselves are divided into many categories (Rich/Poor _ Catholic/Protestant/Secular _ Homosexual/Heterosexual _ Randstand/Countryside _ politically right or left: SGP/PVV/VVD/CDA/D66/PvdA/SP/GL/PvdD _ etc., etc.).
If we're going to call this "the Dutch identity," why don't we just throw in all the rest of the cliches, including cheese, clogs, bikes, dikes and windmills, as long as we're at it?

The reality is that, on reflection, Maxima was totally right.
All Maxima really demonstrated is that this country is a little high strung about its identity right now; and she walked right into the tripwire.

If she had said _ "all Dutch should share the ethos that made this country one of the richest and most powerful in the world in the 1600s. Long live the VOC (Far East Indies Company) spirit!" _ a lot of people would have jumped down her throat too.
You can think of Dutch society as a "melting pot" or a "salad bowl," but either way the idea that it's some Aryan civilization is untenable. People resist it, but that's because they're dreaming of good old days that never existed, or chasing an illusion.

I think Máxima was speaking for the marginalised, but also about the inter-connectedness of all people. Indeed, we may connect to a "place," but we are also "of the world." I have certainly connected with the places and people where my life has brought me. Bloom where you are planted, as the 60s peace poster reminded us. I recall a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine nun from her interview on the radio program Speaking of Faith.
In the United States, we've lived on a very, very large ice cube that's melting now. The world is coming in, the boundaries are going down. What we're about now is the unification of the world. That means that the whole world is not going to come to us; we have to be prepared to walk with the rest of the world on the path it knows.

Related: Radio Netherlands Amsterdam Forum program on Dutch multiculturalism


  1. Absolutely right. The "Dutch" are also known to start an upheavel were none is neccesary. As a small country we really have toes way to big for our shoes.
    I never understood the upheavel either, but then, being from the south I have german ancestors so Im not 100% Dutch either..:)

  2. Marloes! For some reason you'd gone on holiday this summer, but I misread your post and thought you'd "vamóóóósed" for good! Glad you are alive! Yeah, on AVRO's Koefnoen there was a send-up of Máxima, with the accent, language errors, bad hair, and "Zuid Amerikaanse" temperament. The Dutch complain too much, "she" flipped out!

  3. "The Dutch complain too much" _
    There's another cliche with a grain of truth to it.

    It's the flipside of being critical, and consensus-building (to the extent all of these are real phenomena!).


    PS the debate shows no sign of easing; and I think the international press is going to start writing about it more soon.

    PPS A Dutchman in Burlington? You aren't a "Phishhead" I trust. Unilever connection?


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