Another discussion the Dutch are failing at

As I was watching TV just now, switching from channel to channel like a 21st century zombie, I came across the following commercial:

It’s a public announcement from the Dutch 4th & 5th of May-committee, that starts out by reminding us we had lost our freedom during 5 years of World War II. The voice over continues by saying that since then, we have passed freedom on from one generation to the next. It’s something that should not be taken for granted and something we are responsible for, together. She finishes off by telling us that on the 4th of May we will be remembering the victims and that on the 5th we will celebrating our freedom. Her final question is: “How will you pass our freedom on?”.

It was only three weeks ago that I wrote about the Dutch national remembrance and celebration day, and the confused guilt trip I have been going through in the wake of it. But while I was watching the above commercial I felt I hadn’t said all I needed to say.

You see, as so many other places in the world, Dutch society is no longer succeeding at hiding it’s true (pretty racist) colors. Some of you may have heard of the discussion we’ve been trying to have about our family friend, “Black Pete”. If it rings no bells, feel free to read an old  blogpost of mine about it.

zwarte pieten en sinterklaas

Some of the same people that are trying to ban Black Pete from the Dutch celebration of Saint Nicholas, have been trying to ask for a more equal representation during the May 4th remembrance.

The point they have been trying to make has to do with a lot of things, but the one they have been speaking about most is the role of the Dutch army during the Indonesian National Revolution, which took place between Indonesia’s declaration of independence in 1945 and the Dutch recognition of its independence at the end of 1949.

During the two minutes of silence that we hold at 8PM every year, we remember all victims of WWII during the first minute and victims of other wars in the second minute. According to the protesters, we only focus on “white victims” and choose to ignore the victims in Indonesia, for which the Dutch conscience is not completely clean.

remembrance king

A couple of weeks ago, this group of protesters announced they would disturb the two minutes of silence with a noise-demonstration to bring attention to their cause.

Politicians have tried being civil, saying: “If you are protesting to demand respect, you shouldn’t start out by disrespecting others. There is a time and place to discuss and demonstrate, but this isn’t it.”

Just like with the Black Pete discussion though, there was a small window of opportunity for society to defuse the bomb before it went off. You see, the right reaction to a person telling you that you hurt them with something you did (or didn’t do), in my opinion, is: “Really??? I made you feel that way? I had no idea and I am so sorry! Please, join me at my table. Let’s talk.”

I know, I’m naive that way…

FB frames

But I’m seeing friends on Facebook (yepp, I’m still there) putting frames on their profile pictures showing the Dutch flag and stating “I will be silent for 2 minutes”.

For most, it’s probably just a well-intentioned attempt to pay their respects to the dead. It bothers me though, because it’s so much beside the point that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The noise-demonstration is not a protest against being quiet. It is a protest against being ignored, marginalized and disrespected. The fact that you don’t understand why they feel this way, doesn’t make it less right. It just makes you ignorant.

So in their stupor of petrified ignorance my fellow countrymen are only achieving one thing: proving the protesters right.

Jaar van Verzet

Ironically, this year’s theme is “resistance” so we are all being encouraged to stand up for what we believe is right. I think the people that came up with the idea were hoping we would be standing together AGAINST racism, though…  wupps.

 

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Dutch nationalism – the anthem

The Dutch National Anthem, aka “the Wilhelmus” is said to “date back to at least 1572, making it the oldest known national anthem in the world”.

Noteworthy! Something to make a mental note of in case you ever end up at some random pub quiz.

So the anthem is basically a poem, written from the perspective of our founding father, William of Orange.

The lyrics however, sound bizarrely unpatriotic. The first line is:

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe ben ik, van Duitsen bloed.

This translates to:

William of Nassau am I, of a German bloodline

I’m all for knowing and honoring your heritage but did you really have to put it in the very first line, mr of Nassau?? It kind of feels like talking about your awesome Ukranian ex and her super fit body on your first date with me… How about we talk about ME?

(LOL, that never happened to me, no worries)

 I dedicate undying faith to this land of mine.

Ok then. The second line is better, all though I am not sure which land you are speaking of exactly, as you thought it necessary to start out by emphasizing you weren’t from here, originally.

I am a Prince of Orange and quite fearless

Yes, sir William, you are indeed a prince of Orange; a title you inherited after your cousin died. Well done.

The king of Spain I have always honoured.

WHAT THE HELL? Why would you bring that up, WILHELMUS????

I’m just sort of getting over your shady mention of your German blood and now you straight out tell me in my face you are actually loyal to another bloody king?? That’s fucked up, Willy, I’m not gonna lie…

Yah, I know they grow oranges down there, but that’s not what your title means!!! (Not sure what it DOES mean, but that’s for a different day.)

The End

I kid you not, that’s it.

Or no, not true. There are actually 14 verses more, in which he mostly praises god and his family. A sort of Oscars acceptance speech, I suppose…

But yah, the part we Dutchies sing before international soccer matches and after winning medals at the Olympic games, is just this:

William of Nassau am I, of a German bloodline
I dedicate undying faith to this land of mine.
I am a Prince of Orange and quite fearless
The king of Spain I have always honoured.

Needless to say, the Dutch are not very attached to their national anthem… I dare to say that more than half of people under 30 would struggle reciting it correctly off the top of their heads. 

So you can imagine the whole US discussion about dishonoring the country, by dishonoring the anthem, by kneeling in silence, is pretty hard for us to grasp…

 

I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

inleiding_01

My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.

Hutspot, herring and happiness!

It’s the fourth day of Blogtober and I have published a blog only once (but this will be two, as soon as I press the button).

A bad start? Maybe.

Leiden-geuzen

But I have a good excuse. I live in a Dutch town called Leiden, which explodes every year around the 3rd of October, when the siege and relief of the city is commemorated and celebrated. It’s a actually a very interesting history that you can read more about here.

The 3 October festival is something kids and grownups from Leiden and surroundings save up for all year in every sense. People go CRAZY!

There is a huge funfair with rides and attractions throughout the city center. There are several parades, food everywhere and a fireworks show at the end. The traditional dishes, for historical reasons, are herring on white bread and “hutspot”, which is a dish made of mashed potatoes, carrots, onions and a sort of beef stew.

masher.jpg
A masher; kitchen tool to mash potatoes with.

This year we celebrated by eating hutspot in our new neighborhood. About a dozen volunteers had made their take on the meal and a jury of local restaurant chefs decided which version would take home the golden “masher”. The winner ended up being an adventurous neighbor that decided to flavor the hutspot up with some asian spices.  Yummy!

Besides being a super handsome and historically interesting city, Leiden is also has the oldest University of the country, which the city was gifted by Prince William of Orange for the city’s perseverance, suffering and bravery during the Spanish sieges in the 16th century.

For students and outsiders, the 3 October festival is something they love to hate and hate to love. Most straight out hate it and flee the city, as the University closes its doors during these days anyhow.

kermis leiden.jpg

After having learned the hard way that trying to get from A to B was futile during these two days of local insanity, I embraced the celebration and am now a big fan, which is actually surprising considering I am not a drinker and the whole city is completely WASTEDDDDD for two whole days.

So, I am in doubt if I should recommend coming to Leiden during the beginning of October or not… In the end it’s actually about personal preferences. You have to be able to see and hear the beauty of it all, amidst rowdy crowds, flashing lights, annoyingly repetitive funfair music (and all other types of music) and stale beer. I love it!

Read more about the festival here.

 

Article 1

Two of my previous blog posts started out as the introductory words to this one but they ended up getting lives of their own. Hopefully this third time will be a charm and help me get this story out of my head.

It all started when the annual Black Pete discussion reached its peak this last year. I had already decided I would not avoid confrontation on this matter any longer and would ALWAYS point out to the other why I felt Black Pete was indeed a racist element in our culture and that we were making fools of ourselves by denying it.

Sylvana.pngA Dutch celebrity that became very vocal on this matter is a lady called Sylvana Simons. I remembered her merely as a charming TV show host, that started out on a Dutch music channel called TMF. When she started to become a regular on Holland’s most viewed talk show and vented her thoughts about prevalent racism in our society people went crazy… CRAZY!!

She started to receive death threats straight away, which is apparently the thing to do these days when you disagree with someone… Facebook events were dedicated to her, with “Wave Sylvana goodbye”-day as the most popular one. People all around me thought the idea was a hilarious initiative: just gather at the airport holding sarcastic banners, to see Sylvana off because “she didn’t appear to like it here anyway”.

But it’s all good! Just tongue-in-cheek banter; no ill intent, nothing personal. 

Sylvana wasn’t even going to be at the airport! So why would she even feel threatened by this frivolous idea?

Oh sure…. that’s just typical that she would use this to appoint herself the victim role again.

…suggesting they were threatening to have her deported, was she? Why would she even think that?

…we were just kidding…!

sylvana uitzwaaidag.png

…and I was completely dumbfounded by it.

What shocked me the most was how unanimous this sentiment seemed to be. People that I had always considered to be progressive, nuanced and moderate in their opinions would say things about this woman that made my jaw drop and showed me how extremely deeply rooted this problem really was… And it only proved her right, too!art-1.jpg

Sylvana then went into politics, first with an existing (and pretty controversial) party called Denk. Shortly before the end of 2016 and with only a few months left to get a full program together Sylvana started her own political party: Artikel 1, referring to the first article in the Dutch constitution, stating everyone staying in this country is to be treated fairly and equally, prohibiting any form of discrimination.

I was actually quite excited about Sylvana’s new political party and still have her in my top three candidates for upcoming Wednesday’s elections (all though not on number 1, I must admit).

It has been so difficult for me to understand why my compatriots have so little love for her, so these past few weeks I have made it my mission to figure it out.

I asked my closest friends to explain to me why their knickers got caught up in a twist every time I mentioned her name. They all seemed to agree that the way she brought her message across was counterproductive and divisive in itself. They said they did feel the Netherlands had a racism problem but that she was only pouring oil on the fire. They said it wasn’t WHAT she said but HOW she said it that bugged them.

I thought this was quite interesting, as people seem to use the opposite argument to explain why Geert Wilders is an acceptable option; they are willing to forgive him for his rude tone because they agree with the underlying message.

Why didn’t this logic apply to Sylvana, then? Her gender? Her race? Or is she really so much ruder than him?

When my boyfriend’s brother was at our place the other day and I once again got that look of disgust when I said I thought she was actually a pretty awesome power woman, I grabbed the opportunity to get some clarity.

I asked him to show me what I was missing. I admitted I didn’t watch any of the Dutch TV talk shows and that I may well have missed the bits in which she said such nasty stuff that made her deserve the cyberbuckets of shit that had been poured out over her since then.

So I watched interviews in which she definitely came across as bitchy. I saw her get angry and (unnecessarily) defensive. I saw how she interrupted other people at the table to ask them if they even heard what they were saying. I saw why people might find her annoying.

But nothing that I saw or heard justified how we were treating her. Nothing brought me that big eye-opening revelation I was hoping for. It turned out that it really was as bad as I had feared.

A woman… no… a BLACK woman… no… a BLACK DUTCH WOMAN was telling us the backbone of our Dutch identity was rotten and that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

The chapters of our nation’s history that we had so skillfully “re-interpreted” were being shown in a very uncomfortable light.

guilty dogIt kind of reminds me of one of Cesar Millan’s lessons. Yes, I am actually referencing the dog whisperer here… And yes, I am comparing the Dutch to the “bad dog” in the equation. Or more: I am comparing the Dutch to a dog that has been showing the same behavior for far too long and has a panicky fit the first time it is asked to show different behavior.

We are facing the wall, trembling slightly… not knowing what to do now… Avoiding all eye-contact. How do we go on from here? How do we change the behavior we’ve always shown? It’s uncomfortable. It’s uncertain. Who knows what else we might have to change once we allow this!

I think we all need a pep talk.

Writing a conclusion to this story is making me kind of nervous…

I would like to say tomorrow (election day) might be the nudge we need to get our minds back in motion. To straighten our backs and lift our glances back up from the floor. To admit that we were wrong but that we know better now.

Tomorrow is a new day.

What to do with our VOC heritage?

I was born and currently live in the Netherlands.

According to IMF’s List of Countries by Projected GDP in 2016, my country ranks 17th and is therefore considered to be rich.

With the exception of perhaps South Korea, every country on that list is at least ten times larger in both scale and population.

When it comes to inequality, we rank 15th as country with least inequality.

Interesting fact: NONE of the countries that rank higher than the Netherlands in the first list, appear in the second list in a position above us.Facts-about-the-Netherlands.jpg

In short, we are a very wealthy country and have managed to spread this money around more evenly than any other developed country.

Poverty is something we barely know. The crisis did affect people somewhat and jobs were harder to find when it was at its peak but in all honesty, it wasn’t so bad.

All though my generation really doesn’t know that much about our history (let alone the ones that came after me), we do like to brag and boast about the things we achieved worldwide, being so small and all.

I know, people don’t usually brag about something being tiny, but we Dutchies love telling foreigners this to illustrate the grandeur of our achievements.

Because we definitely left our mark here and there.

After we drove the sea out of our homeland, we convincingly overcame our fear of the waves, swarmed over the globe and grew into a force to be reckoned with as a seafaring nation.

UPDATE: My boyfriend read my blog and told me my understanding of Dutch history sucks “biggerly” than I thought. It turns out we conquered the waves first and THEN drove the sea out of our homeland… but hey… you get the jist…

Midget nation as we may be, we played with the big boys back in the days. We conquered, divided, stole and murdered like the best of them!

Ah, I’m so proud…

…Or wait… actually… that’s not such a charming history at all! …and it sure puts into perspective how we managed to become the 17th most well earning country in the world…

Despite our history as slave traders in a far past, we’ve actually been better known as a very open and friendly society in more recent times. Our development aid was highly thought of around the world and was known to come with less strings attached than, say, US Aid. We welcomed people of all colors, religions and sexual orientations into our midst. We were recognized around the world for our tolerance towards controversial topics such as prostitution and drugs and our rejection of taboos.

Our former Prime-Minister Jan Peter Balkenende  often remind us that our “VOC mentality” was what had made our country wonderful. He wished we would embrace the optimistic and “get things done”-spirit of our ancestors to shake off the burdens of the financial crisis.

Let’s be happy with eachother! Let’s be optimistic! Let’s say: the Netherlands is willing and able! The VOC-mentality; looking over borders. Be dynamic! Right?

Jan Peter Balkenende – 2006

*facepalm*

I’m not sure exactly how, why and when it started to slip but at some point I opened my eyes and realized Dutch tolerant mindset was no longer real. Our views and eyes are no longer open and “innovation” has become a dirty word. Or maybe we never really practiced what we preached.

Perhaps we were just pragmatists all this time; doing whatever necessary to survive. And not just survive, but thrive. And because we are lovers, not fighters (or secretly just plain cowards) we try to do everything without fighting (or have others do it for us). What we do is figure out where there is money to be made and then adapt to come out on top.

Fast forward to 2017. All politicians are in full battle mode for the upcoming elections on the 15th of March and for some reason, our history is catching up with us. Conflict is unavoidable and fear has become the most common energy source.

As much as I loved our signature polder model, it seems to have fallen into disrepair. Our politicians are failing at both finding a common ground as standing for their ideals. It’s become a big brown mush with a lot of unhappy faces.

At the same time there is a growing group of people that is fed up with this state. Not just are they fed up, they are also putting their money where their mouth is and organizing themselves. Small sparks of passionate ideas are flaring up here and there. No fire has been lit yet but I do feel hopeful about the prospects…

In the meantime… let’s just laugh at the silly state of the world for a bit, shall we?

Valentina, valentina

 

What shall we do with all these debates about the sky above
Help me, Valentina, as you have flown so far.
Tell me once and for all that there is no such mansion up there;
Tomorrow it will be built by mankind and its reason,
Oh my!

Obra-colectiva-Chants-pour-la-revolution-doctobre-1977.jpgThese lines are from a song. A revolutionary song. A song from a LP my parents loved (both of them 😮 )! The LP was called Canto A La Revolución De Octubre and contained songs of protest and marching songs, composed and sung by Chilean artist such as Victor Jara, Inti-Illimani and Isabel Parra.

There are several songs on this album that I listened to religiously as a kid, even though I clearly didn’t really understand them. I saw how my parents reacted to these songs and they often explained to me what they were about and what the historical context was.

Heaven.jpgThe song Ayúdame Valentina is an emotional plea to someone who has flown far away, to bring us some of her wisdom from the heavens above. I knew that critical thinkers, writers and singers did not befall pleasant fates under Pinochet, so I assumed Valentina must have been one of the victims of this cruel regime.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I decided to look up if I could find out who Valentina was, and it turned the whole song upside down for me! Not only was Valentina still very much alive when the song was written, she has outlived most of the singers on the album and is with us until this very day!

Who is this wise woman that Isabel Parra calls upon, then?

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. 

I don’t know about you, but I had never heard about this woman…

Even though I grew up with her name ringing in my ears, I had never realized what a badass woman I had been serenading.

So… when Isabel Parra asks Valentina for help, she is not calling upon some spiritual force to come give her courage and reassurance, as I imagined. She doesn’t expect support from the heavens above; she is asking a woman who has flown to space and back to affirm that there is no such thing as heaven at all. Isabel asks a female powerhouse to come back her up in her attempt to debunk the threats and lies of the religious zealots she sees around her.

Finding out about the true meaning of this song made me look into the lives of those who wrote and sung them. I read about Violeta Parra, Isabel’s mother, who actually wrote this song and sung it herself with more verses than the version included above, which is the one I grew up listening to.

Violeta, who wrote on of my all time favorite songs Gracias a la Vida (I give thanks to life) ironically took her own life about a year after it was released. I guess Valentina didn’t answer her question about heaven and in the end, Violeta couldn’t wait any longer to find out for herself…