02ndApr2018

The neoliberal genome of the Dutch nation

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was interviewed by Mehreen Khan in the Financial Times, (“Dutch leader ready to be EU champion on free trade", (FT, 27-03-2018, p. 7), as part of his publicity campaign to position himself as the go-to free-market Conservative Liberal after Brexit. He went on record as saying that "The Netherlands, since the 16th century, has always been trying to maintain the balance between the great powers - France, Germany, and the UK" and that free trade is "part of the Dutch DNA".

Whatever the Free-trade DNA (has this taken over from the equally fabled Dutch moralism and tolerance?), Rutte, who has studied history, should know that he is off by at least a century with his 16th-cetury flourish. it is arguably wrong to date a balance-of-power policy to the pre-1670. But ethnotyping is just that: bad history dressed up as a timeless national characteristic.

Latest Blog Posts

25thJul2018

Let’s celebrate the national past, that’s what it’s there for

A commemorative event on 26 July 2018 marks the fact that it it then exactly 437 years ago that the Estates General of the United Provinces foreswore the Spanish King Philip II as their lawful sovereign. The act of 1581 was indeed a great moment in the history of democracy and the run-up to the idea of popular sovereignty. The commemoration frames it, however, as a national-identitarian event. "The Netherlands commemorates the signing of the document", as the press header has it, and the day is insistently called "Independence Day" - under the emotive header "Is The Netherlands ready for its own Independence Day?", suggesting this could be an annual feast day. One historian places the initiative in the context of similar recent celebrations of Dutch national symbols. While the instigator admits that the initiative could be assocated with nationalism (and the tone of the newspaper coverage is a good illustration of that drift) he thinks its emphasis on an innate right to freedom would appeal to all ethnic communities in the country. In other words, it is an expression of “good” civic nationalism rather than “bad” ethnic nationalism – as if you can have one without the other.

Exactly 437 years ago. Clearly this speaks to the anxieties of, precisely, 2018.[....]

Continue reading
17thJul2018

Hidden persuaders on a milk carton

As spotted in a supermarket last week. How do you make people buy your brand of milk?

Images of wholesome agriculture (cow, pasture), but also a lot of nationality: an iconic windmill (not really there for dairy purposes...), a Dutch red-white-and-blue flag, and a stamp stating in huge letters that this milk was made with passion by DUTCH farming families (note the added feel-good invocation of Family Values).

Continue reading
22ndJun2018

Popcorn epics, modern nationalism

Roel Reiné is a filmmaker with a penchant for heroic-historical action movies with heavy overlays of special effects. His popular action movie Michiel de Ruyter (2015; distributed internationally under the English title Admiral) already contained a remarkably anachronistic, flag-waving speech extolling the character and greatness of the Dutch nation (online here). In interviews, Roelé testifies to his appreciation of patriotic flag-saluting ceremonial in the USA. He would like to see a similar ethos in his native Netherlands, and is candid about this as the motivation for the bombastic flag-waving in Michiel de Ruyter.

Roelé, again teamed up with producer Klaas de Jong, has now turned his attention to an earlier hero: The Frisian King Redbad (†719), known for his resistance against Christianization and Frankish hegemony. Advance notices (the film is due out this month) indicate that this is, again, an unabashedly nationalistic production and that its script (again by Alex van Galen) involves a similar mixture of anachronistic distortions of historical fact and manipulative xenophobic ethnotyping.
[....]

Continue reading