Is there such a thing as a Dutch identity?

08-10-2007, Radio Netherlands:

A Dutch identity: does it exist? It is a hot topic in the Netherlands at the moment. Some people are singing the praises of the multifaceted Dutch identity while others say it is undervalued.

Remarkably enough, the person who sparked the debate was Argentine-born Princess Máxima. During a speech given at the presentation of a report about identifying with the Netherlands, she said that she had not found 'a Dutch identity'.
"My search for the Dutch identity began around seven years ago. I had the help of dozens of generous and wise experts. But a Dutch identity? No, I didn't find one. The Netherlands is large windows without curtains so that everybody can look in but also the right to privacy and being cosy. The Netherlands is being only given one biscuit with a cup of coffee but also enormous hospitality and warmth. The Netherlands is too complex to sum up in one cliché. A typical Dutch person doesn't exist."

Criticisms of speech

Her remarks did not go down well at all. One of the first to protest was Geert Wilders, leader of the nationalist Party for Freedom, who called her speech, "Well-intentioned, politically correct chitchat". Former Dutch prime minister and ex-UN High Commissioner for refugees, Ruud Lubbers also disagrees with the princess. He says that there is a Dutch identity, "no one would fail to recognize a Dutch person when they meet one", although he does acknowledge that Dutch identity is continually being developed and refined.

Even the House of Orange Society has criticised the speech. Chairperson Michiel Zonnevyille says he is convinced that it does exist. He points out that between 16 and 17 million people speak the same language and says Dutch identity is expressed in the way that people exuberantly celebrate Queen's Day and attend remembrance services for the victims of the Second World War on the fourth of May every year ...

Princess Máxima's words are particularly sensitive as there is an enormous amount of pressure on immigrants to integrate into Dutch society. Migrants are required to attend integration and citizenship courses in order to acquaint themselves with Dutch identity. Máxima's remarks could be interpreted as an attempt to put integration into perspective.

It is the first time that the popular princess has been criticised. Visibly shocked by the furious response, she tried to withdraw parts of the speech ...

World citizens?

Professor and publicist Paul Scheffer, who published a work criticising the Dutch multicultural society seven years ago, has been Máxima's severest critic so far. According to Mr Scheffer, the ease with which Máxima describes everybody as world citizens is particularly unrealistic and irritating. 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.

Mr Scheffer says that world citizenship is a nice ideal but the reality is that most Dutch people are not world citizens.
"People's lives are more attached to specific places than is generally thought."

Her comments have tapped into an unsettled feeling among many Dutch who say traditional values have been eroded in a country roiled by a rise in Muslim extremism ...

Many in this nation of 16 million still identify with traditional images — seeing themselves as a nation of tolerant, hardworking, straight-talking individualists who bicycle around a flat landscape dotted with windmills and crisscrossed by dikes.

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