by Artur Legger
If you like to think of
'Nobody needs permission beforehand to publish by print thoughts or feelings — while taking into consideration every person's responsibility according to the law.' (Article 7, Dutch Constitution)
Again the ruthless reflex sets in. Because that lies at the core of our Dutch character: the social annihilation of the deviating individual — including a neat political murder, every now and then (we never go after a group, that is not done after our very active partaking in the Holocaust).
The latest news on the chronicle of the death foretold of right wing parliamentarian Geert Wilders, infamous for his bleached haircut from outer space, is that the CEOs of Dutch multinationals fear loss of profit because of Fitna. The Movie. Wilders gained notoriety because of his wish to ban the Koran and his severe criticism of islam in comparison with "our shared Dutch heritage of Humanism and Enlightenment, as it was successfully proclaimed by our highly esteemed Spinoza". The captains of industry state that Wilders' movie will prove too critical and, hence, will harm their age-old connections and business in the Arabic world and
Also, the Dutch media, via their coordinating National Broadcast Institute, the NOS, issued a shared statement that they will not air Wilders' movie "because of fear of attacks and not to give this irresponsible person a platform for his xenophobia". The news agency of the Dutch Parliament (Nieuwspoort) will not provide Wilders with the possibility of showing his movie, because "the making of movies is not part of a parliamentarian's work". (The head of the NOS is always a former cabinet member.) Not surprisingly the Socialist, Christian and Liberal parties backed this blocking of Wilders (The Volkskrant, 15 March 2008).
Sorry, we cannot censure
Our current Cabinet, headed by prime minister Balkenende, put even more pressure on Wilders not to show Fitna. Seeking support from France and other EU members, Balkenende made it quite clear that "unfortunately we cannot censure the movie of Mr. Wilders beforehand, but we strongly advise him to reconsider for reasons of State Security". Also he asked EU understanding for Wilders' "silly behaviour, for which damaging consequences he and he alone will be held responsible". Also, the Cabinet demanded complete transparency of Wilders' financial situation and of his political movement, the PVV (nine seats in Parliament) — even though this is not demanded by law (ANP News Organisation, 16 March 2008). Hans van den Broek, former minister of Foreign Affairs in three Christian cabinets during the 1990s and currently Member of the State Council — the most prestigious body of advisors of Parliament and Cabinet and directly appointed by the Crown — is significantly less scrupulous: "I understand that the Prime Minister thinks that his hands are tied, but nevertheless I most strongly advise him to stop Mr. Wilders by every means available, including total censorship, because the interests of the State, politically and economically, are in the greatest danger" (NOS TV interview, 26 March 2008).
Still, Prime Minister Balkenende's statement lacked nothing in clarity: If they come for you, you're on your own. You are fully responsible for the effects you cause. You'll have to rely on your bodyguards, we will not protect you.
These last few weeks my foreign friends have called and asked me: "What the hell is going on in the
They didn't like my answer. Nobody likes their academic wet dreams about the 17th century cradle of Enlightenment and Freedom to be disturbed.
Pim Fortuyn — the regents of
The public comparison of a well known individual with Hitler, Mussolini or Mussert (leading Dutch Nazi collaborator) and the removing of the social safety net belongs to an ingrained Dutch tradition, well known to the Dutch. If you're judged too harmful to the
Tellingly, all four of them, if you include Wilders, used 'Spinoza' as their buzz word — it was his Enlightenment ideals against those of the attackers of western freedom. Fortuyn, Hirsi Ali and Wilders mainly opposed orthodox islam, Van Gogh mainly wrote against the naive fool who hands his freedom over out of laziness and decadence. They were not shot or deported by the State. The elite merely closed its ranks and left them alone, unprotected. In regard to the murder of van Gogh the director and staff of the Dutch Security Agency largely knew what was going on and what was about to happen (Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Theo van Gogh, had even been their informant for a few months), but nevertheless decided to remain passive. On Tuesday the 16th of March 2008 the Dutch Minister of Internal Affairs, Mrs. G. Ter Horst had to admit this fact in Parliament after the publication of the "Van Gogh report" by The State Commission for Controlling the Dutch Security Agency (the CTIVD).
Theo van Gogh — Dutch Security largely knew what was going to happen but decided to remain passive
A less known recent example of State bullying is also highly telling: The journalist and writer Willem Oltmans, mocker of the monarchy (never do that!), the establishment and Dutch industry, was put out of work, any work, by successive Dutch governments for a period of 25 years, starting in 1971. After being a Don Quijote for years he finally had his day in court. The State was forced to pay him 5 million euro. Which they stalled for years in the hope he'd die of old age. He gracefully refused to do so, however, and at the age of 75 collected his cash and bought his longed for piano.
These examples of state terrorism are sanctioned by Dutch mentality: 'if you stick out your head too often, we'll chop it off'. Also, the Dutch Constitution's Article 7 on the Freedom of Expression was not written with John Stuart Mill's On Liberty in mind. Mill preached total freedom of speech because "even a raving madman might say something sound". In
Mill's ideas on liberty were never fully incorporated into the Dutch rule of law because the reshuffling of power that took place in 1848, and which in the following decades led to our present parliamentary system, was mainly intended to check and balance a despotic and incompetent king — and had very little to do with a democratic revolution. The constitution handed power exclusively to a very small group of high-brow, male haves, who were allowed to vote and sit in Parliament because they paid a high amount of taxes (and where of good social standing). The "solution of 1848" decidedly did two things: the King's power was curbed and the growing unrest of the elite ("we pay taxes, but we have no say") was eased. Whatever happened later on — the first political parties after the 1880s, men's general vote in 1917, women's vote in 1919, and so on — was never the intention. On the contrary the constitution was intended to curb freedom, and we are now stuck with it, mentally and legally.
The pattern of merely practical and opportunistic tolerance, and never absolute freedom, was already prevalent in the 17th century
In her massive 17th Century Dutch Book Censorship (
Writers and scholars were never allowed to go too far. The room for intellectual exploration was strictly fenced and checked. There was controlled tolerance, not freedom of the press. Many historians have wondered about the lack of Dutch policemen during the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Only one or two "sheriffs" covered major cities such as
Spinoza escapes his murderers
Jonathan Israel in his highly acclaimed Radical Enlightenment (Oxford 2001) describes in detail the secret and underground culture of radical rationalists such as Spinoza, Baruch d'Espinosa (1632-1677), a Jew of Portuguese ancestry.
Baruch Spinoza died before the regents and the King could murder him
They acted too late. Spinoza, as always in very bad health, didn't need murder to die. His death wrong-footed the people in power. They thought they were off the hook. But despite ill health Spinoza had managed to finish his Ethics and to have the manuscript smuggled out of his house. Over the following decades Spinoza's work never stopped gaining momentum; and thus helped in creating the myth of the now much applauded Dutch freedom of the press and of
Ever increasing control
Of course, over time things got less Calvinist, brute and grim. Politeness and civility came into fashion. But the Dutch never took their eyes off the ball: it was all about business interests and profits. This focus on power and profit was most visible in colonies such as
The cry for control never ceased nor waned. In his erudite Religious Regimes: Dutch Religion and Society, 1570-1990 (Amsterdam, 1996) Peter van Rooden shows that during the 19th century the extensive social control even gained in intensity, and that the interconnection between Church, State and Commerce never faded but remained largely intact well into the 1970s. The process of ever increasing social control, which was only temporarily disrupted by the Second World War, is known under the Dutch term Dutch "verzuiling" — pillarization. Catholics, Protestants, Socialists and Liberals, they all had their own "pillar" of vertical linkage and social cohesion. At the top of the pillar the priests, reverends and party leaders decided on the formation of the Dutch government. This system led to "pillarized" schools, universities, radio and television. In fact, the entirety of Dutch life was highly pillarized and therefore easy to control. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the first cracks. The "permissive society" appeared, but the system did not collapse until the mid 1980s.
One may well consider the 1990s as a period characterised by a power vacuum, a moment of uncertainty and chaos, in which power, again, changed hands from and to influential families, including the Oranges — who, in the person of the Calvinist Queen Beatrix saved a very big chunk of it for herself. Mr. Mertens and his researchers have shown that for centuries the number of powerful families has stood at ca. 200. Of course, old names have dropped out of sight and new ones have been added. But the practice of control by a few remains in place today (Mertens: The 200, The Hague 1968/1998). It is important to stress that the continuation of the concentration of power in the hands of the very few is frequently caused by endogamy. Illustrative are the recent marriages of a daughter of Hans van den Broek, the aforementioned Member of the State Council, with the third son of Queen Beatrix, and of a daughter of Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, former Minister of Economics, with the second son of Queen Beatrix. The latter isn't too surprising: Brinkhorst has been Beatrix' lover for quite a while now.
Because of the unique power vacuum of the 1990s, the four years from 1998 to 2002 (which not by mere chance coincided with the rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn and his cry for reform) was the only period in parliamentary history when Christian parties were not part of the Cabinet, and the Socialists suddenly found themselves checked and balanced by the party of Democrats 1966 (D66) — the only party which was openly atheist and in favour of reform. (D66 dropped these battle cries after its founder and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hans van Mierlo, became a Member of the State Council and the second man in command, Brinkhorst, married his daughter to the
Not very nice
We're not a very nice people. Colonization, slavery, massive Nazi collaboration, condoning Apartheid, drugs trade: the list is endless, but quite successfully we have managed to window dress it all. But it's merely a facade, and we know it. We don't like the way we're governed. So the only moment ever in Dutch history when our opinion was asked via a referendum (which was pushed trough parliament by the party D66), we cried out "NO!!!". First and foremost this was not a no against the EU, but against the age-old regents system of dividing power. We're awful people, the ruthless reflex, the Calvinist need for exclusion, is always lurking in the dark. But there's intense remorse after committing the ugly sin. Pim Fortuyn received a magnificent funeral and was suddenly elevated to true philosophic heights. Theo van Gogh was commemorated with a gigantic statue which portrays a shouting face that is silenced. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali made sure that her flight to
Also, the myth of the Dutch 17th century as being the cradle of Enlightenment and Freedom, and of the present
The tragedy of the politician Geert Wilders is mainly threefold. Somehow along the line he forgot what the Dutch system of power is meant to accomplish: to protect our business; and keeping very good relationships with our Islamic partners is apparently our core business these days. Secondly, Wilders has never heard of "Tony's third law": "never underestimate the other guy's greed!" (Al Pacino in the movie Scarface). Pim Fortuyn was left unprotected just at the moment when he was about to win a massive victory during the 2002 elections. I credit his political opponents with enough Machiavellian motive not to be too sad about this extremely lucky coincidence. The fact that Wilders is a member of parliament and part of the establishment (he used to be a coming man in the Liberal Party (VVD) but left) infuriates his colleagues even more, and will speed up his expulsion. Thirdly and ever so sadly, Wilders probably believes the 17th century cradle myth to be true. However, our heritage is not Spinoza and his professed freedom. Our heritage is
Artur Legger is a Dutch historian educated at the
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.