Opinion pieces, columns and insights into Dutch news and current affairs from key commentators


Forum voor Democratie’s focus on race is damaging, says D66 MP

D66 MP Jan Paternotte calls the Forum voor Democratie's focus on race 'damaging' and challenges its MPs to face opposition where it can be heard: in a public debate in parliament. ‘Hiddema didn’t say anything wrong, silly Jan Paternotte’. That is how columnist Theodor Holman ended a passionate defence of Forum voor Democratie MP Theo Hiddema in his column in the Parool. This was the same Hiddema who, during a parliamentary debate spoke of a ‘proud, noble negro’ who, he said, would not benefit from a law on incitement of hatred against groups. Holman's comment came only weeks after a radio broadcast in which Hiddema said ‘race mixing’ would be the best way to go for Dutch Moroccans, seeing how reluctant they are to integrate. On Twitter I called Hiddema’s comments an example of his party’s increasingly sickening focus on race. Holman explained that his generation – and Hiddema’s – use the term ‘negroes’ and that to him the word was much less denigrating than ‘black’. I believe Holman means what he says. Words become differently charged over time. Innocent But I don’t believe for one second that Hiddema’s careless use of the word ‘negro’ was innocent at all. It is part of a series of comments and proposals by him and Thierry Baudet that I refuse to ever regard as normal. It started with Baudet, who, during the election campaign, said he feared ‘a homeopathic dilution’ of the Dutch population as a result of immigration. That immediately caused a storm but Baudet brushed off all criticism. Claiming that his words were taken out of context, he told black rights campaigner Sylvana Simons he had been referring mainly to migrants who are coming to the Netherlands at this moment and who are corroding our freedom and values. Businesses In Rotterdam local party Leefbaar has taken up Baudet’s cause. It is no coincidence that party leader Joost Eerdmans proposed a new law for setting up businesses, one that gives the council the right to withhold a licence from an Islamic or Turkish shopkeeper so as to make way for a Dutch one. ‘After the umpteenth halal butcher it’s time for an ordinary Dutch greengrocer,’ Eerdmans said. In short: we are going to select people according to their background or religion. [The two parties are planning to work together in the local elections next year]. Such comments are aimed at fuelling vague feelings of mistrust against certain groups because of faith or skin colour. They are launched, Trump-like, via Twitter or during an interview, avoiding public debate in which they would be challenged by other politicians. Called to order Hiddema’s speech was his first during a budget debate and when he repeatedly mentioned ‘negroes’ he was called to order by D66 MP Maarten Groothuizen. Baudet himself has yet to speak during a debate on any ministry's 2018 spending plans and he has hardly shown his face in parliament in recent weeks. Next week MPs will be discussing economic policy. If the two Forum voor Democratie MPs are at all serious, they will come and propose their new rules for businesses then and there. I would welcome it if they did because it would give me a chance to oppose them in a public debate. If they don’t, I shall regard it as another blank they have fired. They may be firing blanks but they are nevertheless damaging entire population groups who are being told by a fast-growing party that their shops are no good and need to be replaced by ‘Dutch greengrocers’. No, we must never come to regard the Forum for Democratie’s  focus on background and race as normal. This column was published earlier in the Parool  More >


‘We want British citizens in NL to continue to live as they do now’

‘We want British citizens in NL to continue to live as they do now’

With European leaders due to meet in Brussels next month, the time is right to press on with negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, says  ambassador Peter Wilson says in an open letter to British nationals in the Netherlands. On 14 and 15 December the leaders of the European Union member states will meet in Brussels for the December gathering of the European Council.  The council comes together after months of talks which have generated a huge amount of media reporting and comment.  It is our firm belief that the time to move on to the next phase of negotiations is now. I have met many British nationals across the Netherlands during our open forums, and I know that they are uncertain and worried about the consequences of the UK’s departure from the European Union. I want to be able to offer as much certainty as possible both to British nationals and to businesses here in the Netherlands. For that reason it is essential that we get on with discussing our ambitious future partnership with the EU. Forums Many fellow Brits here in the Netherlands will have been following the developments closely and with great interest. During our open forums we heard first hand about your worries, concerns and uncertainties on a range of issues. We have summarised the points raised during the open forums here, and shared them with both the British and Dutch governments.  I understand these concerns and the uncertainty you feel, and have promised to keep British nationals in the Netherlands informed about progress on the issues that affect you. Before negotiations began, the British Prime Minister made it clear that her first priority was to provide certainty for UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK. We want citizens in both the UK and the Netherlands to be able to continue to live their lives as they do now. Progress That has not changed, and I feel that its importance has been reflected in the progress made in the course of the negotiations.  While there is still work to be done, we have come a long way. More than two thirds of the issues have been resolved, including vital questions of residency, healthcare, and pensions.  As the prime minister has said, we are within touching distance of an agreement on this key issue. This is not an easy negotiation. The stakes are high on both sides, above all for the millions of citizens wanting to know how their lives will be affected.  The UK is wholeheartedly in engaged in trying to secure a deal. But that is not just up to us: it needs agreement from all 28  European Union leaders.  Succeeding in these negotiations is in all of our interests  and the best way to deliver certainty and prosperity for all our people. Peter Wilson is the UK's ambassador to the Netherlands.  More >


Amsterdammers moan about the arrival of the EMA (but then they would)

Macro-economist Mathijs Bouman looks at the reactions of the inhabitants of the Dutch capital to the news that the European Medicines Agency will move to Amsterdam.  And of course, he says, they are moaning about it. It’s party time in Amsterdam. Wouter Bos has pulled it off. Not until the last round, mind you, and thanks to the luck of the Amsterdammers but mostly because of a clever and intensive lobby which made sure the capital was a contender at all. As soon as Brexit happens the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is leaving London for Amsterdam. Some 900 medicine experts will be making the move as well, taking their families - and their highly-valued purchasing power- with them. Grumblings Great news, you might think, but not a day had passed before the first grumblings were heard. According to Amsterdam-based urban sociologist Jan Rath, the agency will only bring more trouble to a city already struggling with housing problems. Houses in Amsterdam are expensive enough as it is. Starters can’t get on the property ladder and bloody battles are fought over non-rent controlled houses. Those 900 families are going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And what is more, Rath says, the education system will also groan under the additional load, especially the international schools. Far and wide Everyone knows: if you’re ambitious and talented, you have to be in Amsterdam. Am I doing Amsterdammers an injustice when I note that Rath’s reaction is typical? Or am I right in thinking that Amsterdammers will consistently disparage the unique privilege of living in the beating and creative heart of the country, a metropole full to bursting with prosperity, economic activity and employment? The city seems to be living another Golden Age. The population is growing by 10,000 a year because, as everyone knows, Amsterdam is the place to be. Visitors flock to the city from far and wide to work, attend congresses, visit museums and canals. No other city in the world attracts as many young people. Amsterdam comes top in the  Millenials City Ranking, ahead of Berlin, Munich and Lisabon. Tourists and Nutella And the Amsterdammers themselves? They moan and groan. The centre is so busy, they sigh. You can’t even race your bike across the Damrak on a Saturday. There are tourists everywhere. And the noise of those bloody wheelie bags! The corner shop has become yet another Nutella outlet. The children are locked out of the housing market because speculators are buying up the lot. The pages of Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool are full of moaning Amsterdammers. All they see is rot and decay. One woman who lives in the oldest monument on Nieuwmarkt complains about tourists standing in front of her house. A urban geographer bemoans the lot of people who once bought a house in the centre for 70,000 guilders (!) but who can now no longer afford to escape the tourist-ridden city at the weekend. My heart breaks for them. Work, prosperity, progress in a city full of culture and history where a lot of people are dying to live. And yet, Amsterdammers moan. If Adam and Eve had been born in Amsterdam they would have moaned about fallen fruit littering their paradise. This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Give everyone the opportunity to learn about Anne Frank

Hardly a day has gone by in recent weeks without Anne Frank cropping up in the news. What is going on? asks Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House. Football fans used her photo for an antisemitic provocation of their opponents, American stores were offering an Anne Frank costume for Halloween, the German railway company wanted to name a train after her, and there was an outcry - including threats of legal action - in connection with a new play loosely based on her diary. Seventy years after the publication of her diary the significance of Anne Frank seems only to be increasing. But this significance is not the same for everyone. Anne Frank has traditionally been seen by many as the face and the symbol of the Holocaust, even though objections have been raised against this, often based on good arguments. For example, it is often pointed out that the diary ends where the horrors of the camps begin, that Anne is ‘only’ one of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, each with their own life story, and that so many other remarkable personal accounts of life in wartime have been preserved. History fades away This does not detract from the fact that for many people all over the world Anne Frank forms their first and most important introduction to the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust. But time does its work. History fades away. Children who are now the same age as Anne Frank when she was writing her diary often have grandparents who were born after the war. So it is important not to view the life story of Anne Frank, which is still as powerful as ever, in isolation from its historical context. Symbol At the same time, Anne Frank has entered a public domain in which she increasingly exercises a powerful attraction on those who are searching for a symbol of all kinds of things; often with good intentions that take on an educational form, sometimes rather unfortunate, frequently tasteless, occasionally downright antisemitic. In a rapidly changing media landscape and with a growing distance in time from the Second World War the public expressions surrounding Anne Frank, in all their diversity, will only become stronger (think for example of the applications of hologram or virtual reality technologies that are increasingly used in Holocaust museums in America). Public domain Attempts to control that pubic domain are futile, even assuming that you would want to control it. That would be selling Anne and ourselves short: it is precisely this diversity of meanings that gives everyone who wants it the opportunity to learn more about Anne Frank and her life story, and so learn more about themselves. And the responses to the incidents of recent weeks show that the pubic domain is self-correcting when the borders of what is seen as acceptable are crossed. Significance What does this mean for the future? Firstly, we must continue to provide a historically reliable, authentic and accessible presentation of the life story of Anne Frank in the context of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust. This can help to prevent the fading of history gaining the upper hand. Secondly, it is wise to not recoil too quickly from contemporary expressions that make reference to Anne Frank. They can form an effective impetus for reflection on the significance of her life story for the world today. And finally: time has not done much work for those who still bear the scars of the Holocaust within them. For them it is as if the war happened yesterday. The history of Anne Frank is also their history. It is not too much to ask that we show empathy with this.  More >


Dear Mr Mayor, I am so grateful for what you did for me and my son

Amsterdammer Somaye Dehban remembers Amsterdam's mayor Eberhard van der Laan and the impact he has had on her life and family. I am an Amsterdammer who was truly affected by the news of your illness like many others, even the ones who have met you for a brief moment. I am writing you this letter because I want you to know how grateful and appreciative I am for what you have done for me and my family - specifically my younger son. You probably don't remember shaking the little hand of my younger son (about 1.5 year old at the time) while he was in my arms. You, Mr Mayor, pronounced us both Dutch nationals in 2015. I couldn’t hold back my tears when you called up our names and when I testified on our behalf that we would be loyal citizens to the Netherlands: I cannot hold back my tears while writing you this letter either. You have had many of these ceremonies during your career as Amsterdam’s mayor so this handshake will have been like many others you have had. Yet our backstory and  'our' moment with you, shows the importance of your trust in 'us' as the newly pronounced nationals. Stateless Up until that hand-shake moment, my younger son did not have a nationality; in other words, as was mentioned on his ID card, he was 'stateless'. I am originally from a country where, as a woman, I do not have the right to pass on my nationality to my children. Their biological father decided not to recognise our younger child so my second son could not receive a nationality from either of us. So, after my son’s birth, I decided to apply to become a Dutch national and by the power of the Dutch constitution I could pass on my Dutch nationality to him. For our family - me, my older son (who is Dutch from birth) and my younger son - that moment in which you pronounced us as Dutch nationals was not only an integration moment but also a unifying instance: in that moment, we all 'became' Dutch. For me in particular this was an empowering experience: to pass on a right to my son, as a woman, an experience and a right that I have been denied of my whole life. Book On that day you also gave my son a book which was his first gift as a Dutch national: Van Mug tot Olifant - every now and then, we sit together and read this book. The book does not have much text but a lot of illustrations which we explore in our imaginations. The book is a clever look at the diversity in the animal kingdom and how each member of this family has a role and duties within the community. You picked a very smart gift for the ones whom you pronounced as the new young Dutch nationals. Dear Mr van der Laan, for our family you were more than a mayor. For us, you were a public servant, an individual, who believed in the added value that we – the newcomers - offer Dutch society.  More >


The new Dutch ministerial line-up should aim for 50% women

  The coalition talks are nearing completion after a record-breaking period of negotiation. It is also about time the Netherlands had a cabinet made up of an equal number of men and women, says Marije Cornelissen, the director of UN Women Netherlands. Two years ago Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau presented his new government to the press. Asked by a journalist why half of his cabinet was made up of women Trudeau paused a few seconds and said: ‘Because it’s 2015’. A few months later Emmanuel Macron achieved gender parity when he appointed 11 women to the posts of minister or junior minister. We hope Mark Rutte will follow suit. UN Women has issued a petition as a way of calling on the negotiators to make sure Mark Rutte will be posing for the traditional photograph on the steps of Paleis Huis Ten Bosch flanked by as many women as men. Why? Because it’s 2017. Languishing In 1917 parliament granted Dutch women the right to stand for election. You would think that a hundred years later men and women would hold equal sway in politics. But unfortunately that is not the case. The number of women MPs crept up slowly until  reaching a peak of almost 43% in 2010. But since then their number has gone down to 36%, a drop that takes us back to 1998 levels. Countries like Bolivia, Senegal, Mexico and Burundi now have outstripped the Netherlands which languishes in 26th place worldwide. It is the parties who decide whose names go on the ballot paper. In some countries, such as Iceland and Sweden, parties left and right of the political spectrum are putting women in electable places as a matter of course. In other countries, such as Senegal and Bolivia, a certain number of women have to be included by law. In the Netherlands there is no such legal requirement and a number of parties are putting too few woman candidates on the list. The campaign ‘Elect a woman’ in March this year did not do much to change that. Three women were elected by preferential vote but they belonged to Labour and GroenLinks, parties which had put women in eligible positions.It had no effect on the VVD, CDA, and D66 whose top candidates were predominantly male. About time Fortunately the representation of women in government is faring better. Some 46% on ministers in the outgoing government is female, which puts the Netherlands in fourth place in Europe. Only Sweden, Finland and France have a higher number of female ministers and junior ministers. A Dutch cabinet has, however, never reached or exceeded the 50%. We will have make do with a female presence in parliament of just over a third in the years ahead. But the coalition parties can make sure that the new cabinet has gender parity. After a hundred years it’s about time. This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


The Netherlands: a tale of two governments

The Netherlands: a tale of two governments

The longer the process to form a new coalition takes place, the more the Netherlands is becoming a country run by two governments with a shared prime minister, writes Gordon Darroch During the 1950s the Netherlands was famous for having two foreign ministers. When asked to explain this curious situation, one of them, Joseph Luns, is said to have quipped: Als klein land heeft Nederland heel veel buitenland. ('As a small country, the Netherlands has a great deal of foreign parts'). That the Dutch have become more inward-looking in recent years is reflected in the fact that the country currently has two governments, both concerned mainly with domestic issues and conjoined by a shared prime minister, Mark Rutte. On the one flank there is Rutte-II, the partnership forged in adversity of the right-wing Liberals (VVD) and centre-left Labour party (PvdA). It drove through a package of reforms to lift the economy out of the mire of the banking crisis, but at the cost of the near-annihilation of the PvdA, which now finds itself detained in the corridors of power like a spurned husband who can’t afford to move out of the marital home. However, the general election in March left the political landscape so fragmented that only a coalition of four parties could secure the working majority Rutte craved. Nearly six months later, Rutte-III remains a government in waiting whose chief merit is that there is no viable alternative. In his quest for stability, Rutte is relying on a hybrid vehicle with complex ideological fault lines on immigration, on climate change and on medical-ethical issues, as well as the slightest of Parliamentary majorities. Conservative nationalism Those fault lines were brought into sharp focus by Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma’s HJ Schoo lecture earlier this month, in which he positioned the CDA as the new home of Christian conservative nationalism, a world away from his progressive liberal coalition partners in D66. The welding together of Rutte III has been such a slow-drip process that its predecessor is now the longest-serving government in Dutch democratic history. While the coalition-in-waiting has been tying itself in knots over marginal issues such as embryo research and whether children should learn the national anthem in school, it has been left to the departing ministers to sort out the heavyweight issues. Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher, who is simultaneously operating as deputy prime minister and the incoming cabinet’s most effective opponent, has used the threat of teachers’ strikes to wring a promise from Rutte to raise wages for primary school staff. An extra €145 million has been earmarked for extra personnel in the care sector, another €50 million for asylum and migration. Military missions Two weeks ago the defence and international development ministers committed the funding for Dutch troops to spend another year on their top five military missions, on the basis that waiting any longer might unsettle the troops. Caretaker governments are supposed to limit themselves to non-controversial issues, and while defence spending might seem beyond reproach in the current security climate, it’s worth remembering that Rutte’s predecessor, Jan Peter Balkenende, was brought down when his last cabinet split over the Dutch military presence in Uruzgan. The longer it takes for Rutte’s third cabinet to take shape, the more it starts to look like a missed opportunity. The recovery of the economy, which generated a budget surplus of nearly €3bn in 2016, has given the government the luxury of having extra cash to spend for the first time in a decade. Yet the budget for 2018 that will be announced in the third week of September has been written by Labour finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and although the expectation is that many of the measures will be modified or abandoned, in practice it is difficult and potentially disruptive to deviate from a preset course. The ‘spring accord’ drawn up in haste and under financial duress in 2012 following the collapse of Rutte’s first cabinet included such measures as accelerating the increased pension age, lifting the upper rate of BTW to 21% and restricting eligibility for mortgage tax relief, all of which were carried forward by Rutte II. Air pollution The recent court ruling requiring the government to revise its air pollution strategy is a further snare on the pathway that the old government will have to untangle. The court gave ministers just two weeks to come out with an outline plan, too little time to wait for the new coalition to take action. So the outgoing junior environment minister, Sharon Dijksma, will have a big influence on the policies of the new dedicated environment ministry, which will be under pressure to make swift progress on meeting the court’s demands. It doesn’t help that the environment is one of the main bones of contention within the new partnership, with Buma’s CDA at odds with D66 and, to a lesser extent, Rutte’s VVD on the pace and scale of the measures needed to mitigate climate change. Conventionally outgoing governments are hamstrung by indecision and mistrust while their successors exude purpose, energy and confidence. For the Netherlands’ two governments the roles appear to have been reversed. As the coalition talks grind on Rutte is in danger of discovering that not only has he been overtaken on the inside lane by his old administration, but the strain of trying to make up the ground may send the wheels spinning off his new vehicle. This column first appeared on Gordon Darroch's blog Words for Press  More >


Dutch national identity goes further than singing the Wilhelmus

National identity is about more than the national anthem, writes Kim Putters, head of the government's social policy advisory body SCP. This summer the search for what constitutes the Dutch identity took centre stage once again. A rumour about including the national anthem in the school curriculum as part of the next government's policy programme got tongues wagging. Opponents responded by protesting that the Dutch colonial past should be given more priority. It never ceases to amaze me how any discussion about what does or does not belong to the national identity becomes mired in whataboutery. Our children should be taught about the Wilhelmus as well as our colonial past, but they should be taught much more than that. In my opinion, this trade-off of historical achievements represents an insidious and broader erosion of historical and cultural awareness. The arts and culture ceased to be a priority for the Dutch years ago. When the SCP asks people what the government should spend their money on, arts and culture invariably languish at the bottom of the list. Optional Social science, art and cultural history have been relegated to the status of optional subjects in schools, and it is highly doubtful whether children know what once happened on the ground they tread on their way to the classroom. All this is a result of political choices, but also our own individual choices and the accelerating pace of life. Let’s start with politics. Years of talk of money being thrown indiscriminately at the arts has tainted the sector in the eyes of the public. It has become an easy target for cutbacks. After all, who wouldn’t want to stop subsidising a bunch of lazy lefty artists? The government is slowly but surely expected to disengage itself from the arts and culture, not only in terms of content but financially as well. If people want culture let them pay for it, the thinking goes. England’s British Museum is free, open to anyone who wants to learn about the country’s heritage, whenever they want. The value of diplomas Then there’s education. The curriculum is increasingly focused on the value of a diploma in the labour market rather than turning young people into well-rounded individuals. Fortunately the two things are not mutually exclusive, but the fact is that economic worth is now the foundation of many a school curriculum. More compulsory economic subjects, fewer social science classes and history. I feel the latter are due a status upgrade. Stop calling them ‘pretstudies’ [university courses that are considered fun economically worthless – DN] for a start. We also need to take a good hard look at ourselves. How conscious are we of our heritage? It took me ages to realise that the road I used to cycle over every day as a boy was an 800-year-old dam. There was a boundary stone that once separated two villages that had been a scene of wartime fighting and high water. Going even further, back the ownership of this area was hotly disputed by dukes. No teacher said anything about this in school. And at home, at the kitchen table, neither did my parents. Symbol The debate we have seen this summer is a good one, but it is too narrow. The Wilhelmus merely symbolises the need to pay more attention to historical and social developments in politics, business and education, both in school and at home. This will contribute to mutual understanding and to the ability to relate to our environment. The opportunities are there for the taking. SER recently published a report about the ways the arts and culture contribute to social and economic value. It focuses on entrepreneurship and better working conditions, but also highlights cooperation between government and businesses. We have an international reputation for our orchestras, DJs and artists. Investing in this sector boosts tourism, the creative industry and education, and promotes social and historical awareness. I hope this discussion will herald a broad reorientation of who we are, where we come from and where we want to go. Schools, businesses and people sitting round kitchen tables don’t need to hang around for a coalition agreement to take action. Awareness of the past gives society – and the economy – a handle on the future. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


How to go Dutch: the final installment, as those crucial envelopes arrive

How to go Dutch: the final installment, as those crucial envelopes arrive

Six years ago Molly Quell moved to the Netherlands with her husband, an academic, for a short-term project. Now she’s a divorcee, has fallen in love with a Dutch guy and finds herself in the unexpected position of having to integrate. Read the first, second, third and fourth parts of her series. I was working from home on the day the letter arrived. I heard the familiar ka-chink as the post was pushed through the mailbox. I got up from my desk and peered down the hallway. I had been checking the mail with increasing anxiety over the past few weeks. There was a letter, lying on top of the Makro coupons and health insurance bills. And it appeared as though that letter was from IND. I crept down the hall, as if otherwise I might startle the envelope and cause it to turn into a negative response. It took me some time to open it. Ironically, as I’m writing this now, I just met, for the first time, my reason for applying for permanent residency, face to face. Getting sick I first interviewed immigration lawyer Jeremy Bierbach back in 2014, about a case he had before the European Court regarding the obligation of long-term residents in the Netherlands to take exams to show they were becoming properly integrated. During our interview, Bierbach turned the tables and started asking me my story of how I ended up in the Netherlands. I was initially the partner of a highly-skilled migrant and when that relationship ended, I applied for residency under the DAFT treaty. My visa was valid for five years and my various consulting projects were going fine. Yet Bierbach nagged me for a while about how I was eligible for permanent residency and how I should apply. 'What happens,' he asked, 'if you’re injured and can’t work? You’ll have to go back to the US. And then what?' As a fellow American, he knew what buttons to push. Just after I spoke with him, I was offered a job where my employer sponsored my work visa. But his remarks stuck with me. With an employer-sponsored job, what if something happened to my office. If we were restructured. If I got fired. I had 60 days to pack up and leave. And so, despite the fact that I wasn’t obliged to pass the tests, I ultimately decided to go for it at the beginning of 2016. It helped that the editor-in-chief of this esteemed publication told me she’d let me write a series of articles about how awful the exams were if I took them. Bigger issues You can read the rest of this whole series to learn about the kafka-esque process of applying, the weird questions, the racism, the exam centres designed by former gulag-officials and time-consuming studying. Once the application was in the mail, however, the deeper problems started. 'I’d leave the country if Trump was elected my president too,' a friend told me one night. Someone who had known me for the past five years. If anything, I abandoned the country during the high point of a competent president: I’d only just arrived when the Supreme Court upheld the health care mandate. Trump is terrible but I’m not a political refugee. 'So you’re Dutch now?' I was asked over and over. After the twenty-seventh time explaining that I wasn’t applying for Dutch nationality, I wouldn’t get a passport, I couldn’t vote, I started answering simply 'nope' and moving on. 'You won’t be an American anymore!' I heard from family and friends back home, as if having a Dutch permanent residency was going to make me any less loud or less in favour of chocolate peanut butter desserts. Permanent residency is none of those things. It’s nothing more than some bureaucratic hurdles to jump through to make my life easier. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Changes That letter sitting in my hallway didn’t turn into a negative response. It congratulated me on my successful application. Two weeks later, another letter turned up. One that invited me to the immigration office to pick up my new residency permit. Which I did. Since I first started this process way back in January 2016, my life is very different. I left that job with the residency permit. I went back to DAFT. And then I was offered a really great job at a place that couldn’t sponsor my permit. They made the offer three weeks before that letter arrived. Now I eat lunch with my colleagues together every day. Bread with some butter and a single slice of cheese. During this year’s elections, some of my colleagues and I started a podcast about the elections. Now I can probably name more members of the Tweede Kamer than the House of Representatives. I’ve gotten my foreign journalist in the Netherlands badge of honour and written about Geert Wilders. He’s even blocked me on Twitter. And somehow during this process, I acquired one of these Dutch boyfriends. We had our dinner just after 18:00 tonight. Then we sat on the couch and read today’s Volkskrant. Tomorrow morning, we’ll have hagelslag on our bread for breakfast. I definitely think I’m integrated now. But the inburgering process had nothing to do with it. This is the fifth and final part of Molly Quell's quest to 'go Dutch'. You can read the  first, second, third and fourth parts of the series here.  More >


Dozens of languages disappear, so why not ditch Dutch as well?

Dozens of languages disappear, so why not ditch Dutch as well?

Dozens of languages disappear every year, and English is taking over, so why not bite the bullet and wave bye bye to Dutch? suggests Leiden University professor of Chinese Linguistics Rint Sybesma. The English language takeover of Dutch higher education is creating all sorts of problems. We only need to look at the latest report on the subject. It’s doing the quality of our education no favours at all. The linguistic abilities of both teachers and students are failing to come up to the mark while the highly educated who find themselves a job in the Netherlands (losers) are making a hash of their Dutch. What it boils down to is that Dutch is becoming a bit of a nuisance. It is more trouble than it’s worth. So why not solve all our problems and simply abolish it. Job It won’t happen from one day to the next but with a bit of effort we could manage the job in two to three generations. And with the numbers of people willing to take up the cause who’s going to stop us? It would be terribly easy really. We start by switching all master’s degrees to English, followed by the bachelor’s degrees. The latter will be hugely popular of course because they will prepare the eager student for his English language master’s degree. At the same time we make sure that the secondary school students are increasingly taught in English. Parents want their children to do well when they get to university and they will be pleased to send them to an English language secondary school, after English language kindergarten and primary school. Preparation and starting young is all. Omelette It will take some time but it’s doable. There will be a phase (say the first ten to fifteen years) which will see some students fall by the board who would have done well had classes been in Dutch, but, hey, this is collateral damage. What is one generation in the grand scheme of things? You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. There will also come a time in which inequality will be even greater than we think it is now. We will have reared an elite which no longer knows how to express itself in Dutch. Kith and kin The different layers in our society, our kith and our kin, will literally no longer speak the same language. This will cause some resentment in those who are left behind but here we come back to the eggs and the omelette. This phase, too, will pass. The phasing out of Dutch will quickly have an effect on literature. Authors will no longer write in Dutch because they no longer know how. They will write in English so all English speaking nations will be able to enjoy our literature without the aid of a translator. Eventually Would they want to? We don’t really know. The fact that the Chinese would still be unable to read our books is something we will have to sort out at a later date. Would it be such a terrible thing if the Dutch language became surplus to requirements? Dozens of languages bite the dust every single year so what does it matter if Dutch were eventually to be one of them? It would matter not one jot, especially if you look at all the wonderful things we are getting in return. This column appeared in Dutch in the Volkskrant. For those puzzled about what he really thinks, here's one Rint Sybesma wrote earlier.  More >