Three recent events have underscored what some commentators say is the vertrutting of the Netherlands – the process of becoming more prudish and priggish.
Firstly, high street store Hema dropped the word Easter from its spring brochure, inviting readers instead to have a ‘happy spring’. Faced with criticism from the PVV and VVD, who accused the company of kowtowing to Islam, the company protested, in vain, that inside the shops all was Easter and eggs as per usual.
Then there was a row at Amsterdam’s hbo college over the cover of student magazine Folia, which featured a topless woman. The accompanying article, headlined the ‘boobie bible’, featured a number of topless feminist students and led to the magazine being removed from some parts of the college.
And finally came the row over civil servants at an Amsterdam borough council being told not to wear short skirts and knee-length boots. That awakened claims that Sharia law is just around the corner.
So is the Netherlands becoming a prudish, priggish and holier-than-thou sort of place?
In the NRC, Christian Weijts pities ‘the poor bastards’ in the Hema publicity department. Now that the politicians are wading in, every flyer becomes a political statement, from Black Pete to Easter, he writes.
‘We are manoeuvering ourselves into a position which lacks all spontaneity and creative jollity for fear of repercussions which might come from any direction. It is that, not Islam, which is the threat,’ Weijts wrote.
‘Everyone is frightened to death to be publicly lynched because of one false move, one politically incorrect joke, one inappropriate symbol used in a flyer. That is why we have become a country of prigs, not because of Islam, not because of Muslims. They are not allergic to Easter eggs, or tits. And there is only one way to confront the lone weirdo who is: by laughing in his face, as merrily as spring.’
The Telegraaf comments on the short-skirts-and-knee-boots ban at the Amsterdam New West borough council. The row may have died down following reassurances about the ability of workers to make up their own minds about what constitutes appropriate work attire, but the paper does signal a trend towards ‘caution’.
It quotes psychologist Jeffrey Wijnberg who comments that ‘people in general watch what they are saying. Not long ago there was a discussion about whether or not stand-up comedians were going too far. We have become afraid of provoking negativity or aggression.’
The paper also quotes marketing expert Paul Moers who thinks the Hema ‘happy spring’ campaign is an example of an exaggerated wish not to offend.
‘We fought for our freedoms. We can’t put them out with the trash. I think what is happening is frightening,’ Moers said. ‘Wearing a short skirt is a personal choice and not provocative. We are getting to a worrying stage. What’s next? Do we stop tolerating gays? I don’t think so.’
The Parool thinks it is remarkable that battle has broken out in two places ‘symbolic of hard-won freedoms: an institute of higher education and an institute of public administration.
The paper wonders if the capital is ‘embracing a new atmosphere of chastity’ and blames the present generation of administrators who are insisting on a ‘neutral environment’. ‘They are thinking for others: could this possibly offend? Then, without compunction, they act,’ the paper comments.
‘Rokjesdag – the nickname given to the first sunny day when girls ditch their trousers and wear spring skirts – will never be the same again,’ the paper concludes.