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Friday, 1 May 2009

Netherlands Beserkers

Over thirty years I've come to develop a real affection for the Netherlands that lies behind the coffee shops and the Walletjes. The Dutch are a deeply bourgeois people at heart, and the virtues of family, social respect, betterment and cultural identity are engrained in the national psyche. There are more art galleries in Amsterdam than there are in London. Culture is not a dirty word in the Netherlands, not to be sneered at and not an excuse for drawing a revolver. It is easy to belittle the Dutch cultural scene as parochial and insular, but I've always found it refreshingly alive and eager to open itself to places that make our curatorial groove appear stodgy. I prefer the Stedelijk to Tate modern. I adore Pierre Cuypers use of brick. And that Netherlands black-green preference for the public face of timber doors and windows (RAL 6012 - it's simple) is excellent good taste.

Dutch liberalism is essentially bourgeois tolerance. It says 'We don't do that, but that's no good reason for stopping them from doing it'. Enlightened. And I suppose it worked quite well right up until maybe thirty years ago - when I first came to get to know the country. The Moluccans, Turks and Moroccans were once just the pimps and kofte sellers adding colour and spice, but I've seen the Netherlands change from a nation at ease with itself to one in which national identity and that cultural certainty in which the Dutch need so much to be rooted is itself uncertain on its foundations.

The Netherlands has around 1m Muslims as citizens, many of them living wholly separate lives from the Netherlanders who have hosted them, many proclaiming rights and seizing suzerainity that the bourgeois Dutch have found hard to resist. In comparison, our UK Muslims are well integrated and models of reticence. The stresses in Dutch society are manifest.

Now I'm not offering an instant diagnosis on the beserker who drove his car into the holiday crowds yesterday. The reports are that he's Dutch, and that he'd lost his job and risked losing his home. But from my own experience I'd expect that the importance of protestant virtues of work and home in Holland that are challenged anyway during a recession are exacerbated by the levels of immigration and un-Dutchness that have caused tension already.

And that there is a capacity for rage within the people of the Netherlands that we will see more of.

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