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A Conversation With Dr. Lammert de Jong: Author of “Being Dutch, More or Less…”

As promised, here is the first interview of Science is Beautiful blog. In this interview I got an opportunity to discuss with Dr Lammert de Jong about his new book ” Being Dutch, more or less” which focuses on the issue of Dutch identity crisis and the politics involved. Dr. Jong received his PhD in Social Sciences from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam in 1972, following that he worked at University of Zambia and the National Institute of Public Administration in Lusaka, Zambia from 1972-1976. He then worked as Director of the Netherlands Development Aid Organisation from 1980-1984. From 1985-1998, he served as Resident Representative of the Netherlands Government in the Netherlands Antilles. Currently, he resides in New York and Amsterdam and has been a freelance scholar, his latest work being the book ” Being Dutch, more or less” published by Rozenbergps Publications.

Science Is Beautiful: Hello Dr Lammert, thanks a lot for taking time out to talk about your new book titled “Being Dutch, more or less…”. How and when did you start thinking about writing a book on Dutch identity crisis? Can you also elaborate about your Frisian heritage? Is it still relevant in Dutch society?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: My interest in Dutch identity goes way back. During my formative years, especially the university years, it felt very comfortable  to be Dutch: lots of freedom, a civil society blessed with a safety welfare net for people who couldn’t make it on their own, prosperous etc. Read the chapter on Dutch Wonderland (Rozenberg Quarterly). I felt privileged. After my university education, I spend many years in Africa and the Dutch Caribbean. In Zambia and Benin I was representing the rich Western world that wanted to fight poverty in the Third world, while in the Dutch Caribbean I was – literally- a representative of a former colonial power. Very different roles.

Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I was struck by how strong people feel about their island identity, or manipulated that identity to define themselves independently from the Netherlands, though being Dutch citizens, nourishing the island’s Patrimonio Nashonal, occasionally against their economic interests.

In particular the language issue I could grasp, as part of my Frisian background, coming from Friesland, a Dutch province with around 650.000 people. In the Netherlands the Frisian language had been recognized, after a lengthy battle, in primary education, on condition that when entering secondary education pupils had to be bi-lingual: Dutch and Frisian. This model worked well there. I have tried to showcase this model in the Dutch Caribbean where on Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire Papiamentu and Papiamento is spoken. For many years the unresolved conflicts about the language of instruction -Dutch or Papiamentu- had a destructive impact on the quality of education. Especially in the Dutch Caribbean I have learned that identity issues are rather insensitive to intellectual reason and better wisdom. That is now also demonstrated in the Netherlands.

So at the end of my career (I am retired), disparate experiences in different place of the world came together in a strong interest to tackle the variations of Dutch identity; something to write about.

Science Is Beautiful: According to you, what are the main reasons for the current situation of identity crisis in Netherlands?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: I think a major reason is the contrast between the reality of Dutch well-being and a growing doubt about the endurance of Dutch Wonderland. In many ways the Netherlands is one of the best places in the world, in terms of freedoms (speech, religion, end of life, sexual preference, abortion, soft drugs) and securities (income, welfare, unemployment benefits, healthcare, pensions and old age provisions etc.). The Dutch have been for years proud carriers of this Wonderland. Nowadays the Dutch realize that they have lots to lose in a world without borders because of globalisation, represented by immigration, supra-national governance and free -uncontrolled- financial and economic markets. The paradox is that Dutch well-being has been built on their very productive interactions with the outside world, going back for centuries, which now is perceived as a threat to True Dutch identity. In a way, the outside world has now penetrated the Dutch home, while before the Dutch actively navigated large stretches of this world. This changeover has made them realize how small the country actually is, and induced a True Dutch and  Take Back the Netherlands sentiment, expressed in a No vote against the Constitution of the European Union, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movement. Where once personal freedoms blossomed, a ‘let it be’ for everyone, now the Dutch try to keep their homeland clean: “no non-western foreigners in our (Nether-) land.” On such moments the Dutch are loud people, very different for instance from the Portuguese who, as Antonio Labisa proclaimed during our walk and talk in Lisbon in the summer of 2010: “we are modest people.”

Science Is Beautiful: What do you think are the possible measures which Dutch leadership and public in general can take to overcome these turbulent times and move in right direction? What is the role of Dutch youth in identifying the Dutch identity which seems to be lost?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: It’s easy to say that the Dutch should come to their senses again. But how to achieve that? The prevalent uncertainty has become the playing field for a politics that promises to restore the old order, denying the irreversible changes in the world. The uncertainty agenda is addressed by what people want hear, resulting in a populist political take-over, silencing any agency that aims to strengthen Netherlands’ participation in this new world. This carries over to most supra-national (or global and European) dimensions of Dutch well-being: development co-operation, global warming, resource exploitation, sustainable live-style and development. Those who aim for political platforms that incorporate these dimensions into the definition of Dutch citizenship are nowadays disqualified as global frequent flyers who are out of touch with True Dutch sentiments. This global agenda requires that the out-dated fragmented political party system of the Netherlands must be overhauled. The traditional political clustering of left and right, liberal and socialist, and christian-democrats-in-between, does not fit the supra-national challenges. That’s why a charter for Dutch-European citizenship, or the cause of European Union democracy are not addressed as primary challenges in Dutch politics.

Yes, youngsters tend to be more globally oriented and connected, yet without the necessary clout to make a political difference in the Netherlands. That day will arrive, just as  in bygone days universal voting right, women’s rights, free education and welfare provisions were realized against the odds of a surely by class and religion divided nation.

Science Is Beautiful: What parallels or differences you draw in immigration issues when comparing Dutch issue as compared to other countries in the world, say USA or other European countries?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: When I discussed in the process of writing this book the Dutch identity crisis with friends and colleagues, quite a few people came up with a rather lame statement: it’s all over the same, so why bother. Even if this would be the case (which it isn’t), that does not justify taking this crisis as a matter of course. The Dutch identity must be still probed and analyzed in order to find out what is going on. In the book’s introduction I’ve made it clear: this book is about being Dutch; it is not a comparative study. Obviously the Netherlands does not stand alone in Europe having issues with immigration and national identity. Also in France, the United Kingdom and Germany red flags have been raised over these matters.

Sarkozy, President of France, initiated in 2009 in the French Republic a discourse on French identity. Apparently the iron-clad certainty of what it meant to be French and the solidity of the French Heritage have been shaken by immigration tremors and Muslim believers. France’s early exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was blamed on a lack of patriotism, shared values and national honor of a French soccer team with many members who are black or brown and descended from immigrants. The National Front, a persistent far-right party, preaches French purity and exceptionalism, and opposes immigration and the European Union: “Like the Soviet empire in its time, this E.U. empire will collapse.” Debating French identity, newcomers appear to be the real patriots, referring to the gift France bestowed on immigrants: the grandeur of France.

In the United Kingdom a ban on the Muslim veil has been in the making since 2006. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary until 2005, tabled this garment as “a visible statement of separation and of difference.” According to the Dutch press, close to a majority of the Britons wants to leave their island, which they see as having been flooded with scores of immigrants. Most Britons want job-less immigrants to be asked to leave. Interestingly, the large immigrant population originating from countries that were once part of the former British Empire now declares that Britain is full when counting the large numbers of Eastern European immigrants.

Germany witnessed in the last decade of the 20th Century serious incidents of violence against immigrants and Muslims. At the same time Germany’s second-generation “foreigners” achieved significantly higher levels of employment and experienced less segregation in schools, less dependency on welfare, and being less often convicted of crimes than their counterparts in multicultural Netherlands, a study by Koopmans pointed out. Meanwhile Thilo Sarrazin stood up in 2010 with his book Deutschland schafft sich ab, which translates as Germany does away with itself. He claims that the country is on the road to ruin because of the influx of immigrants from the Middle East, which will overwhelm the indigenous population and create a nation of ‘dunces’. In particular he singles out Muslims for failing to integrate and having low IQs: ‘Germany is becoming more stupid.’ Sarrazin was a leading member of Germany’s central bank.

The USA is of course a special case as a very young state, with  -out of necessity- a permanent stream of immigrants to fill the land of the Amerindians. The American Way enforces immigrants to Americanize. In a recent study, Caldwell argues that it is a European myth to imagine the USA as an open immigration country: ‘America may be open in theory, but in practice it exerts Procrustean pressures on its immigrants to conform, and it is its pressures, not its openness, that have bound America’s diverse citizens together as one people.’ These pressures to Americanize are never stated; they are embedded in the social and economic systems through which immigrants must move in order to survive.

There are many parallels, but differences as well. A comparative study would have taken me many more years to complete. Yet I wanted to “out” the Dutch identity crisis against its specific Dutch background. In my book the Dutch stand out; it is their story, by a Dutch author, but in English so that people other than the Dutch can also share this narrative. Being Dutch, more or less explores the critical stage of Dutch national identity due to changes in the Dutch social habitat at home, and by intrusions of immigration, globalization and free marketeers.

Tentatively I would say that the Dutch stand out for being their country being very small and very prosperous in combination with their iconic reputation of tolerance (which may just as well be a modus operandi for a strongly divided people). Now that the Dutch are being tested by globalisation and immigration, they are not able to accept foreign intrusions. Muslim compatriots, who ask what they must do to become accepted, heard in a debate in December 2010 in Amsterdam: apostasy!

Science Is Beautiful: What suggestions would you like to give to new budding writers? Where should they begin with if they have some topics and ideas on which they would like to write?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: Some ten years ago I followed an online Skilled Writing course, offered by Charlotte Balfour, a friend of mine. Brainstorming, one of the best instructions, advised you to close doors and curtains, telephone and internet, and just type in the wild what you want to write about for ½ hour, without care for grammar, typos or spelling. Repeat this a few times in the course of a month, and start streamlining the purpose of your writing in an Umbrella Statement. That is a statement of about ½ page (or more, but not much more) that contains the core of what you want to write about. The Umbrella Statement may change during the course of you writing, but principally must govern the argument that follows in your subsequent text. In such a way you protect yourself (and your reader) against digressions that have nothing to do with the subject you have set to explore. Each and every chapter should also open with an Umbrella Statement.

Science Is Beautiful: Where can readers get a copy of your book in US?

Dr. Lammert de Jong: At Amazon. But that may still take some time. In the meantime you could order it from the Netherlands, from the publisher’s website or send me an email at lammertdejong AT gmail DOT com

Science Is Beautiful: Thanks again for answering my questions. All the best for success of your book “Being Dutch, more or less”. Further details of the book:

Title: Being Dutch, more or less: In a Comparative Perspective of USA and Caribbean Practices

ISBN 978 90 3610 210 0

Author: Dr. Lammert de Jong

4 Comments December 21, 2010

New Section: Blog Interviews

I have been thinking for a while to add an interview section in my blog and finally I am going to do that. I will be posting first interview of “Science Is Beautiful” blog during the week. My first blog interview will be with Dr Lammert de Jong, author of new book “Being Dutch , more or less” about which I wrote in one of my previous posts. In coming months , I will be adding some more interviews to the blog which will be a good opportunity for me as well as the readers to get some new perspective about various issues and topics. Here is a sneak preview of the interview:

“My interest in Dutch identity goes way back. During my formative years, especially the university years, it felt very comfortable  to be Dutch: lots of freedom, a civil society blessed with a safety welfare net for people who couldn’t make it on their own, prosperous etc…… After my university education, I spend many years in Africa and the Dutch Caribbean. In Zambia and Benin I was representing the rich Western world that wanted to fight poverty in the Third world, while in the Dutch Caribbean I was – literally- a representative of a former colonial power. Very different roles…. ”  – Dr Lammert de Jong.

Stay Tuned!!

Leave a Comment December 14, 2010


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