Tag Archives: The Netherlands

Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands

9781137289933

Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands
By Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin
Palgrave Macmillan – £32.99

Tomorrow, March 15th, The Netherlands will go to the polls and decide upon the election of all 150 members of it’s House of Representatives. And given recent events, it looks set to be an all out, feisty affair.

With the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte (of the VDD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) having formed a coalition government with the PvdA (the Labour Party) back in 2012, tomorrow’s election will obviously be marred, if not fundamentally influenced by two people: Geert Wilders – the country’s answer to Donald Trump of the PVV (Party for Freedom), and Turkey’s rather misguided, utterly vile President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who really ought to know better than to equate Holland with Nazism.

That said, Erdogan’s vitriolic rhetoric is not only a sad sign of the (inflammatory) times, it will undoubtedly do much to influence the outcome of the election – probably/unfortunately in Wilders favour. All of which is an exceedingly far cry from almost all of what is both coherently and concisely written throughout the eleven chapters of Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands by By Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin.

For instance, one need only read as far as page twelve to ascertain that The Netherlands is no longer the country it once was: ”[…] the golden age established traditions of openness and tolerance in the Netherlands. In 1661, the Leiden manufacturer and political scientist Pieter de la Court wrote ‘that our manufactures, fisheries, commerce and navigation, with those who live from them, cannot be preserved here without a continual immigration of foreign inhabitants – much less increased or improved’ (quoted in Israel, 1995, p.624).”

Hmm, absolutely no longer is such the case any more, which, given the altogether disturbing events which recently took place in Rotterdam, is surely understandable. This is especially so when one considers Turkey also has further referendum rallies planned in both Germany and Austria (again, neither of which are particularly welcome).
So far as an intrinsically crystal-clear understanding of Dutch governance and politics is concerned, this book sheds more than cohesive light on a nation, normally associated with that of political calm; particularly when aligned with an ethos of cooperation and compromise on the part of citizens and politicians on the key issues for parliamentary debate.

With immigration on the rise, these 287 pages (excluding Preface, Further Reading, Bibliography and Index) do much to substantiate how and why the Dutch electorate has become ever more unpredictable.

Written by two professors at the country’s respected Leiden University, Governance and Politics Of The Netherlands makes for a most informative, interesting and altogether timely read. That said, following the outcome of tomorrow’s Dutch election, it remains to be seen if it’ll need updating – almost immediately.

David Marx

Amsterdam

amsterdam

Amsterdam – A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
By Russell Shorto
Little, Brown – £25.00

Amsterdam always has, and always will hold a particularly special place in my heart. That my mother was born in the city and I spent so much of my childhood there, still resonates to such a degree that it’s far more of a home-town (to quote Bruce Springsteen) than that where I was actually born.

And what a vibrant, wonderful city it is too; which, from a historical perspective at least, is perfectly captured in Russell Shorto’s Amsterdam – A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.

Admittedly, it might be due to my own relationship with the city, but these ten chapters simply flew by. In all honesty, I found parts of the book almost un-put-down-able; but again, this may partially be due to wanting to read about the city of my childhood through another’s eyes.

It may also be partially due to the fact that Shorto’s all round acute, very considered approach, makes so much political sense: ”So while this is a book about a city, it is also about an idea. Amsterdam’s history belongs to all of us, for those of us who live in Western democratic societies – wherever we place ourselves on the political spectrum – are all liberals, who depend on liberalism as a foundation of our lives […]. My weekly bicycle trip in my Amsterdam neighbourhood bears out James Baldwin’s observation that ”people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.””

So right from the very outset – the above quote is from chapter one – one instinctively knows that one’s in for a read that’s as analytical and defined, as it is revealing and dare I say it, persuasive. The latter of which is all the more clarified in the third chapter (‘The Alteration’), wherein Shorto so sensibly writes of William of Orange’s initial entry into Amsterdam – which in itself, triggered a huge transformation: ”In this period, the northern Dutch provinces would sign the Union of Utrecht, a de facto constitution that, following on the decades of slaughter in the name of religion, would guarantee freedom of conscience. It would be a first draft of the concept of religious freedom and, beyond that, of the legal notion of equality.”

Naturally, no book on Amsterdam would suffice without touching on painting; the countless mijsterwerks of Rembrandt van Rijn especially, of whom the author writes: ”Rembrandt’s fame as an artist had to do with technical brilliance and an inventive, theatrical approach. He was a master realist. But it’s fair to say that what truly struck, even stunned, his contemporaries was his seeming to have turned his subjects inside out. He didn’t just paint what they looked like; he painted who they were.”

Amsterdam really is a necessary read for a number of reasons.

Apart from the fact that it’s well written, it’s enlightening and brave and touches upon all right issues that are so entwined with this most glorious of cities. From history to philosophy, Calvinism to Liberalism, sex, art, diamonds, Spinoza and John Lennon’s bed-in; it’s all here in one fantabulous book. A book described by the author of 1491 and 1493 Charles C Mann as: ”Amsterdam is a small place that casts a big shadow. As Russell Shorto shows in this smart, elegant book, culture and geography have conspired to thrust the city into the midst of our day’s most important debates… Not only is this a wonderfully readable account of the city, it is also a history of how the Dutch invented – and sometimes failed to live up to – today’s concepts of liberty and tolerance.”

The fount of liberalism is herein truly testified. As is the glittering jewel of Amsterdam itself. A great book.

David Marx

Dutch – Biography of a Language

9780199323661_p0_v1_s260x420[1]

Dutch – Biography of a Language

By Roland Willemyns

Oxford University Press – £22.99

Being half-Dutch, I was brought up bi-lingual as a child.

As a result, I have always retained a thorough interest in the language. In fact, according to natives of Holland, I suppposedly speak Dutch with an Amsterdammer’s accent, which, un-beknown to me, as well as being a fan of langauge in general, I continue to find intruiging. This may partially explain my thorough enjoyment in reading Dutch – Biography Of A Language by Roland Willemyns.

Apart from being ”the only English langauge history of Dutch,” it’s a book that caught my attention for a myriad of reasons; most noteably, my continuing fascination with and soft-spot for the langauge, simply because (speaking and hearing) it reminds me of my childhood.

I am also concerned for its well-being. Reason being, only twenty-two million people speak Dutch (primarily in The Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname and Antilles), and I have as such, often wondered how long it will continue to exist.
Upon reading this book however, it really does seem I don’t have a lot to worry about. In chapter nine, ‘Progress or Decay? The Future Development of Dutch,’ Willemyns reasurringly writes: ”Doomsayers predict that Dutch will disappear within the next few decades, swallowed up by English, Chinese, or some other language. Others fear that soon the langauge will have changed so profoundly under the influence of other langauges (e.g., those spoken by immigrants) that it will cease to be real Dutch, whatever that is. How real are those fears, or, put the other way around, how strong is the position of Dutch at this very moment?

In Europe, Dutch is the official language of the majority of the Belgians (over six millions) and of more than 16 million Dutch. These almost 23 million Dutch speakers occupy the 10th position in the 76-strong league of European langauges. Among the approximately 6,000 languages of the world, Dutch is ranked 42nd. That means that approximately 5,950 langauages lag behind Dutch, which makes it in the top 1 percent of languages in the world. It is hard to perceive this situation as threatening.”

Who’d have thought it? Well I for one wouldn’t have, that’s for sure, which again, underlines why this book has been such an eye-opener of a stimulating and interesting read.

It’s ten chapters covers an array of very well-researched, Dutch language related areas. From ‘Who Speaks Dutch and Where?’ to ‘Old Dutch: Its Ancestors and Contemporaries;’ from ‘Reunion and Secession: The Nineteenth Century’ to ‘The 20th Century: The Age of the Standard Language;’ from ‘Colonial Dutch’ to ‘Afrikaans’ (”the only extant daughter language of Dutch”) to the aforementioned chapter on the future of the language; Dutch – Biography Of A Language is bound to interest a global audience of students of Dutch, those of Dutch descent, and linguists and other scholars wishing to learn more about this most fascinating of tongues.

From a purely historical perpective alone, Willemyns sheds a profound enormity of more than persuasive light on the subject. In relation the the country’s Golden Age in the book’s Introduction, he writes: ”In 17th-century Holland (the Golden Age), it was increasingly felt that the norm of the standard language was to be found in the idiolect of the upper classes of both Amsterdam and The Hague. This is the start of a long-lived tradition: we see how the social variable unmistakably supercedes the regional one and how, until well into the 19th century, having a regional accent will be deemed less of a problem than having the wrong social accent. The Golden Age also saw
the publication of the (printed) Statenbijbel, not only a paramount theological but also linguistic achievement, since it turned out to be one of the most important standardization instruments ever.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this overtly enlightening book for a menagerie of reasons. That I’m half-Dutch, will undoubtadly have been somewhat instrumental in my reasoning; but to be honest, this book could well appeal to anyone and everyone (even remotely) interetested in language.

Simply becasue of the way it’s written, what it purveys and what it uncovers.

David Marx