Contemporary party PVV (Party for Freedom) used islamophobia

Contemporary Dutch national
identity as an imagined community

Since Benedict Anderson wrote his
1983 book Imagined Communities, in
which he outlined the emergence of national identity in Western European nations,
times have changed and nations are facing new challenges which were
unimaginable in the 1980s. With this essay, I will examine in what ways
contemporary Dutch national identity is influenced by and imagined in media and
politics, and in what ways it still relates to Anderson’s model.

Anderson attributed the tightening
of national bonds to changing mentalities, such as the decrease of faith in the
monarchy and the increase of scientific knowledge, as well as the effect of
print capitalism, which allowed people across a nation to consume the same
media and neutralized variances in the language (Anderson, 52-53). In order to
maintain the nation as an imagined community, it was to be sovereign, finite
and based on (appeared) equality and brotherhood, allowing people on opposite
ends of a country to feel connected to one another (Anderson, 50).

            The Netherlands
has the highest proficiency of English as a non-native language in the world (EF
Education First), allowing Dutch citizens to not only relate to fellow
Dutchmen, but also to a global community. This is exemplified by technological
advancements and accessibility of internet and (social) media. Dutch people are
able to consume media from international news outlets which communicate in
English, allowing them to be even more informed on international affairs. Due
to the popularity of multinational social media enterprises such as Facebook or
Youtube, Dutch citizens are now able to connect intimately with people all over
the world, increasing their feeling of a global citizenship. According to
Anderson, the printing press enhanced the national identity, as people across a
nation were taking in news daily in a standardized language (53). One could
argue that language is still a uniting factor, creating a feeling of
connectedness between people who live far apart. However, unlike in Anderson’s
model, in which the nation was confined not only by borders, but also by
language barriers, the popularity of English has allowed Dutch citizens to
transcend national borders, decreasing their connection to their national
identity.

            This
increase in globalization, not only through media, but also in terms of
increased mobility and subsequent migration has put the Dutch national identity
at risk, making it less necessary and powerful. In politics, we see an attempt
to reconciliate the Dutch national identity, by appealing to history and
ethnicity. National televised debates around 2017’s Dutch national elections
included statements on the Dutch “normen en waarden” (norms and values), which
represents the focus on national identity in the public sphere. Right-winged,
populist party PVV (Party for Freedom) used islamophobia and othering to
strengthen the national identity by creating a clear us vs. them. Their leader,
Geert Wilders, warns voters of the dangers of the supposed “Islamization” of
Dutch society  and wants to preserve Dutch
culture by banning, mosques, the Qur’an Muslim immigration (Osborne). This is
in stark contrast to Anderson’s model, in which national identity was based on
equality and brotherhood which, in the national imaginary, transcended
differences in class and religion (50).

Besides ethnicity, we also see a
strong appeal to Dutch national history as a way to reconnect with the national
identity. The center-right party CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) believes a
connection with Dutch historical and nationalist symbols will improve national
identity. They did this by trying to add a mandatory singing of the national
anthem in Dutch schools – the three parties in the center-right government
finally agreed to have children learn about the anthem rather than be obliged
to sing it (Hartog & Hoedeman). It is important to note that this trend is
not only visible on the right-winged side of the Dutch political spectrum, left
winged parties are also occupied with national identity from a historic
approach. In a Dutch daily talk show, Jesse
Klaver, the leader of the green progressive party Groenlinks presented the Acte van Verlatinghe, the 1581 document
with which Dutch provinces proclaimed their independence from the Spanish, to
remind viewers we should return to the notion of freedom on which the Dutch
nation was founded (Joop). The attempt to revitalize the connection with this
historic, yet largely unknown, document represents the attempt to re-establish
the image of antiquity which modern nations often appealed to, according to
Anderson (52). However, rather than doing this through a shared language,
Klaver attempts to do this through connecting to a shared history.

The aforementioned destabilization
of Western national identity due to globalization and migration, seems to be a
breeding ground for the romanticizing of history to restore the national
identity. Dutch political leaders want the public to imagine the Dutch national
identity along the lines of an essentialist Dutch heritage as a nation of
freedom, equality and prosperity. This national history, however, appeals to
Dutch natives, and neglects the increased diversity of Dutch demographics.
Instead of engaging with this, politics focuses on winning voters by creating a
fantasy of the nation returning to a safe haven, which is either based on the
exclusion of “intruders” or the acceptance of tolerance.

The way the contemporary Dutch
national identity manifests itself in the public sphere no longer fits
Anderson’s 1983 account on nations as imagined communities. While the case
study may fit within Anderson’s model through its appeal to antiquity, the role
of language and equality have greatly changed due to an increase of technology,
mobility and xenophobia.

Times and tensions have changed, and
as Anderson’s model may no longer apply, the national community can and should
be reimagined. It seems like politicians are already attempting to do so, but history
cannot be rewritten – considering the colonial history of the nation, returning
to a 16th century Holland will is unlikely to bring about peace or
equality, nor is keeping out those with different ethnicities or religions
humane or even realistic. Instead, Dutch citizens and politicians need to take
on a more open and honest approach, without excessive pride or guilt about the
past, but using our current, diverse makeup as a guide to move towards the
future. A transformation of the way we imagine nations is unavoidable and
embracing this challenge head on will prove to be more sustainable than
anxiously holding on to dated memories of imaginary communities.  

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