A recurring theme in both the Netherlands and in Finland is country branding. As we all know Dutch people walk on wooden shoes, build windmills, put their fingers in dykes and use hash and marijuana every day.


Sometimes I like to do some myth debunking. One is about Dutch tolerance. Dutch tolerance is an ancient tradition that goes back a long way. To be more precise, back to the eighty year (1568–1648) when the Netherlands fought it's independence war with Spain. In the course of the war all kinds of religious feuds were fought. The fighting only stopped when the treaty of Westphalia was signed. After that we learned to respect each others religion. That was not easy. Dutch protestantism is full of split-offs because one priest was disagreeing with another about the interpretation of some text in the bible.

In many cases it was a volatile situation only mitigated by the fact that everyone knew the price of making quarrels. Communities lived side-by-side, not mingled. It kind of reminded about towns in the middle east where you had a Muslim quarter, Christian quarter and a Jewish quarter. So catholics and protestants did not mingle and also some protestants groups were living on their own island.

verzuilingcartoon This gave eventually rise to what we call in the Netherlands the pillars of society. We had in the beginning of last century four pillars. Protestant, Catholic, Socialist, Liberal/Neutral. In this armed peace everyone had their own political parties, own unions, own newspapers, own broad casting companies, own schools, own insurance companies and even hospitals!! We lived together by creating different worlds. It was not easy to cross the lines. As a protestant you were expected to buy your stuff in protestant shops. As a socialist you better not visit a catholic cinema etc. The tolerance was based on not crossing the lines between communities. Romeo and Julia would be as dead in the Netherlands as when they were now in Verona. When I tell Finns this they look at me uncomprehending. The myth of Dutch tolerance is such that everyone thinks we were freely living side-by-side, but a hundred years ago that was hardly the case.

It is not like there have not been changes. The churches have been in slow, but steady decline since world war II. This has undermined the pillars of society a lot. Suddenly Romeo and Julia are getting married. What's more Mohammed comes along and brings Scheherazade and the kids. He does not belong to one of the already crumbling pillars. He wants his own Islamic island. He comes 100 years too late. The people of that time might have understood his desire for an own island. Now he simply will not get it. Dutch tolerance has changed. It now includes respect for women, rights for homosexuals, lesbians, trans genders, etc. It embraces the right to be different. If you don't like you are not welcome. That's not tolerant. That's setting norms. It is redefining the world between us and them. For Mustafa and Elske it will be difficult to live together when they have the weight of their communities on their shoulders. I hope that they can manage it and bring worlds together, because in this day and age mixing of cultures is our only hope to create a harmoniously integrated, pluralistic society.

PS: I recommend this article for further reading.

Amsterdam Pride Parade