Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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How is Holland?

column Wednesday 15 September 2004 An American mail friend asked if I would write an essay on The Netherlands for a newsletter. “How is Holland?”, she asks me with interest and I let my thoughts wander.

How is Holland? When I think of Holland I often think of money or, rather, the lack thereof. In all honesty, I think we live in a poor country. Take our neighbourhood: A fun, lively, and beloved section of town with lots of kids, but this summer the abundance of weeds almost literally was a thorn in the eye to many. Sure, one day the exterminators arrived with an environmentally friendly substance, but they didn’t remove it all and after they finished their job the weeds again shot up like a rocket.

Unfortunately, the park maintenance employees who “took care” of the weeds for years most likely have been budgeted out. Just like our community janitor. Oh, how I miss that man! It was his job to make sure that the neighbourhood stayed neat, but the part of the township budget covering his pay ran out and we noticed immediately. And recently I read in the paper that our famous statue Ús Mem (Frysian for “Our Mother”) only remains sure of her regular cleanings because a real estate broker and a cleaning company have taken on the cost. How poor! Isn’t it a shame that the town cannot even afford a bucket of suds for its statues! Budget cut backs all around and the most serious ones are those in health care. The bitter irony is that at the same time, due to the wrong decisions, so much money is wasted. Take the “billions eater”, de Betuwelijn (a railroad section in the middle of The Netherlands). How it is possible that so many policy makers can be so dumb and make such gigantic computing mistakes is beyond me. If these people at one time in their lives ever had been smart housewives on limited incomes they would have had better knowledge of money management and policy making than was the case here, I’m sure. Holland, the land of tolerance, or so I always thought. These days racism is rearing its ugly head again with increasing frequency. Last month, it was frightening to see and hear a demonstration by the “National Alliance”. The gesture that one of the participants made to a girl from an obviously mixed ethnic background, running the fingers slowly across the throat, makes me scared and sad. There were young children there, too, twelve, thirteen years old, and full of hate against all and everyone that remotely looked “foreign”. Later, there was a counter demonstration by liberal groups. “Stop the hate!” they called out, and that was good. Hate is not an answer to anything. Even the hooligans who attacked the counter demonstrators should not be hated. That surely is not a solution. Talking, getting to know one another, getting involved with each other, perhaps that would promote tolerance. But how does one talk to people who call for a new Hitler? Can one carry on a serious discussion with boys who challenge police dogs and batons to attack the “liberals”? I was flabbergasted and devastated when I saw the hate in the eyes of those boys. That afternoon I learned that fascism and racism can not be banned, not even in our Netherlands. Fortunately, there are many people who call out “no” against that evil and who make a personal effort to achieve a tolerant society. A small village that worked hard together to keep a family of refugees from deportation… that is something that gives goose bumps. And that, too, is Holland. “Thinking of Holland I see the wide rivers slowly winding through endless lowlands.” Who doesn’t know that poem by Hendrik Marsman. Holland is water - the rivers, the lakes, the sea. What is more beautiful than to stand on a dune by the sea, watching the ships go by, and the sun sink into the water? The farms, the windmills, the fields of flower bulbs, the heather-covered moors, the forests, the cloudy skies, the cows in the meadows, that is Holland. The traffic jams, the busy Randstad (the most densely populated, horseshoe shaped section in the western part of the country), the coffee shops (where soft drugs can be legally bought and consumed), the projects, criminality, the busy roads, that is also Holland. “Thinking of Holland I see financial documents quickly move through greedy fingers.” That is the first line of the poem “The Inner Ring of Holland” by Gerrit Komrij. That brings us back to money, golden handshakes, top executives’ salaries, and expensive pet projects. There is a lot money in The Netherlands in spite of the deeply cut budgets - especially the cut backs in health care and education are a shame for our country. Holland: “The sky hangs low and the sun gets smothered slowly in the grey, multi-coloured fumes, and in all parts of the country the voice of the water with its eternal disasters is feared and heard”, writes Hendrik Marsman. And Gerrit Komrij answers: “The sky hangs low and the spirit gets smothered slowly in parliamentary fumes, and on all terrains the voice of the merchant with his ethic cramps is heard the most.” “How is Holland?” asks my American friend. Thinking of Holland I don’t know what to think of Holland.

 September 2004   Text:  Dini Commandeur,  Translation: Maria O’Neill


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