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Dutch united about national identity study shows

Despite fierce identity discussions, the Dutch nation appears to be unanimous when it comes to what is typically Dutch. But there is also an agreement on the threats: polarization and Islam are the most feared.

Published: June 26, 2019, 2:45 pm

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    And when the identity debate hardens, people defend strong views. “For example, about whether Zwarte Piet should remain black or whether someone has the right to protest against it.”

    Over the past two years, the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) sounded out thousands of Dutch citizens for the first major research project into the Dutch national identity.

    The results are remarkable, according to SCP director Kim Putters. A striking number of respondents see the same traditions, symbols and civil liberties as typical as well as connecting Dutch themes, regardless of age or level of education.

    At the top of the list is their language, followed by King’s Day and Sinterklaas, cycling, the ice-skating Elfstedentocht and the Dutch flag. When asked what connects Dutch people, the same traditions and symbols often appear, supplemented with, for example, Remembrance Day, Liberation Day, freedom and equality.

    According to Putters: “A lot has been written, said and debated about the Dutch and their identity in recent years, but we have questioned them ourselves. And then it appears that, despite the sometimes fierce discussions, there is a striking amount of consensus.”

    There is also consensus on the threats facing Dutch identity. For example, 77 percent of the participants consider polarization a threat. They also believe Islam is a threat (62 percent) while bureaucratisation (58 percent) had a high score.

    “I see Islam as a threat,” it was said in one of the sessions the researchers had convened and many agreed with that. The other popular notion is that “being open or adapting too much, is sometimes a bad thing. Coming back to Zwarte Piet: we may have gone too far on that issue.”

    The SCP also observed that “the anglicization” or globalisation of the country is being criticized. In this study the Dutch were divided into two new orientation types when it comes to national identity: the “symbol-Dutch”, who are very fond of traditions and old customs, and the Dutch who especially appreciate civil liberties.

    But Putters emphasized that the largest group, about 80 percent of the Dutch, do not belong exclusively to either of these camps: “The masses cannot be placed in one box,” Putter said.

    The SCP said it would like to conduct this identity investigation more often. “Our research is also an agenda for politics. In this way we bring the voice of the average Dutchman into the debate.”

    The least Dutch things were Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr (celebration to mark the end of Ramadan), headscarves, censorship, Islam, corruption and laziness.

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