Visiting the Dutch on election day
|Fumbling with my new buy I held the city map upside down and frowned. Where the hell was I? I couldn’t make any sense of the streets and places described as I didn’t understand the language.
This was the city of The Hague in The Netherlands, Europe. I was visiting because I liked to discover new places, meet new and interesting people and The Hague was as unknown to me as any other city by the sea in Europe.
To really know a place is to walk through it.
So, I put away the map and started strolling on foot, my hair in the wind, enjoying one of these first days of early spring. The weather was good, I had enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel, and I was anxious to get this day going.
Within five minutes in the quiet city center, I saw an American Bookshop and bought a book on the Netherlands to accompany me throughout the day. The currency here was the euro, approximately the same as the dollar—the title of the book: Go Dutch, tulips, and beyond. I would read it once in a while throughout the day.
Should I go left or right?
While I debated with myself, there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and watched Rembrandt looking at me. I recognized the famous painter of the 17th century by his Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar (1659) , from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. I had seen the painting a few times and was acquainted with his face and some of his work.
A wrinkled, old face with a stern, somewhat fatigued look: I liked the man immediately. He asked me for a coffee, and I accepted.
“It’s election day today,” he smiled. “Very special, in my time, there was no such thing. Since 1848 The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy, and only for 100 years can people vote. Women vote from 1920 onwards. ”
He explained that there were 28 political parties with 1114 persons to vote on. It is a consensus parliament with a majority government, which means that parties should have 76 seats out of 150 in Parliament to govern the country. Today 13 million adults could pass their votes. In 2012 only 74,6 % turned out. Expectations are that percentage will be higher today.
“The world is in turmoil, the Netherlands just survived an economic crisis, and lots of people want change. The current government is right-wing party VVD and left-wing party PvdA, but there are calls for change.”
One of the most famous political figures is Geert Wilders of the PVV. An ultra-right-wing politician like Donald Trump, who wants to ban everything Islamic, has plans to deport many Muslims and wants to keep the Netherland solely for the Dutch.
According to Rembrandt, that man is going to win a lot of seats today. A scary thought for a lot of people.
After we enjoyed our coffee, he said goodbye, leaving me with a lot on my mind.
When I turned around to leave as well, I spotted the painter
Vincent van Gogh , still bleeding where once his left ear was. He was reading a book on Paul Gaugin, the reason for his frantic act to cut off an ear in the first place.
When I approached him, he was more than willing to talk to me. The book bored him, anyway.
After I complimented him on works like Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888) and Almond Blossom (1890), we talked for half an hour. About art and life. And about politics.
“The Netherlands is a funny country,” he proclaimed. We are very good at quarreling, and we have a major political riot on our hands. What happened last Saturday? Turkey, another NATO member state with lots of its people living in The Netherlands, wanted to campaign in the Netherlands for their own Turkish referendum. They wanted to persuade Turkish Dutchmen to vote for a Turkish law in Turkey that gave President Erdogan of Turkey more power. Turkey, a non-democratic country with a dictator as the head of state, wanted to influence the Turkish people abroad.
Of course, the Dutch government was very much opposed to this, so they forbid two Turkish government members to enter The Netherlands. Now, the Turks are upset and angry, and they are calling the Dutch Nazis and fascists and threaten with economic sanctions.”
He looked right into my eyes and walked away abruptly.
I decided to walk some more, hoping to bump into even more interesting people.
A few streets behind in the center, I stumbled upon the last resting place of
Baruch Spinoza , the famous philosopher. From beyond his grave, he quoted: “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding because to understand is to be free.”
I had enough to think about for one morning, so I decided to listen to a free concert in one of the churches of The Hague. On the program was Franz Schubert (1797-1828) – Impromptu D899 no. 2 in E Flat Major , - Impromptu D935 no. 3 in B Flat Major and Franz Liszt (1811-1886) "Totentanz" for Piano Solo, S.525 .
A wonderful experience. I came out rejuvenated.
That afternoon I spent roaming the streets of The Hague and watching its people. I visited the municipal museum with an exciting Piet Mondrian exhibition, another famous Dutch painter. Mondrian, the man who changed everything.
How appropriate on a day like today.
At nine, I found a little café where I watched the election night unfold. The green-left party GroenLinks won, so did some center parties. The VVD lost but remained the biggest party. And populism, although Geert Wilders won slightly, appeared no big threat. The dance to govern would start tomorrow.
When I stumbled to my hotel late that night, I passed the House of Parliament and waved. I had positive thoughts about the Dutch. They were more interesting than I thought!
I closed my eyes and went to sleep. I had to catch an early morning flight.