…Somewhere between Eindhoven and Maastricht…We are hitch-hiking to Luxemburg and fortunately someone picked us up. Outside nightfall sets in; even the Sun hides away somewhere beyond the increasing wall of clouds looking for a proper cloud blanket. In front of us lies one of the flawless high-ways carrying thousands of people back to their homes. Their work day ended too. The previous tiresome days take their toll on me and I slowly descend in a world of dreams. Sitting in the front sit, Adela engaged herself in an increasingly interesting dialog with our probably forty years old saviour. I slowly start to open my eyes when an expression never before heard by me touches my ears…Maybe we could call it wealthy communism. Maybe Dutch society is starting to get lazy and soft…and the father of three continues his previous opinion about Dutch society. Rich communism?!! – I never heard anyone say this about a Western society before. And thinking about this I cannot, but start finding arguments to support this bald claim.
I won’t read anything about Marx or Engels neither do Trockij and Lenin interest me. I will just simply try to provide a clear enough picture of Dutch society based on what people around me say and what my personal experience tells me.
Let’s not begin with the very early beginning of this story and history, but let’s mention two words about this country and the people that live in it. Around the time of Christ Germanic tribes started settling in this region. First the Frisians (their language survived and even the province of Friesland bares their name) and later on the Saxons and Franks started occupying these lands. The roman wars, the middle ages and the rise of the Flemish cities are not of much interest now. The true story begins somewhere at the end of the Ranaissance and during the time of the Reformation. Because if someone looks at the Dutch landscape after the great Ice Age, he will find that it turned into a huge swamp. The Rhine, Maas and Ijsel rivers pour into the sea, criss-crossing this handful of land. Later on the rising waters of the North Sea created the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea, nowadays turned into the Ijselmeer fresh water lake). Now why does all these historical and geographical data interest us? Because the living environment of these people influenced their character as a nation. Even the first Germanic tribes drained the swamps and marshes in order to built towns and communities; in the time of the Reformation with the advent of the windmills ever increasing masses of land were regained from the sea. But this required something. You cannot regain land the size of cities with the help of a hand full. Because of this social solidarity emerged really soon among the Dutch population. This meant that everyone had his own share of work; they used every piece of land wisely and to its maximum potential, as it was essential for the survival of their way of life and their homes. All of this laid down the foundations of an almost fairy-tale like “hive” society. Each small community had to learn to work together and help the one next to them. The story continues and once again they proved their solidarity after the catastrophic 1953 floods. In Moldova (eastern region of Romania) the rising waters of the Siret and Prut rivers wash away the shabby houses and these people tried to stop the sea. And they did. And in order for all of this to happen a system had to be devised that runs with the precision of a Swiss watch.
Now that we found the historical back-ground of this issue, let’s look at the day by day examples.
Upon hearing this information many back home would go on the streets to protest. The average Dutch worker gives half (maybe more) of his income back to the State in form of taxes. As I previously said many would rise up. But what do they get in exchange? One of the world’s best social systems. Although everyone calls them cheapskates, society takes care of everything. This isn’t America, this isn’t wild capitalism. If you are without a job, the State will provide a monthly 800 euros for sustaining a minimal existence. Across the ocean you can die of hunger. Whatever happens to you in this country you are covered from every angle. Their insurance system is amazing… The simple daily examples. You twist your ankle and soon enough you will wake up at the emergency where you don’t have to bribe the doctors and the conditions are overwhelming. Your bike scratched the Mercedes parked on the side of the road. No problem, the Dutch civil insurance will take care of it too. When you become old your state and private pension will allow you to enjoy a peaceful existence (maybe a yacht in the Barbados) or when you won’t even be able to go to the toilet, a nice elderly home will wait for you. I am not exaggerating. Maybe this is how it looks like for someone reading this from back home. All of this creates an extremely relaxed society. Why not? Everything is insured and when a society reaches this level there is time for music, arts, sports and trips and of course leads to the emersion of a quite enlightened society.
We are not referring to the almost 3 million immigrants, as let’s not forget that it is still a capitalist country but it looks like they took the best of socialism too.
…We are on our way to Eindhoven in the car of our second saviour. Almost sixty and thanks to his own two hands he climbed fairly high on the social latter. We put our bags in a brand new SUV. These are the times when someone can truly get a glimps of a society and the people that live in it. You talk to the people that live in it and you don’t read about it from a cheesy tourist guide. He got to the point of his life when he can afford everything; he will retire in couple of years and dreams of some joyful years in Curacao or Barbados. As we talk about this and that you get another view of Dutch society. He’s got enough money, a fairly large home and his kids have all but finished university, but something is missing. For 30 or 13 (I couldn’t really understand from his English) he’s been waiting to build himself his own home, because the one that he is living in is not quite his work. He bought it from someone else. The only problem is that for over a decade now he’s been waiting to buy a piece of land. We look outside and miles of green pastures lay next to the highway. Isn’t their enough land? – we ask him slightly batheled. That’s what I was asking. But of course the State needs it. Every inch of land has its purpose. If the State thinks that the country needs this amount of pastures to sustain its agriculture worth of envy then this is how much land it needs, even if someone would be willing to pay more. The common well being and the rest of society demand that piece of land to serve a higher aim, that of increasing the States income and thus favouring the rest of society.
But it doesn’t end here. No one is surprised back home that people build as they want and it’s not a novelty to see an apartment complex between two houses. Everyone gets the chance to build the house of his dreams. It can be 2, 3 stories high, with rooms in the attic or just a flat roof-top; it can be purple or Smurf blue. Here things are a bit different. First of all you need one million authorizations before you build your home. Later they will provide how many levels it can have, if the roof will be inclined or flat and the colour has to be in accordance with the rest of the neighbourhood (grey or brick); according to the style of the region your are allowed to use only bricks or predominantly wood. So in the end you are in the same position as buying the small grey flat roofed house built by the state. You can have the whole money in the world if society desires your home to be like the rest.
Finally I would mention the educational system. Scholarships don’t really exist, the professors are quite reluctant to give high marks and don’t really encourage those who want more. As the guy who took us to Maastricht told us. I can see my son getting lazy. He is content just passing the exam. He doesn’t want more. And he is content just passing the exam, as a society that dictates what colour should be used on your house, doesn’t need someone who rises over the others. The student doesn’t really stress himself as he knows that even with the passing grade he will find a place in the “hive society” and insurance will cover every angle of his life. Back home everything is still uncertain, not knowing if your money will be enough for tomorrow or if the doctor won’t wait for the small envelope of money. You have to learn to fight if you want something more.
This would be one of the model societies. It grants numerous freedoms to its inhabitants (euthanasia, prostitution, use of soft drugs, total equality of women), but in the same time it restricts them. It dictates what everyone should do and it provides for the “bee hive” where one will find its small hexagonal cell. The country is prosperous, on a social level it is way ahead of others, as a small nation it is one of the best known countries in the world and still….the individual fades away in the detriment of the well being of society.
1st of March 2008 Utrecht