Tuesday evening I walked along the canals with my friend L.. There was a mild spring breeze, the blackbirds sang to themselves a collapsed lung, cyclists actually held out their hands. At Carré we couldn’t go any further because the stage for the Concert on the Amstel was being built there.
“It’s going to be a fraught May 5 this time,” muttered L. I shrugged. I’ve never had that much with it. Maybe it was because of my grandmother, who used to shout every year that it was just a day to party instead of reflect. Perhaps also because the Siamese twin sister of freedom, democracy, has been under pressure here for quite some time.
In the Radio 1 debate for the municipal elections in March, various group leaders tumbled over each other to say that we should cherish ours in these kinds of times. For the sake of convenience, they ignored the fact that democracy is not going too well here either. Under the Rutte cabinets, the rule of law has been affected, network corruption and lobbyism are rampant. In government, the interests of administrators seem to outweigh those of the electorate.
“Well, well,” said L. after hearing all this. “That all sounds very pessimistic. At least we still have freedom of expression here.”
I wanted to answer that it is of little use if the top just goes its own way, but decided to keep my mouth shut. Maybe it was my mood. Someone like L., a man married to a man, can’t complain here. And during my travels around the world I have been exposed to enough corruption to know that, as far as we can see, things are not that bad in the Netherlands.
Yet. Saying things could be much worse doesn’t mean you shouldn’t intervene, let alone remain silent, when things are going downhill. You don’t want to look back and find that democracy crumbled before your eyes as you averted your gaze.
L. and I watched as the Liberation Stage continued to take shape. There was hammering and drilling. Men in vests came and went. The wind kneaded temporary mounds from the Amstelwater.
“We’re still pretty good here, aren’t we?” said L. hesitantly. I shrugged, wiping a speck of dirt from his army jacket.
A plastic canopy was hung above the loudspeakers, so that the game would not be spoiled by precipitation.
Ellen Deckwitz writes an exchange column with Marcel van Roosmalen here.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 5, 2022