Good News from the BAD POLITICAL FRONT: the building of a new “National Historical Museum of the Netherlands” has been cancelled by the new Dutch government. This is excellent news! Who wants Double Dutch History cast into lots of building materials? Who wants to institutionalize persistent Dutch denialism of their colonial past? Who wants the governmental ‘imagined community’ of the Low Countries to be even further Disneyfied? Who wants to look at the glorified Dutch self-image through the canonized windows of state dependent historians? We have plenty of museums in the Netherlands offering such kind of idealized Dutch-centric history representations, already for decades… the whole idea is a belated 19th century concept of constructing a past that never actually was, to forge a ‘new Dutch national consciousness’ in post-national times.
The image shows the design for the National Historical Museum in the Eastern border town of Arnhem and the palace of former Queen Juliana in Soestdijk (in the heart of the country) the last one has also be proposed as a seat for such a new National Historical Museum. The idea for such a museum has been strongly propagated by Jan Marijnissen, the party leader of the Socialistiese Partij (SP). His proposal – dating from 2003 – was later also supported by the Christian Democrat Party CDA, a party now in government and deciding to stall the whole museum building project. As it is a ‘national Dutch’ project, I fail to find English language links on the subject. That in itself may be seen as symbolic for the whole undertaking, a sign of the isolating tendencies in Dutch politics of the last decade, moving away from a more internationalist position before.
Jan Marijnissen opens his original proposal with “a nation without history does not exists” and speaks about “the nowadays confusion about our moral, cultural and political identity” which finds its origin – partly – in “the missing of a historical consciousness in broad layers of the population.”
Een volk zonder geschiedenis bestaat niet. Elk volk, ook het Nederlandse volk, heeft dus een geschiedenis. De hedendaagse verwarring over onze morele, culturele en politieke identiteit vindt voor een deel haar verklaring in het ontbreken van historisch besef in brede lagen van de bevolking.
Marijnissen acknowledges the existence of many museum institutions and the cornucopia of objects and methods of display on Dutch history, offered by them, but he regrets that nowhere “the rise of society in the Low Countries at the Sea (he uses the conjunction ‘wordingsgeschiedenis’ = history of coming into being) is told. In other words he is longing for a singular narration of national history.
Echter, hét verhaal van de wordingsgeschiedenis van (de mensen die wonen in) “de lage landen bij de zee” wordt nergens verteld. In het kader van een herwaardering van het belang van historisch besef zou het goed zijn als dat wel zou gebeuren.
His longing for a singular ‘grand narration’, a genesis of the the Low Countries, is something that frightens me because put in practice, it will be more a product of ‘imagination’ and ‘believe’ than of ‘history’. Such a singular story is the opposite from what I envisage as the practice of history: dynamic confrontations of differing views. It will more hamper than help, the finding of a ‘social identity’. In my vision we need not put our energy in redefining what is ‘Dutchness’, but better come to an understanding of the multiple identities and the plurality of the social territories in which we are living. The times of the fenced off Garden of Holland (Het Hof van Holland) with a gate defended by a lion with a sword, lay far behind us. Already in its time this was an allegory of a non-reality. Man is both a migratory and a sedentary animal. Nations are ‘imagined communities’ and the new narratives we need, do not fit in any ‘national building’.
Old Dutch text has been reconstructed as:
Houdt op in mijn thuyn te wroeten Spaensche beesten
wilt uwen verckens-cop toch achterwaerts trecken
oft mijn Guesche-cndse [cnodse ?] salt u soo verleeren
die u thooft sal breken oft den hals doen recken;
den edelen prince daer ghij meed’ woudt ghecken
sal u te water en land’ bespringhen all;
vertreckt met u vuijl soghen en jonge specken
loop guyten loop oft Geux u daertoe dwinghen sall.
An interesting photograph of the inauguration of the statue of the former Queen Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard by queen Beatrix can be found on a royalist web site and the photograph below, showing the unveiling in the year 2009, while the wind blows the orange drapery into the shape of the tower with its shifting floors as can be seen in the design for the new National Historical Museum. The design of the Historical Museum dates from 2007 and is by one of the founders of the architect association Mecanoo, Francine Houben (1955-).