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The Dutch language of demonstrations

Written by Ruud Hisgen (Direct Dutch) for IAMEXPAT

The Dutch love a good protest. Hardly a day goes by without people assembling, usually in The Hague at Malieveld or in Amsterdam on Dam Square, to express heartfelt disagreements about something or other.

Most of the time, these protests are peaceful and police involvement is very rare. You can read about these protests in Dutch papers or watch them on television. Some of these demonstrations are spectacular, yet the shouts and cries will not be heard across the borders.

What is all this fuss about? Ruud Hisgen lists several phrases and words that will help you understand the nature and language of Dutch demonstrations.

Betoging (Demonstration / protest)

A “betoging” or “demonstratie” is the action of a group of “betogers” (demonstrators) who have come together to “betogen” (demonstrate) against something. Demonstrations draw attention to a problem and “betogers” try to prove that there is widespread support among the population to solve that problem. Most demonstrations are left-wing (links) but there are also right-wing demonstrations (rechts).

Het recht om te demonstreren (The right to demonstrate)

The right to demonstrate is a democratic right. For many protesters, it is more than a right. They see it as their duty to remind the government that something is rotten in the “state of Dutchmark”. Other protesters see the demonstration as a means of pressure. They are there to shake up the democratic process by making a hell of a lot of noise.

Remember the farmers who invaded the inner city of The Hague with their tractors and made a terrible mess of the Malieveld? They carried signs with exclamations like: “boer = boos” (farmer = angry) and they meant serious business. Many of them belonged to the Actiegroep Farmers Defence Force (FDF). Their protests are against the Dutch cabinet’s nitrogen policy.

De Beeldenstorm (The iconoclasm)

Dutch demonstrations go back a long time. In 1566, the Beeldenstorm (roughly “breaking of the images” or “image storm”) in the Low Countries raged at the beginning of the birth of the independent Dutch republic. The Dutch Protestant Reformers (who protested against the oppression by the Catholic Spanish king) destroyed statues, paintings and decorations in catholic churches and public spaces. You can still see the result if you visit old churches. What you see is a vast emptiness.

In 2020, many Dutch towns are experiencing a new “beeldenstorm”. This time, the anger of the protesters is aimed at the “heroes” who played a dubious role during Dutch colonial history. Many people claim that these heroes were wrong-doers and that their statues and names remind us of colonial wrongs that were committed in the Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age, 17th century).

Black Lives Matter (BLM)

Some protest actions flew over from other countries and don’t even get a title in Dutch. “Black Lives Matter” is a good example. This movement was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of a policeman in the shooting of an African American teen. The first peaceful Dutch Black Lives Matter protest was held on Dam Square in 2016.

After George Floyd’s death in Minnesota there were many BLM protests in the Netherlands in June 2020: Dam Square, Amsterdam South-East, Malieveld, Groningen, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, Wageningen, Nijmegen, Enschede, Tilburg, Haarlem and Eindhoven.

Viruswaanzin (Virus Madness)

The right to demonstrate is a basic right, but in these days of the Corona pandemic, many people are worried that these gatherings could lead to new outbreaks. So far, most demonstrators acted very responsibly and kept their “anderhalvemeter afstand” (1,5-metre distance), so the Dutch were relieved to hear that these BLM protests did not have any terrible effects.

Some people in the Netherlands, however, are opposed to the corona law that the cabinet is preparing and demand freedom-restricting measures to end immediately. And so, what did they do against their better judgement (tegen beter weten in)? Firstly, they organised a protest group and they called it Viruswaanzin (Virus Madness). Secondly, they organised protests in The Hague. The municipality of The Hague ended one of their demonstrations in June with 400 arrests and prohibited a second one a week later.

Vrijheid van meningsuiting (freedom of speech)

When the mayor of The Hague ordered the police to intervene, all the protesters shouted “vrijheid van meningsuiting” (freedom of opinion). And there is the catch: on the one hand, there is the right to demonstrate and express your opinion. On the other hand, the government has the task to protect society against violence and diseases.

Freedom of opinion is a basic right in the Dutch “grondwet” (constitution). And the Dutch constitution is the most important legal instrument that regulates Dutch society. It is so important that you can read it on a long bench near the buildings of parliament in The Hague. The first article reads as follows (everyone should learn it by heart):

“Allen die zich in Nederland bevinden, worden in gelijke gevallen gelijk behandeld. Discriminatie wegens godsdienst, levensovertuiging, politieke gezindheid, ras, geslacht of op welke grond dan ook, is niet toegestaan.”

“All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”

“Tous ceux qui se trouvent aux Pays-Bas sont, dans des cas égaux, traités de façon égale. Nulle discrimination nest permise, quelle se fonde sur la religion, les convictions, les opinions politiques, la race, le sexe ou tout autre motif.”

“Alle, die sich in den Niederlanden aufhalten, werden in gleichen Fällen gleich behandelt. Niemand darf wegen seiner religiösen, weltanschaulichen oder politischen Anschauungen, seiner Rasse, seines Geschlechtes oder aus anderen Gründen diskriminiert werden.”

“Todos los que se encuentran en los Países Bajos serán, en casos iguales, tratados de igual manera. No se permitirá discriminación alguna por razón de religión, creencias, ideología, convicción política, raza, sexo o cualquier otra consideración.”

So, to cut it short, discrimination in the Netherlands is not allowed. It does not matter what you believe, what your political opinion is, how you look or what you are, everyone should be treated equally. And if you feel that it this is not the case, organise a “demonstratie”! But keep it peaceful and safe!