Foreign Correspondent: Holland
Showcase of socialism
It started 10 years ago in Amsterdam, when a handful of so-called Provos started their humoristic antiauthoritarian campaign. Everyone in Holland still remembers the days when zealous policemen confiscated the white painted bicycles which the thought-provoking youngsters had dedicated to the public. No further proof was needed to convince the law-abiding Dutch that authorities in Amsterdam cared little about parking, transport- and air-pollution problems.
The Dutch government, back in 1967, replaced Amsterdam's aristocratic burghomaster by a smiling socialist professor; but antiauthoritarianism was there to stay. Hundreds of action groups were being formed, some of them like Provo, Kabouter (dwarf), and woman's lib Dolle Mina attaining nationwide publicity.
A recent addition is this year's one-issue movement, "Save Veronica." It started when Holland's most popular radio station, called Veronica after the ship on which it is located, washed ashore this spring. This would have been the end of regulation-dodging "Radio Free Holland," had it not been for a massive protest movement. The point was made; now, Veronica rules the sea- and air waves again.
Did all this rollicking enthusiasm of the freedom-loving Dutch gain any freedom? Tragically little indeed; the reason being that their activism was usually rooted in socialism. Actually, the average Dutchman has lost the power to express himself in terms of individualism. A discussion of politics invariably turns out to be an exchange of socialistic cliches. One result of antiauthoritarian pushing is however noteworthy. Cries for the appearance of a strong man on the political scene become louder and louder.…
The present socialist government, born in May 1973 after six months of protracted birthpains, is highly deficient in self-confidence. No wonder, because with the 1848 Communist Manifesto almost completely implemented, the county offers a dismal picture. Inflation is killing savings, pensions and business forecasts alike. Teachers, civil servants and employees in the government-owned steel industry are engaging in mass protests. Army personnel blows off steam at boiling point. Trade unions reached an all time high strike record this year. Policing the problem-ridden 13 million nation is done by 600,000 civil servants. Almost one little commissar for every four families!
The Dutchmen have protested by adding four new parties to the ten already in parliament. One for each of the last four elections. However, their combined voting strength of 15% is fully negligible as their leaders fail to understand the real cause of the malaise.
Annual confiscation of revenue by the government now stands at 50% of the Gross National Product (cf. 45% in the USA) and the prospects are dim: Taxation is going up in 1974 and revenues down; and government plans for I974 call for housing, rents and land prices to be frozen, unemployment disbursements increased, workers' participation in management stepped up and wealth redistributed anew.
What then is left of the traditional work ethic, the creed that made Holland once prosperous and a haven for political refugees throughout four centuries? Its supporters obviously have gone into hiding, except for that handful that publishes a monthly four-page market-economy bulletin. Despite its lofty title BURGERRECHT (rights of the burgher), it reads like a horror file.
Looking for forecasts of a better future, I asked a few optimists their opinion. They pointed to the sixteenth century, when on a given day, government increased sales taxes up to 10%. The angry population rose as one man, and threw out its (then Spanish) rulers, thereby creating the Dutch republic. A similar patriotic event could happen, they insisted, if their fellow-Dutchmen fashioned themselves after Copenhagen's tax lawyer Mogens Glistrup, whose tax rebellion may well reshape Danish political history at the 1977 elections. [See Foreign Correspondent, October 1973.]
Other observers reminisced that in the good old days Amsterdam was known as a place where traders were philosophers and vice versa. They preferred to wait the call from some sort of a John Hospers, whose many name-sakes over here, as of yet, fail to radiate his fine gift of libertarian leadership.
The short of it is that the masses in Holland seem to have put absolute faith in Karl Marx's 125-year-old manifesto and that the loners are praying for a miracle. With nobody but reality to prove them wrong.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: Holland".