Let Arnhem have national museum
20 May 2007 - Alderwoman Carolien Gehrels
finds that the new National Historic Museum should go to Amsterdam,
but Arnhem deserves it more. Also, the risk of nationalistic bragging
seems smaller here than in the Hague.
The plan to create a National Historic Museum (NHM) is not new,
but only since the rise of right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn has it
gained serious support. The multicultural society had failed, it
was generally held. Instead, everybody was talking about Dutch values.
“Since the Fortuyn-revolt, there has been a search for the
glue that would restore cohesion and morals to our society”,
wrote historian and TV presenter Hans Goedkoop in Trouw last year.
“Politicians from left to right - a bit more to the right
- discovered history as the core of our formation into good citizens.
A formation that would make us ‘proud’ of our country
PM Jan-Peter Balkenende (CDA)
resorted to history to defend himself against criticism of his policies
- albeit somewhat awkwardly: “I do not understand why you
are so negative and tedious about it. Let us be happy together.
Optimistic. Let us say: the Netherlands can do it again: that VOC-mentality
[he refers to the Dutch East India Company of the 17th century].
Looking beyond the boundaries. Dynamism! Right?”
The support for a NHM fits well with this renewed appreciation
of national history. The museum has its supporters mainly among
conservative politicians who want to strengthen the Dutch identity
as a beacon in a time of individualisation, globalisation and migration.
Originally, seemed that the museum would be located in the Hague,
but the new minister Ronald Plasterk (PvdA) has now asked Amsterdam
and Arnhem to submit proposals as well, apparently in an effort
to free the initiative of its nationalistic aura.
At the moment, the city hall of the Hague features an exhibition
on admiral Michiel de Ruyter, who is celebrated as the founder of
the Marine Corps. The Defence Department sponsors the exhibition.
“The websites and telephone numbers you can use to volunteer
to fight the Axis of Evil anywhere in the world are posted next
to it”, the VPRO’s history website reported.
Against this background, it is understandable that Plasterk is
hesitant to trust the Hague with the NHM. Amsterdam would seem a
safer choice. However, it is debatable whether the capital deserves
Whereas the Hague has already presented a design for a building
and Arnhem has made elaborate plans including an estimate of the
costs involved, Amsterdam only has some general ideas, and no intention
to spend any money on them.
If we are to believe het Parool, alderwoman Gehrels assumed that
the 12 million euro a year loot had already been hauled in. “We
were asked”. And, laughing: “A diva does not volunteer”.
Plasterk’s arriving a bit late for his appointment at the
Concertgebouw was not a problem: “You do not really think
I need an hour to explain to him why that museum of his should go
to Amsterdam? One look out of the window will tell him all he needs
For years, the PvdA has been part of the opposition in national
politics. The government sort of ignored Amsterdam, while giving
preferential treatment to Rotterdam. The PvdA has only just returned
to the government, and Amsterdam expects to automatically get its
Parool journalist Marcel Wiegman called this ‘Amsterdam arrogance’.
That is an attitude that should not be encouraged by having the
NHM fall in the city’s lap.
Arnhem represents the other extreme. It would have preferred to
divide the NHM among the three candidate cities, a suggestion Plasterk
dismissed as ‘provincial modesty’. Second choice was
a historic museum connected to the Arnhem Openluchtmuseum, an open-air
In view of Arnhem’s modesty, the risk of nationalistic bragging
seems small here. All in all, the province town is a fine choice
for the NHM.
Next Wednesday, Felix Meritis organises an international debate
on the NHM. Illustration: Openluchtmuseum (photo Quistnix/Wikipedia).
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