Conference of the European Ministers of Culture - 20 - 22 October 2003 - Opatija, Croatie 

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Intervention of Johannes C. Landmann, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Council of Europe

21 October 2003

Working session 3 : Governance and inter-sectorial cooperation
Preservation of identities

First, we have to think of identities in a dynamic way. Identities are not fixed entities, they change all the time. Like traditions (ref. Hobsbawn “The making of tradition”), they continue to be forged from the perspective of the present and the future, rather than being solely based on the past.

As is well known, the preservation of “diversity” the concept I prefer over “identity” has always been at the heart of our national cultural policies. The Netherlands, for quite a while, called itself a “pillarized society”, which was referring to the practice that the existing religious and ideological groups of our society kept to a large extent to themselves, except at the national level, where their representatives met and came together to form the many coalition governments that are characteristic of our country. However, these groups, while mostly socially living separate lives, were sharing a common language, and a common heritage !

At the influx of many migrants of different cultural origins we continued the same practice. Newcomers were left to themselves, undisturbed as far as the celebrating of their own culture was concerned. We tought it tolerance ! However, the outcome of these old practices and policies turned different under the new circumstances. Slowly, a widening gap could be registered between the old and the new members of our society. Contrary to what had happened during the days of the pillarized society, this “indifferent” tolerance as some would now coin the approach, seemed to lead to a growing fragmentation of society.

Cultural diversity, we would all agree, is an enrichment to society. What is more, the vitality of not only our society but of the world society as a whole, is depending on it. But with the exclusive focussing on individual cultural identities, societies could start falling apart. Also, one diversity may strongly reject another !

A binding element, elf evident before, is needed. Our integration policies so far missed out in including the new members of our society, to get to know more about the community they chose to live in.

The present government, that came into power at the onset of this summer, became convinced that new modalities ware needed to reach the general objective of each democratic society, that is, that all its members, including the members of minority groups, participate in and contribute to it actively. Citizenship means rights, fundamental freedoms, but it also implies obligations. In the end it means an involvement with society at large, next to a commitment to one’s own cultural group.

The new integration policies of my government are aiming at shared citizenship for old and for new members of society. Shared citizenship is the common backbone that enables peoples to come to a mutual understanding and at the same time also respectfully allow for the culture and lifestyles of others.

People have to be empowered to assume their role in society. The new integration policies therefore concentrate on the acquirement of the knowledge of the Dutch language, of basic values and of the most important institutions in our society. It has become obligatory for new migrants to acquire that knowledge. Education in minority languages is no longer a priority for the government, although it stands to reason that minority groups are free to provide for it themselves.

Cultural Apartheid will be discouraged. The government will be encouraging, however, those organizations that manage to reach out – despite cultural differences – in order to be more effective ! I am happy to notice, by the way, that education for democratic citizenship is already on the Council of Europe’s agenda!

As far as my government’s specific policies in the field of the Arts, Cultural Heritage and the Media, are concerned, they have always been strongly focussed on the promotion of diversity. This government will continue to promote plurality in cultural productions and marketing. Also the government will continue to further the cultural diverse composition of the management and personnel of cultural institutions.

At the same time the Culture Ministry is also set on broadening its scope and also focus more on integration and intercultural enrichment. Dutch Cultural Heritage, as the embodiment of a shared history and culture of our society, will play an important role. The knowledge of our country’s heritage is considered to be an essential element for mutual understanding, without which an intercultural dialogue will not take place.

Policies will continue to aim at stimulating audiences from different origins to experience the cultural expressions of other groups of society even more so than already had been the case before. Policies, however, will no longer specifically be targeting groups, such as “ethnic minorities” or “youth”. Instead the government policies will be aiming at doing justice to the much greater variety of lifestyles manifesting itself in our society than these rather large and too roughly defined categories could do.

So there has been a change in our policies: They have broadened! New migrants are also being asked to accommodate into their lives some of the basic characteristics of Dutch society. But at the same time their individual cultural characteristics will continue to be much valued.

The change is about better allowing for identities to develop in a dynamic way, and in so doing being better able to face new circumstances and a new future!