May 5th is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. It is celebrated every year to mark the end of the occupation of the country from the Nazi Germany in World War II. Prior to that day, May 4th, is the Remembrance of the Dead day. It is not a public holiday but at 8pm, a two-minute nationwide silence is observed to pay tribute to the Dutch civilians and resistance fighters in the Second World War.
I could not have imagined so much power, so much emotion in those two minutes of silence which has a lot of meaning for this nation. Day before yesterday, at 8pm, traffic and public transport stopped for those two minutes across the whole country. The main ceremony, held in the main square of Amsterdam was attended by almost 20,000 people. This ceremony is attended by the royal family and the members of parliament. The striking thing for me was this huge crowd of voluntarily present ordinary Dutch citizens to mark this moment.
The veterans of war, who could barely stand were present there as well. The people who were present there were ordinary citizens, solely driven by a national spirit to be there. It was not a display of military might either. There were people of all ages, women and children, young and old and no one was ordered to be there, no government school or college students were ordered to be present there, they were all there because of a feeling for their country. For some time, it was hard to believe that patriotism can exist and in all its simplicity.
The people, who were present there, are not affected by the world war directly. It is something they read about in books or watch on TV in documentaries. The war veterans are long dead or are too old and weak to participate in public life. The Netherlands bears no sign of any bombardments anymore and it is a very prosperous country. But still, they were present there to pay tribute to their countrymen who died for the country. The Queen and rest of the royal family wore black as if they were attending the funeral of someone who has recently passed away. The common and the elite, stood together sharing the sorrow and it was clear that they had not forgotten the sacrifices of their countrymen. It was hard to believe that they were commemorating the dead who passed away almost 72 years ago. There was a deep sense of belonging.
Although, the country looks nothing like there has ever been a war here, or if there were ever any signs of poverty and deprivation but the people of the country have not forgotten the sacrifices of their countrymen who made it possible for Netherlands to be where they are today. The two minute silence engulfed the whole country: traffic stopped, public transport stopped, the huge crowd was completely silence. There was a strange beauty in the act which I am struggling to give words to. This display of national solidarity was much powerful than a display of arms and guns. The people, who had gathered there, came there with a deep responsibility towards their nation. It was at that moment, I could see all the “secrets” of success of the nation’s prosperity – the destiny of the nation lies in its people, its ordinary citizens.
There is much debate about budget cuts and austerity measures in Europe right now. Most of Europe sits on socialist ideals and the size of the governments are huge. These austerity measures means an end to most state received benefits, and jobs and an increase in taxation. It affects the daily life of an average European citizen and therefore the protests and falling of governments that we see is very understandable. But again, I would like to bring to light the sense of responsibility towards their country among the ordinary Dutch. According to some calculations, the upcoming budget cuts for the average Dutch household would mean an increase of almost 15 Euro monthly. Upon hearing this, the disappointed reaction of one person was, “only this much is my contribution in saving the national economy”. Here was a man, who is in his 30s, who does not receive any state benefits and happily gives away 40 per cent of his income in taxes every month and he still believes his share is too little in saving his nation’s fate.
It is true that the leaders of the country have a responsibility as well but choosing them and being honest themselves is the responsibility of the common man. A nation’s leaders come from within us; they are a reflection of us and our beliefs. It is not possible to blame them or to compare them to other prosperous nations when we ourselves are not being responsible to our country. This makes me recall a verse from Iqbal in which he says har shaks hai millat kay muqadar ka sitara!
The writer is doing a doctorate in institutional economics from the Netherlands.