Ever since Máxima proclaimed, in 2007, that there is no such thing as a Dutch identity, politicians, scientists and opinion leaders have been pondering the Dutch identity conundrum. What does it entail?
The answer can be captured in one word: hollancination, or the use of the regional name ‘Holland’ as a synonym for the Netherlands, and the presentation of ‘Hollandse’ culture as Dutch culture. It is a metaphor of sorts, a metonymy, which is widely accepted but incorrect. Holland is not the Netherlands. And although to many people the word Holland causes a flutter of national pride, it is literally a false sentiment.
Hollancination is singing ‘Hup Holland hup’ (Go Holland) when the Dutch national squad is playing, the HEMA selling strawberries from Brabant as ‘Hollandse aardbeien’ and the Dutch tourist bureau calling its website Holland.com. Hollancination is everywhere, but its main outlet is the media and television in particular.
The RTL programme Ik hou van Holland (I love Holland) is hollancination at its worst. It has even been decribed as the ‘resurrection of Dutch national pride’. Nowhere is Dutch culture presented as ‘Hollands’ as flagrantly and haphazardly as in this long-running programme.
The set, for instance. It is comprised of quintessential Holland symbols (apart from the Holstein cows which are an American breed): fat yellow cheeses from Gouda, tulips from the provinces of West Friesland and South Holland and polder windmills. There’s also a street organ which is mainly an Amsterdam – and so a ‘Hollands’ – phenomenon. The question is why, in this welter of Hollandness, the national flag has pride of place.
Team captains Jeroen van Koningsbrugge and Guus Meeuwis – they don’t come much more ‘Brabants’ than that – are perfectly at ease in Holland land. They are the intermediaries who make the non-Holland Dutch person identify with the programme. At the same time, their fame makes them acceptable to the Holland part of the audience.
The effect of this strategy is that viewers of this programme, no matter where they’re from, are increasingly confused about the difference between what is ‘Hollands’ and what is Dutch.
This programme is not the only example of hollancination. Heel Holland Bakt (The Holland Bake-Off) and Holland’s Got Talent also fit the bill. Television plays a special role in the hollancination process. It connects the private domain with the hollandised perspective of the Netherlands. It’s a subtle but effective kind of Holland framing.
The hollancination phenomenon is completely unique in Europe. No other country uses the name of a region to refer to the country as a whole.
So what does hollancination have to do with Dutch identity? It’s like this. Every society has a dominant culture and a number of regional subcultures. But the Netherlands is unique in that the dominant Holland culture is claiming to be the national culture. Many a Hollander thinks this is as it should be and the majority of people living in the non-Holland provinces don’t mind either.
The complete lack of any resistance against hollancination is in itself typically Dutch. The facile acceptance of a factually wrong self-image lies at the heart of the Dutch identity which is divers and complex but most of all, something it’s not.