Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bevrijdingsdag 2011, a Dutch celebration

Today, the Netherlands are celebrating Bevrijdingsdag. Independence Day, Liberation Day, not sure how to translate it. On May 5 1945, the WWII ended for the Netherlands. The South, under the main rivers, had already been freed from the occupation by the Germans but the North had to go through one long, cold winter of cruelty, possession and what not by the German army. This winter in known as Hongerwinter, the winter of hunger, where people walked days on end hoping to find something to eat for them and their families.

This is no history class, today is Bevrijdingsdag. It's a national holiday but not a so-called bank holiday. For most people it's a working day. Schools are off during this period, most clerks are having the day off and there's a reasonable amount of people taking this day off. Because regardless, it's celebrated. There's 14 Bevrijdingsfestivals across the country, in every capital of the provinces one plus one in Amsterdam, with popular music, markets, speeches and what not and the theme is Freedom on the Streets.

It's been 66 years since the Germans left the Netherlands and by now most people have learned that the Germans who live in Germany today aren't such bad people after all (the hatred lies deep, personally not for me, my parents are both born and raised in Germany and my father has felt the cruelties of war as a little boy in Berlin. Mostly you really feel this in football). The day is very symbolic, it's a day to realise that freedom as we know it isn't a natural fact, as much as we like to think that. It should be, it just isn't. Since WWII, there hasn't been a day on this planet without a war at some place on Earth. Isn't that sad? There are places in the world where you can't say what you think, where you can't do what you want, where every day a bomb could explode in your neighbourhood, where you wonder while going home if your house is still standing and if your family is still alive. Unthinkable, but reality in the Netherlands also 70 years ago. It's nearly 71 years ago that my hometown of Rotterdam was bombed. Something to think about of you ever visit this city and awe the amazing modern architecture.

Freedom is respecting each other for what they do, think and who they are. Freedom is one of the most precious gifts in life. Are we free? Can we really do and say what we want? It's something to celebrate, year after year after year. I think it's important, to realise it's importance and that it's not a given. I'm really glad the Netherlands keeps doing this every year and that once again the question is raised whether this day to be a bank holiday again, not just once every 5 years, every year. So that every citizen can go out on the streets, celebrate with each other, is able to go to the (free) festivals in their own province (state).

I took the day off. I'm going to one of the festivals today. Granted, I chose to do that only because Kate Nash is coming, but it made me realise I probably should do this every year. Celebrating freedom. A life without fear. I wish we all could.