Opinion: Downright scary

POSTED: 03/11/14 12:10 AM

Ahw… touchy, touchy. The liberal VVD hit a nerve in Rotterdam by distributing posters with the text: “In Rotterdam spreken we Nederlands” (In Rotterdam we speak Dutch).  If you think only people in the Caribbean are quick screaming discrimination think again. The VVD-poster triggered the same reaction.

The message the local chapter of the VVD wants to communicate is clear. Local party leader Jeannette Baljeu: “People who want to live in Rotterdam have to learn to speak Dutch.”

That is             quite a statement and we wonder where Baljeu finds the authority to make it. Of course, it will do as an opinion – fine. If the VVD finds that people living in the largest seaport in Europe all have to speak Dutch, we wish the party a lot of success. In the meantime, we figure that the language we speak is a bit like the sexual orientation we choose, the church we prefer to visit, or the sport we declare to be our favorite. It is a personal choice.

One cannot force people to speak a certain language, to drink a certain brand of beer or to fall in love only with people with blond hair and blue eyes. The idea behind this philosophy is, as history shows, downright scary.

Had the poster read something like: If you live in Rotterdam, speaking Dutch has a lot of advantages the VVD would have changed the perspective from negative to positive. Alas, such is not the way of thinking among Dutch liberals.

Of course speaking Dutch makes life a lot easier when you live in the Netherlands, it will open up more job opportunities, it will enable people to communicate more freely with their local environment. In spite of this, we would argue that people are free not to speak Dutch, not to learn a language that is spoken by just 28 million people around the world. On a world population of around 7 billion – give or take a couple of million – that is just 0.4 percent. In other words, around the world people who do not speak Dutch will be all right 99.6 percent of the time.

Nobody will argue against the concept that if someone chooses to live in a certain country –say, China, Greece or Japan – she or he will benefit tremendously from speaking the local lingo. In Tokyo you are getting nowhere on the public transportation system if you are unable to decipher the name of the stations. You would be perpetually at the mercy of helpful Japanese. There are plenty of those people around willing to help, but that is not the point. Not speaking or at least having a basic understanding of a foreign language puts people at a distinct disadvantage.

Choosing not to learn a language is therefore equal to doing oneself a disservice. There is nothing wrong with that, though we would much prefer to keep the upper hand so that we are able to tell people like Jeanette Baljeu to get a life and to stop interfering in a rude way with the freedom to choose your own fate. It is, to say the least, quite a remarkable position for a party that calls itself liberal in the European sense of the word.


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