Sunday, August 2, 2009

Polis: Amsterdam

One time, during the Concert for Bangladesh, Beatle George Harrison declared that the word "politics" must have come from the word "polite". Then someone more cynical remarked: no... the word "politics" actually comes from the word "police".

Those three words, politics, polite and police all find their root in the Greek word Polis, meaning city state. Polis as a political entity was ruled by its body of citizens --not by some kind of king. Polis in that sense is also the common bond between the citizenry. Together they figured the best way to exercise power, so that civilization is possible: the arts, the crafts, agriculture, medicine and the pursuit of knowledge and science. The politics oscillating between polite and police.

From visiting Amsterdam for a few weeks in the last month, I see the Netherlands going towards more 'polite', rather than more 'police' politics -- despite the failed assault on the queen and some unfortunate racial politics and the fundamentalist murder of Theo VanGogh, dutch artist and film maker. One may recall the death of Theo Van Gogh through Jihadist' hands which resulted in some racial tensions further aggrevated by the lingering influence of hate monger politician Geert Wilders --a glamourous blond dutch version of Donald Trump --a 'police politician' seeding hatred and division where-ever he goes.

Yet prisons are closing due to a lack of criminalization combined with very successful 'social engineering' which has led to a lack of criminals.
Pot is becoming again more of a 'neighborhood thing', rather than anything organized on a larger scale. Overall drug use is down --despite or perhaps thanks to the 'tolerance' policy towards pot, useage under teenagers has dropped from 14 to 10%.
Formerly military installations are transformed into artistic playgrounds. Theatre, hands on arts instruction, etc. they all find their home in former bunkers and a huge defunct airforce facility.
The Netherlands is greening energy wise with giant windmills, public transportation and bicycles everywhere, and in cities, you see sidewalks broken open to make room for gardens and plants --one of our favorites being giant climbing roses. Amsterdam itself blooms with urban gardens, no larger than a few tiles wide. Flowers, grapes, countless trees, bamboo, vegetables, you name it --I have never seen it this green since my birth there some eons ago.

In people everywhere you meet this unique combination of vitality and innocence in the Netherlands. On a dayly basis there are massive cookouts of families and friends in the parks. A tremendous peace seems to have descended.

To preserve this peace, racial relationships are dealt with in a very conscious manner, since in a country where there are growing minorities from a large variety of sources, including a large Islam contingent, there is always the potential of racial extremism --which once it starts is in almost every instance hard to calm down. Racial hatred goes through the ages, so it is better to prevent it from starting in the first place. How ? Let me give you a couple of examples of how they try in Amsterdam.

While in Amsterdam I attended what was billed as a 'roots' festival in the Oosterpark, my old 'hood'. That area is dominated by one of the cheapest daily central markets, with an incredible variety of foods, fish cheese etc, but you can also find more or less all your common needs there, such as clothing, toothpaste, etc. This market is frequented by a large variety of ethnicities and religions --almost always speaking dutch as well as other languages.

Anyhow: no expense is spared for the ROOTS EXPERIENCE. About 8 stages are scattered throughout the park and a large variety of world music
bands play from dawn deep into the night.
From African rythms, to gypsy chanting, an arab electronic oud band, schoolchildren from Suriname --all giving it their best while throngs of many thousands file by, snacking on a kebab, a roti, sushi or some Indonesian Nasi goreng.
Meanwhile the park is filled
with small folk art displays (for sale) and one can learn about green opportunities and volunteer organizations from all over the world, etc. Some of the people drink a mint tea and smoke a hookah under a tree (8 euros).
Only yards away the younger children have their own fun and spontaniously bath in one of the park's water elements.
Listen to the sound of the next generation here:

Of course the Roots event is heavily subsidized --like so many others it is free-- but the goodwill created between the people is immeasurable. As Lydia Popova a russian scientist once remarked: "We are connected by the beauty in this world". Strangely.... more than religion, more than science, it is beauty that we can recognize in each other's music, art and expression and in that deep way we find our common humanity.

Less than two weeks later, in the same Oosterpark there was an anti slavery manifestation. A large permanent anti slavery monument was unveiled and the dutch government offered its sincere apologies for some of the blackest pages in its history. In particular the history of the Surinam people was highlighted, who first came to South America as slaves and much later moved to the Netherlands as dutch citizens. Slavery where-ever practiced is dehumanizing and that is the core of its evil. The event again drew forth many different ethnicities, this time a lot of them in their traditional or indigenous dress. Reckoning with the reality of the collective history, allows each person to be more individuated (as Jung would say) --or: to be more themselves. In the monument the slaves walk through the winged gate of liberation:
The roots festival as well as the anti slavery manifestation are some of the many attempts to try to anchor the sense of ethnic pride into the dutch experience. Encourage communication --the Dutch talk incessantly with each other, encourage collectives --one rarely sees people walking alone on the streets. In the Dutch playbook the main tool here is to allow all people a stake in a common future. Encourage a sense of belonging: an exercise in teaching tolerance ever so subtle --through inner pride, respect and enjoyment of each others' cultural expression. The Dutch are becoming masters of 'social engineering': The polite politics of Polis.

Hope you enjoy this.
I will write some more articles on Polis, Politics and Police in the coming days, mainly based on my notes from Amsterdam.

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