Brian van der Poel
Brian van der Poel
Belief in a sense of community has returned to the political agenda, including Peter Omtzgut’s New Social Contract (NSC) and BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB). The new parties (relatively) believe in the resilience and participation of local communities, as stated in their election manifestos. “We expect citizens not only to point fingers at the government and at each other, but to roll up their sleeves,” the National Security Council says.
An example of this can be found at Vriescheloo in Groningen, where the village hall ‘t Ganzenust was threatened with closure. “Because it’s the only facility in our village, we on the village board said, ‘We can’t let this happen,'” says Board President Margaret Gobits.
Leaflets were distributed in the village calling for volunteers. Recruitment also took place online. Gobits: “We quickly heard back from 25 people. It was great, of course. But after a few months it became clear: finding volunteers is one thing, keeping them is another. Some people have dropped out since then.”
According to the municipality
The village hall is open every Friday afternoon and evening for fries and drinks, and there are also more and more activities during the week, Gobits says. The local shooting club and tin choir also use ‘t Ganzenust.
For the future of the village hall, the volunteers are counting on the municipality of Westerwold, the building’s owner. “They’re looking at what they want to do with municipal property,” Gobits says. “We’re in an old farmhouse and the power sign is Z.”
“There was always a sense of community.”
The municipality wants to keep the village hall open, says the head of the village council. “If it can’t be done in this building, then somewhere else. We’re a village with a population of nearly a thousand people, and they should be able to meet each other somewhere, right?”
Philosopher Gabriel van den Brink describes the citizens’ initiative in Frerichelo as one of many examples of community spirit in the Netherlands. He points to the millions of volunteers in the Netherlands, who are active in community centres, as informal caregivers or in sports clubs. “We really need to get rid of the idea that the Netherlands is made up of selfish people. There has always been a sense of community, but politicians have not always cared about it.”
At the same time, many (sporting) associations and institutions face a shortage of volunteers. According to Van den Brink, this is not necessarily due to a lack of participation. “If you ask people directly for help, they are often willing to do it. You just have to organize it.”
Van den Brink has seen a growing need for a sense of community in society for years, in response to decades of neoliberalism. The philosopher is “positively surprised” that the topic is now firmly on the political agenda, including in the NSC and the BBB, the two parties that emerge from the CDA. Communal thinking has traditionally played an important role in established Christian parties, such as the CDA and the Christian Union.
The BBB and NSC emphasize the importance of “regional identity” in their programs. For example, the BBB mentions the Achterhoek region, the Zaan region, and local traditions such as Easter bonfires, village fairs and carnival.
Van den Brink believes it is positive that political parties are talking about community spirit again, but warns that officials should not get in their way too much. “Don’t say from The Hague: This is how we’ll do it.” Van den Brink says this has gone wrong, for example, in the discussion about nitrogen emissions. “You can only retreat with farmers.”
Not back in time
Give people confidence, and according to the philosopher, beautiful things can arise. According to him, distrust towards citizens can lead to the opposite. “In the benefits issue, the basic rights of citizens have been violated due to lack of trust.”
Van den Brink also warns against too high expectations. “We have to abandon romantic ideas about the past. We cannot go back to the village communities of the past. But I see a lot of great initiatives spread across the country, which gives me hope.”
For example, there are citizens who want to save supermarkets threatened by closure, people who start a vegetable garden together, and there are initiatives to help people with limited means. Van den Brink. “I have a positive view of humanity, but I’m also a realist. You don’t go from a very individualistic country to a society where people do everything together again. That takes time and space.”
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