Paddy power and Dutch courage
“The global success of St Patrick's Day is remarkable. Especially if you consider that no more is known about the Saint himself than about oh, let's say the Geert Wilders film Fitna.” – column by Perro de Jong.
As you read this, you may have painted your face green, donned a leprechaun hat, and be feeling woozy from drinking too much Guinness. All to mark St Patrick's Day. Or week. Or month.
If you're Irish, that's likely to be the case. But even if you're on the other side of the world and have no Irish ancestry, there's always a Paddy's Day celebration somewhere that you're welcome to join.
I can think of no other country that's managed to turn its national celebration into something so open to - and enjoyed by - the rest of the world. No wonder big neighbour Britain's feeling jealous.
A report was unveiled in London a couple of days ago, calling for a new holiday to celebrate the glories of Britishness. For the benefit of immigrants, it's even to include an oath of allegiance. Which I'm sure will go down a treat with Northern Ireland's long suffering Catholics and the supposedly devolved Scots.
Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond dismissed the plan as taking a "Basil Fawlty approach" to citizenship. For anyone not familiar with that glorious bit of Britishness, it mostly involves clobbering people over the head while at the same time being utterly useless.
Well, Mr Salmond should come to the Netherlands. An oath of allegiance to the Dutch flag may still be a twinkle in Geert Wilders' eye, but otherwise we already have our day of citizenship. Inspired not so much by Fawlty Towers as by Mickey Mouse.
The Mickey Mouse approach to citizenship involves picking an appropriately historic date - let's say the day in 1815 when the Netherlands got its constitution - only to find a couple of years later that nobody bothers to show up, because it's in the middle of summer and even asylum seekers are busy working on their tan.
What do you do? Well, you rack your brains for an alternative and come up with December. Convenient, as people have to stay home for their Christmas shopping. But what to celebrate? Hmm. Well how's this for a stroke of genius? You pick the day in 1954 when the Netherlands gave autonomy to its overseas colonies.
Sounds more like an 'uncitizenship' day if you ask me. Kind of like if Britain decided all of a sudden to celebrate its new Day of Britishness on the anniversary of the Irish Free State...
Ethnic street cred
So why, then, are the Irish getting away with something that both the Brits and the Dutch are evidently even worse at than keeping their football supporters on opposite sides of the stadium?
I reckon it's to do with the fact that especially in the US, claiming to have Irish roots is now the safe way of cultivating ethnic street cred without having to give up being white and middle class or needing to adopt a funny accent. Well, apart from the odd outburst of 'begorrah' and 'top o'the morning'.
Still, the global success of St Patrick's Day is remarkable. Especially if you consider that no more is known about the Saint himself than about oh, let's say the Geert Wilders film Fitna. Even the date of March the 17th is disputed by historians and theologians. Then again, what better way to make the point that national identity should not be something static and exclusive but a moveable feast?
Of course we shouldn't forget that it took a lethal famine and a diaspora of millions for the Irish to get where they are today. I'm not sure Dutch history - with its surfeit of slavery, oppression and apartheid - could compete. Neither could British history of course. But the smaller the country, it seems, the bigger its need to be liked. Like a cute little puppy on the world stage...
Well, at least that is one complex that Geert Wilders could finally cure us of. As the whole country braces itself for a wave of anti-Dutch fallout over a film that probably no more violates Dutch law than an average episode of the X-Factor - and which I suspect will turn out to be just as intellectually challenging - we'd better start showing some teeth.
Before they came to be the world's favourite mascot, the Irish were known as the Fighting Irish because of their fondness for taking a shilleleagh to their opponents' skulls. Maybe if we asked nicely we could take over that old nickname. The 'Fighting Dutch': I think I like it.
15 March 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]