The aspirations of a country “under” water
The Netherlands is a small European democracy bordered by Belgium, Germany and, most importantly, the North Sea. The country is physically, culturally and politically shaped by the ever present water, as something to fear and exploit. Against this backdrop, I will describe the fundamental rights enshrined in the Dutch constitution: not article by article, but by telling what the Netherlands aspires to be.
The Dutch feel strongly about the freedom to do, express and believe whatever they want. As long as you cause no (physical) harm to others, a lot is on the table. Live and let live, is of the essence when every pair of hands is as good as any other to avert catastrophe, like a flood.
What is harmful to the Dutch? The body is sacrosanct. Moving freely cannot be restricted. One’s home is off-limits. And communications are private. The Dutch expect privacy.
Protecting the country against the water instilled a strong sense of cooperation, compromise and consensus in the Dutch. And they like to gather for other occasions too, like fun, sports, politics and so on. Uniting behind a common goal, whether winning an amateur football league, opposing the government or battling rising water levels, is what the Dutch do. Perfecting public policy, to have the best odds in a dangerous place, means opinions are welcomed from individuals and groups, if they are expressed responsibly.
Beware though. The Dutch are law-abiding and the law assures that liberties awarded to one, are reasonable and fair to others.
Liberties cannot be overextended, because Dutch are equal; even “flat” sometimes. The fight against the water is the grand equalizer: we all get wet feet together, or work together to stay dry. Public service is (obviously) open to anyone, and everyone can be involved, as a voter or by contacting government. Discrimination is not allowed, not of any kind.
The Netherlands are governed by the rule of law. Everyone has access to a lawyer and judge when needed. Any act is only punishable when the law says so, at the time of the act, and not afterwards.
The Dutch favor clarity when it comes to who is Dutch, who can become Dutch, and how the Netherlands deals with foreigners. In the struggle against the water, it is important to know who you can and cannot rely on.
Property is sacred. Unless the common good demands it and the lost property is repaid. It is in everyone’s interest, the common good, to protect property from the water.
Lastly, when the dykes finally keep the Dutch dry, the Dutch expect their government to be concerned with:
- a good livelihood for everyone, and the distribution of wealth;
- free, safe and secure employment opportunities for everyone;
- a livable country with sufficient housing and room for leisure;
- protection and improvement of the environment;
- evolution of culture and society;
- promoting the quality of and access to health and education.
The above is a personal interpretation of the first chapter of the Dutch constitution against a backdrop of living with the water.