Do you feel free in the Netherlands?

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Bevrijdingsdag – Liberation Day in the Netherlands

The 5th of May is an important day in the history of the Netherlands. This day is called Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day).

Liberation Day is the national holiday on which the liberation of the German occupation in 1945 is celebrated. Central themes of the day are:

  • the values of freedom
  • democracy
  • human rights

This day is celebrated with different events all over the Netherlands.

What do the Dutch do on Liberation Day?

During the night of 4th to 5th May the fire of Liberation is lit on the 5 Mei Plein in Wageningen. And then several groups set off from this spot in order to take the flame all over the country. The arrival of the flame is the starting signal for many celebrations.

Ambassadors of freedom                      

Each year artists are appointed as “the ambassadors of freedom”. They travel by helicopter to festivals throughout the country. There is music and there are organizations present at the festivals that bring their work on these subjects.

Festivals all over the country

About one million people come to a Liberation festival every year to celebrate freedom. For years now, Zwolle, Haarlem, Groningen and Wageningen have attracted the most visitors. In addition to the major Liberation festivals, many other (smaller) festivals and events take place on 5 May.

5 May – Free day?

5 May has been declared an official holiday by the government, but it allows employers to decide whether their staff will be given the day off. Many companies say that employees can only take a day off on 5 May when it is a lustrum year, such as 2010, 2015 and 2020.

Anne Frank: a Dutch symbol                                                                    

Many foreigners think of Anne Frank, when they think about the Second World War in the Netherlands. 

And yes, she is really famous. The museum in Amsterdam, Het Anne Frank Huis, receives around 1.2 million visitors per year!

The book ‘The Dairy of Anne Frank’ is known all over the world. It has been translated into more than seventy languages and can be read or seen in countless forms. 

How did Anne Frank become so popular?

After the war, only the father of Anne Frank, survived from her family. He found her diary and in 1947, it was published. Initially, 3036 copies were printed.

The dairy was successively translated and published in German (1950), French (1950) and English (1952). In 1952, the English translation was also published in the United States. When the New York Times praised the book in a review, it instantly became a bestseller.

This was followed by Broadway and Hollywood productions, making it a real breakthrough among the general public.

In 2020 a web version appeared on You Tube, ‘the Anne Frank video diary’ in which Anne Frank’s story is told with the help of the camera. One of the things that makes it such a big success is that people from different backgrounds can identify with her story.

What does freedom look like in the Netherlands?

We asked the students from the BLC Summer School, who are from all over the world, what their experiences with freedom are in the Netherlands.

For most of the students in the video, freedom is about the Dutch attitude that says:

You can be whoever you want to be.

Or in other words: live and let live.                  

This attitude means that it encourages you to be what you are. People won’t look at you as if you are weird. The students feel that there are no judgments, with all kinds of people living together.

Not only is there a lot of freedom, but there are also a lot of rules in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a country that is well organized. But within these rules, there’s room for self-expression.

What effect does this attitude have on the students in the video?

What does it mean for foreigners living in the Netherlands?

For most of the students it is about acceptance.  In a lot of countries the freedom that the Dutch people experience doesn’t exist.  Some students in the video call it ‘the respect for each other’s space’. This means that the Dutch people are free in their opinions and everyone is encouraged to say what they want.

It feels like a tolerant country, for example for gay people. It is okay to walk around holding hands. Also respect for women in the Netherlands is greater than students experience in other parts of the world.

And this freedom in the Netherlands is ultimately important for your own personal development.

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School