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The divided Netherlands | Sjoerd Beugelsdijk on polarization

How a perfect storm threatens to break up a small country (and what we can do about it)
07 September 2021
The Divided Netherlands

From Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’) to the coronavirus, from immigration to education, and from farmers and nitrogen to the housing market: the Netherlands is increasingly becoming polarized. In every debate, the standpoints seem to be growing further apart – and also to be proclaimed louder and louder. Our country seems to have broken apart into vastly separated camps that fire verbal hand grenades at one another from the safety of their own social media bubbles. Where has the country of tolerance and compromise gone? How will we ever unite with one another again?

Sjoerd Beugelsdijk, Professor of International Business at the University of Groningen, has been conducting research into the deeper-lying causes of such increasing polarization for a number of years. In his popular academic book De verdeelde Nederlanden (‘The Divided Netherlands’), Beugelsdijk shows that our country has landed itself in a ‘perfect storm’: globalization and individualization have led to strongly differing visions on identity. Who actually are ‘we’, people ask themselves? But this search just leads to more polarization. While one person wishes to safeguard national symbols and traditions, the other begins to doubt them. The result: a rising extreme-right, ‘cancel culture’, and a visibly disappearing centre.

Is torn America our future? According to Beugelsdijk, it doesn’t have to go that far. In De verdeelde Nederlanden, on the basis of the latest research and with countless examples, he clearly shows that the problems will not disappear by themselves. At the same time, he explains how the serious waves can be curbed and how dialogue can begin again.

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Last modified:07 September 2021 11.52 a.m.
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