SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - “My people, mijn volk, mi pueblo, myn minsken, I have been elected into office to protect our heritage and defend you from them”. Surely this sounds familiar. You have heard it in one or more of the four official political languages of our Kingdom of the Netherlands—English, Dutch, Papiamento, and Frisian.
Like it or not, these days heritage is explicitly being wedded to formal politics. As is the case in the four corners of the globe, political elites throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands are claiming to be the guardians of heritage. By defending our heritage elected officials and aspirant ministers and members of parliament bellow in every public presentation that they are supposedly protecting our imperiled way of life, our honor, identity and collective survival. The protection “from whom” (the them) question needs to be preceded by the query of what exactly is our heritage?
If heritage is a name for our collective inheritance, is there such a thing as a Kingdom heritage? Or is it wiser to be precise and namely ask, for instance, what is the heritage of Sint Maarten? Or should the question be St. Martin heritage as a Caribbean expression (given that the island consists of a Northern/ French and Southern/Dutch side in the sea of isles where the Gulf Stream originates)?
And extrapolating should questioning the heritage of the Netherlands not also be about Europe, since that is where that constituent state is located? Alternatively given that all constituent states in the Kingdom are ethnically diverse—you encounter expressions and ideas you can also come across in Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Venezuela, Colombia, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Morocco, Canada, the United States of America, France, Poland, Hungary, India, Israel, Lebanon, China, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana, etc., here—and heritage is not the same thing as exclusivist nationalism, should we not also critically cherish the multiple heritages of the old-and newcomers that inhabit our trans-Atlantic federation?
Most political leaders in office will disagree. The flavor seems to be one of favoring the narrowest definition of heritage. Understandable, given that all formal politics is local. If you are elected on Sint Maarten or say the Netherlands it is from the electorate of these specific constituent states that you receive your vote of confidence or non-confidence.
It is a public secret that in all parts of the Kingdom many are hurting economically, many are uneasy with the emerging multicultural realities, and as a result many are weary about the future. Can those who aspire or crave political power ignore this! The opportunist air that Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, and Le Pen breathe is not so different from that which our main political leaders inhale and exhale.
When times are hard, and austerity is the name of the game, a scapegoat needs to be found. Whether it be the political leaders of another constituent state within the Kingdom that are accused of being neocolonial or kleptocrats, newcomers that are supposedly taking all the jobs and eroding the moral fabric of society, or fellow Dutch citizens who migrated from another part of the federation that are labeled racists or lazy, someone else is blamed for the state not fulfilling its obligation to redistribute. A “They” supposedly stealing our heritage is always assigned to blind the symbolic or demographic majority within the particular constituent states of our Kingdom.
The counter-remedy ought to be a refusal to scapegoat by radically uncoupling heritage from exclusive nationalism. The admittedly imperfect creed that markets distribute while states ideally redistribute ought to be common consciousness throughout the Kingdom.
This article of faith ought to be understood as the reason for the existence of government in liberal democracies such as ours. The redistributive function of the state is to enable the working poor and their offspring to improve their economic situation, minimize inequalities between classes, and encourage public debates and programs that hopefully lead to more acceptance of diverse ways of livings.
If what you have read makes some sense to you, should we not summon our elected representatives throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be defenders of our socio-economic, civil, and human rights? Isn’t this the common heritage that we should cherish most in these trying times?
Dr. Francio Guadeloupe, President of the University of St. Martin/Lecturer & Researcher at the University of Amsterdam.
Dr. Adnan Hossain, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Amsterdam.
Dr. Ester Alake Tuenter, Lecturer & Researcher at the Iselinge University of Applied Sciences.
Dr. Tine Davids, Lecturer & Researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen.
Drs. Erwin Wolthuis, Division Head at the University of St. Martin/PhD candidate at Walden University.
Drs. Jordi Halfman, Guest Lecturer at the University of St. Martin & PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam.
Drs. Khadija al Mourabit, Exchange Officer (International Office GSSS), University of Amsterdam.
Drs. Gregory Richardson, Lecturer at the Instituto Pedagogico Arubano/PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Drs. Sharelly Emanuelson, Director of UNIARTE Curaçao.
Drs. Tamara Keers, KU Leuven.
Mr. Josue Ferrol, Coordinator of the pre-USM program at the University of St. Martin.
Mr. Pedro de Weever, Chief Editor of the Commentaries Journal of the University of St. Martin.
Mrs. Oldine Bryson-Panthophlet, Chair of the SER Sint Maarten.
Mr. Gerard Richardson, Secretary General SER Sint Maarten.
Mrs. Lorraine Talmi, President of the Sint Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association.
Mrs. Sharine Allamby-Duncan, policy maker Culture Department, Sint Maarten.