Holland in 2014: A Cultured Nation


My colleagues at the humanities department of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) are facing a bloodshed: massive layoffs and the drastic reduction or closing down of entire programmes. Students and staff are united in protesting against the cutbacks, for the logic is as ever presented as an economic necessity without alternatives. For keeping up with the developments, there’s this facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/Humanitiesrally

Looking for media coverage, I couldn’t help but notice a striking and symptomatic pair of articles on the site of Het Parool, both published on 12 November: whereas one deals with the UvA protests, the other reports on a speech by Amsterdam’s alderwoman for culture, Kajsa Ollongren. Ollongren touts Amsterdam’s “cultural” potential, which is to says its potential for further economic growth through cultural tourism: “We have to create room for talents and the creative industry. I want the major museums to set the trend and become a magnet for talent. I’m hoping for a lot of new initiatives.” (My translation; the original doesn’t sound much better.) This is the “creative industries” ideology in a nutshell: produce meaningless rhetoric about “talent” while trying to bilk the rubes (pardon me, to attract tourists) with a limited and conservative palette of spectacularized “top culture,” and while striping down or even destroying institutions that actually preserve and generate cultural knowledge.

In the case of universities and other institutions, this destruction takes the form of a relentless financialization, with a highly paid managerial caste taking over and imposing the logic of financial derivatives on what used to be a public institution. An in-depth analysis of how this happened in the case of the UvA can be found here or here. While this takeover by finance capital is obviously far from limited to this country, Dutch academics so far seemed to be willing to put up with almost anything. It’s high time for those days (years, decades) to end.

Image: A still from Bregtje van der Haak’s terrific documentary Digital Amnesia showing the packing of books from the Royal Tropical Institute; this unique library was closed down and the collection was eventually shipped to Egypt, where the new Library of Alexandria was happy to receive it.