Interview: Ambassador Henne SchuwerArticle by Gerald van Wilgen
His Excellency Henne Schuwer, the newly appointed Ambassador of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the USA, pleads for more involvement of the Dutch, even if it’s just responding to the embassy’s Facebook page. “Let’s start a dialogue,” he said enthusiastically. We met at the modern Dutch Embassy in Washington, DC.
You lived in DC from 1997 until 2002. Has much changed?
The quality of life in the city has improved very much. The two political parties have become more polarized. The Dutch community is more or less the same, but we now have a thriving Dutch Congressional Caucus.
What is that?
This is a large group of elected officials who share their interest in Dutch identity. They help us get our point across on Capitol Hill. It’s actually a fairly popular Caucus, congressmen sign up voluntarily, even if they are only partly Dutch. The chairperson is Congressman Bill Huizenga from the 2nd District in Michigan.
The tolerant image of The Netherlands has been under stress after the rise of anti-immigration and anti-Islamist parties. Is that a concern?
I think we still have the image of a tolerant nation. It’s a bit of a paradox. The fact that we have anti-Islamist parties is also a sign of tolerance. We tolerate them to have a place in our parliament. What is important to explain here is that everybody can speak their minds as long as they are within the boundaries of the law. I think that the average man on the street is still relatively tolerant.
On the other hand, the image of Holland in places like Pella and Orange, Iowa for instance is romanticized; tulip festivals, wooden shoes, windmills…
We think it’s a wonderful image, but we don’t cultivate it because there is so much more. When I talk to them, I would explain that there is another Netherlands which still has some of the essential values that created those traditions. We have progressed since then, and we now also have an image of modern design and a high-tech industry.
Can we speak of a Dutch Diaspora?
There are big pockets of Dutch in California, very many of them came from Indonesia when it was still the Dutch Indies. About half a million people from Dutch origin live in Michigan. You have seen it with the royal visit; everybody comes out, there’s a real connection there.
Many Dutch have dispersed over the world the last decades. There are at least 700,000 Dutch living abroad who are eligible to vote.
Unfortunately they do not vote. They should get involved and vote.
Do you think that if ‘we’ vote we actually gain some influence in The Hague?
If you have a vote, you have a say. If you would accumulate all votes, you would have a sizable representation in the Dutch parliament.
Is it part of your mission to maintain connections with all Dutch communities in the US?
Everybody who has a Dutch passport is part of my mission. I represent them, and I have to look after them, which you shouldn’t take too literally. If you no longer have a Dutch passport you are still of interest to us. If you have a good recollection of The Netherlands, and if you are willing to share that idea with others, you are an ambassador of The Netherlands as well – and we have quite a lot of them. That is very important for our image building.
How do you maintain contact?
We have an active Facebook page and would love to hear from people. We want to have a dialogue about all things Dutch. If you post on our page, we will surely respond. In addition, we also want to develop a conversation with the American public: what binds us, which interests do we share?
Do you have any personal plans while in the US?
My wife and I would love to see Alaska, Wyoming and Montana. We have never been there, and we hear it’s spectacular.
Find the ambassador on Facebook: NlintheUSA
And on Twitter: @HenneSchuwer
Short URL: http://www.mokeham.com/dutchthemag/?p=20404