The Dutch constitution protects the freedom of speech and states that the central government is obliged to create adequate conditions for the cultural development of all citizens (see chapter 4.1.1). In the coalition agreement for 2017-2021 (Confidence in the Future), the current Dutch government stresses the importance of accessibility to the arts and culture: “[…] not just for those living in major cities, but throughout the country.” This widespread accessibility should be stimulated by an improved coordination between authorities on the national, provincial and local level.
The Cultural Policy Act (1993) states that the Minister of Culture is responsible for preserving, developing and disseminating cultural expressions (see chapter 1.1). In the policy letter Culture in an Open Society (March 12th 2018), Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven sets the cultural agenda for 2017-2021. Because every citizen has the right to cultural engagement (which is seen as an essential aspect of good citizenship), she formulates the following objectives in order to make culture more accessible:
- The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science will stimulate cultural engagement at a young age with additional resources for primary schools in order to visit museums and cultural heritage.
- The digital accessibility of heritage, archives and collections will be supported with extra investments.
- To reach a more diverse audience, and with that enlarge the cultural engagement of the Dutch citizens in general, pluriformity within the cultural field should be stimulated. There will be more attention for new generations and other art forms than solely the traditional.
There have been various national debates regarding the limits of the freedom of expression in the Netherlands. For example, the children’s feast of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) generates an ongoing social discussion on the controversial figure of Black Pete (Zwarte Piet). According to the opponents, Black Pete is a racial stereotype in the tradition of black facing and should be altered, while the proponents want to maintain this Dutch cultural tradition as it is. In 2016, the Dutch Ombudsman for Children concluded that the traditional figure of Black Pete can contribute to bullying, social exclusion or discrimination, which is in violation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although the Dutch government does not interfere in the discussion surrounding Black Pete, the Party for Freedom (PVV) – a right-wing populist party in the current opposition – unsuccessfully tried to legally protect the traditional Black Pete.
The leader of the PVV, Geert Wilders, also sparked a national debate regarding the (limits of) freedom of speech when he advocated for ‘less Moroccans’ in the Netherlands during a campaign meeting in 2014. A total of 6 400 Dutch citizens pressed charges against Wilders because they felt hurt or discriminated against. Wilders was prosecuted and found guilty of group insult and inciting discrimination, but the court decided not to impose a punishment. Besides the national government and the Ombudsman, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) is another important actor in terms of (albeit implicitly) monitoring cultural rights. The SCP is an independent government agency – formally connected to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport — that conducts academic research on the social and cultural wellbeing of the Dutch citizens.