The world will never be the same after this speech, he wrote to a friend after the controversial HJ Schoo lecture by D66 party leader Sigrid Kaag. ‘My intended irony seems to be becoming a bitter reality,’ writes Philip van Tin. ‘At least if you limit “the world” to the Netherlands.’
I remember exactly where I was when I was 9/11 the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. And also when the Kennedys (John and Bobby) were killed. But now I also know where I was at that other primordial moment when Sigrid Kaag gave her Brutus speech (I use the word ‘primordial’ to indicate that I am not from the street, just like Sigrid Kaag, although I have never had to make that vital choice between Oxford and Cambridge; eventually she ended up in Exeter).
Philip van Tijn
Philip van Tijn is a director, supervisor and advisor. He writes a weekly blog about current affairs.
I was sitting in the Rode Hoed, in the middle of the front balcony, and I not only heard the speaker (or would Mrs. Kaag prefer ‘speaker’ herself?) very sharply (more on that shortly) pronounce her requisition about the world, the Netherlands and Rutte, but also saw I her body language and those of the invitees in the first rows. On the back, yes, but a back can also speak, especially the broad back of Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus, who speaks volumes.
Rutte does not propose to Kaag
You could say it was a sensational speech. Afterwards, I texted a friend that the world would never be the same after this speech, but my intended irony seems to be becoming a bitter reality. At least if you limit ‘the world’ to the Netherlands. And that in itself contains irony, because it is precisely Sigrid Kaag who usually does not consider the Netherlands, but the world. Suddenly it is reported indiscreetly from various quarters that for almost three years she rarely took part in the deliberations in the Council of Ministers about all those national problems (if she was not already in Nizher) – until she was called to the party leadership.
Also last Monday evening, the world was measured by a foreign minister for whom our (and her) country is a postage stamp. But unfortunately she also wanted to settle a score and the HJ Schoo lecture is of course a unique opportunity for that, because all the spotlights are focused on this every year. HJA Hofland, once elected Journalist of the Century (the 20th), taught me a long time ago when I had written a razor-sharp piece against a well-known woman (to avoid misunderstanding: I have written many more sharp pieces against men) that it was a very was a nice piece, but that I had to be careful that the reader would think that I had lost her.
Would Kaag have walked out on Rutte? That makes sense during last Tuesday’s debate: ‘The plan is not to propose to Mrs. Kaag; that would cause all sorts of other problems’ extremely spicy. This was his answer to the question from Caroline van der Plas (BBB) whether the two politicians still trust each other.
Is Kaag ashamed of the words she speaks?
Sigrid Kaag has walked through the china shop like an elephant. There is no doubt about that. The only question is whether she made that walk intentionally or unintentionally. The next day she was not aware of any harm, but of course that doesn’t mean anything, because she has now made it crystal clear that she masters ‘the Hague games’ at least as well as her opponents.
I saw and heard from my privileged place someone who spoke at lightning speed, as if harboring the thought that people would not hear well. At least three times as fast as ever Hans van Mierlo, who just wanted every word to be heard and stimulated it with his bronze voice. Kaag, on the other hand, gave the impression that she didn’t really want to let you know exactly what she said, perhaps that she was embarrassed. Children do that too, for example when they say dirty words. The rest I leave to psychologists.
I also noticed something else. I heard at least four speeches, I mean I heard at least four different approaches to the themes. Clearly provided by different people with not quite identical views. Not crazy at all. How it works ghostwriting, but in the end, whoever speaks the speech is responsible for every word, every image. Rightly so. The task of the speaker is to bring some line, unity, into the amorphous whole. And that’s what it lacked: ripe and green, crown jewels of D66, fashionable terms, around the world in 41 minutes, everything in one heap, counterpointed by that sharp attack on Rutte, which in turn had been delivered by someone else.
‘Contributing to the promise of legend Van Mierlo’
The editor-in-chief of THAT ONE, Arendo Joustra, was the moderator. His first question to Kaag can safely be called naughty. You quoted Kennedy extensively and lauded, he pretty much said, and then went on to say, “Which D66 leader do you look up to?” The answer is again fodder for psychologists. ‘Mirror’ was not the right word for Kaag, because it goes like this: ‘I try not to disappoint; I hope that one day I can contribute to the promise of the legend Van Mierlo.’ A strange sentence and a strange image, but long-suffering as I am, I understand the meaning. But it is, apart from the pretended modesty, so symptomatic for Kaag: hitching a ride with the Great Leader, whom she has hardly known, as she has not known the Netherlands for most of her life.
Would she actually know that Van Mierlo once said ‘no’ to the offer to become secretary general of the Western European Union, because he wanted to pull his party out of the swamp? And that every insider in Brussels knows that Rutte only had to give a hoot to take on one of the two top positions in Brussels two years ago, but would rather continue to drink cups of coffee in The Hague – and run the country, of course? I don’t think so, because for someone who has been at the United Nations (UN) for twenty years and gives the impression that he would like to go back there again, something like that is unimaginable.
What transparency in The Hague, compared to New York!
‘A shining international career,’ everyone writes and repeats. But what exactly was that career? To my knowledge, no one has yet investigated this, as no one has pointed out that everything that Kaag has to say about ‘The Hague’ is exponentially present in New York (and elsewhere) at the UN. Have you ever heard of transparency at the UN, where not a single decision is taken that has not been agreed upon over coffee and glasses, where there are systematically many countries on the Human Rights Commission where such a concept does not even exist.
Strange that someone who has managed to thrive in that for twenty years, breaks the staff about ‘The Hague games’ and ‘a hustler without vision’. What is the vision of the UN Secretary General, other than keeping things a little bit together? In The Hague, these games are mainly played out in the open, under democratic control, and the players are accountable to parliament and to the voter. I admit that this is not always perfect, but at the same time I do not even know to whom a senior official at UNICEF or UNRWA (the two UN organizations where Sigrid Kaag was high in the tree) was held accountable.
You may hate Rutte, show that in retrospect it would have been better if she hadn’t come to the Netherlands, moan about the fact that the premiership is not thrown into her lap – you won’t hear me about it. But there are limits.
It must be a sign for her that she is being measured by prominent D66 members from prehistoric times, when D66 still had its ideals. Both Bert Bakker and Bob van den Bos, both prominent Members of Parliament for many years, wiped the floor these days with their leader and with the New Leadership, and that in NRC on de Volkskrant!
I was reminded of the old Jewish saying: “God save me from my friends, I’ll manage with my enemies myself.” Although I doubt the latter about Kaag.