Dutch History for the non-Dutch

(Part 6) Interbellum (1917 - 1940)

The interbellum were difficult and confusing years for the Dutch government. Germany had lost WW1 and the Netherlands had maintained its neutrality, unlike Belgium which was occupied by the Germans. Despite of the neutrality, Dutch shipping had suffered from the war, mostly from Germans U-boats. Events in the east were watched with a weary eye.

The Mistake of Troelstra (1918)

As revolutions took place in Russia and later also in Germany, many Dutch socialists, communists and social democrats were initially delighted. Troelstra a barrister who intially worked in the province of Friesland and who became the leader of the social democratic party even predicted that the revolution wouldn't stop at the borders. The SDAP or Social democratic workers party was the forerunner of the modern PvdA paty of the labour, or in short labour. Troelstra was wrong! Some people however were anxious and reckoned he might be right afterall, including then queen Wilhelmina. This mistake cost the social democrats dearly and they would be kept out of any government coalition for years to come. Not until 1939 would the Netherlands see a government with labour in it.

Universal Suffrage (1917 - 1919)

The Netherlands were late to introduce universal suffrage. The sufragette movement was never that powerful as in the neighbouring countries. Though they did exist. Aletta jacobs is the most famous Dutch supporter of womens rights and she is the first female doctor in the Netherlands to graduate from University. There are a few reasons for that lack of power. The Netherlands remained neutral so the fallacy that if women had the vote, there would be few future wars didn't meet with much support in the Netherlands. The Netherlands were still comparatively poor, so there wasn't much of a demand for a bigger workforce, that meant women more often stayed at home. A tradition that still hasn't been fully broken in all areas of the Netherlands. The Netherlands didn't fight in WW1, so not many men were drafted into the army to fight. That meant factories didn't require women to fill any job vacancies. Eventually though the vote did become universal, but this had more to do with political negiotiations between opposition parties and government parties than due to any pressure from the suffragette movement. Most of the political will came from the social democrats and some liberals, but the fact that this took so long may have had more to do due to personal reasons than due to lack of political will within the social democratic party. One of the fiercest advocates of women rights was Sjoukje Bokma de Boer. She wrote many children books under the pseudonym of Nynke van Hichtum. She was the wife of Pieter Jelles Troelstra. Their marriage was strained and eventually they divorced in 1904, when it became apparent that Troelstra had had an affair.

Dutch Neutrality

The Netherlands remained neutral during WW1 and although about a million Belgian refugees fled to the Netherlands during that war, most Dutch citizens were unaware of the threats the Kaiser had made to the Dutch State. Although the Kaiser had threatened to invade the Netherlands in WW1, this threat never worked and was never sought through. The Dutch regent-Queen Emma, the mother of Queen Wilhelmina had good diplomatic relations with the Austrian Emperor (Austria was an ally of Germany) and they managed to persuade the Kaiser not to invade the Netherlands. Although Kaiser Wilhelm did boast about the height of his soldiers compaired to the short Dutch soldiers, this threat failed him, when Wilhelmina replied that "the German soldiers may be 2 meters high, but when we open our sluices and when we destroy our dikes, the water will be 3 meters high". These talks only became public, years later after the German Kaiser died in the Netherlands. The fact that this threat never became public until much later is made evident by the fact that when the Weimar Republic emerged in Germany and overthrew the German Empire in the revolution, the German Kaiser was actually forced to flee abroad and he went into exile in the Netherlands, where he spent the rest of his days chopping wood on his estate in Amerongen. The reason that this was kept secret for so long is because the Dutch diplomats had learned their lessons from the events with the King of France in the "revensement des alliances" (remember part 4).

The Great Depression (1929)

Germany's war reparations, increased borrowing amongst investors and an insuffucient control of banks, lead to a credit crisis in the United States and eventually to a stock exhange crash in 1929. At first the Netherlands came out relatively unscathed from the crisis, but when the crisis became a longterm recession, international trade slumped and this hit the Netherlands hard. Many governments of various countries resorted to protectionst measures to protect their interests and to win the publics favor for the next elections. It only worsened the situation, particularly for the Netherlands and Germany. The actions of the Dutch government also didn't help much, because the social democrats had been left out of any government coalitions, the only obvious coalition was a right-wing or conservative coalition. This conservative government increasignly resorted to more cutbacks, which only served to increase unemployment. Riots erupted in the cities like the Hague and Rotterdam where people had tore open the pavement and had resorted to throwing bricks and tiles at the police. Frustration ran high and nationalistic movements, like the NSB (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging, National Socialist Movement), won a lot of votes in subsequent elections.

However where this Dutch conservative government failed economally, it actually functioned in legal matters. The constitution was amended and new laws were enacted that successfully managed to halt the progress of right extremists parties like the Nederlandse Unie (Dutch Union) and the National Socialist Movement. The most successful of those laws was probably the amendment on article 3 of the constitution. This meant that government officials could be fired if they were members of these rights extremist parties. With unemployment already very high, many dared not offer their support for fear of losing their job. State administration was improved significantly and the Netherlands were the first country with a modern county base administration, it tracked everything, where people lived, when and where they were born, how many members the household had, what their religion was and so on. Unfortuntely that modern state administration and bureaucracy would lead to much headache for many Dutch citizens in later years. As is true for any invention or tool, it can be both used and abused.

By the late thirties the economy was slowly but steadily recovering. However for Germany it was an entirely different matter. Hitler rose to power in 1933 and his quest for domination and extermination would lead to the most serious threat for the existance of the Netherlands and its people since the Eighty Years War.

Continue to PART 7