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How proud are young people of national history?

Native youth and those of immigrant background find country of residence important

Despite their various backgrounds, cultures and religions Western European youth think the country in which they live is important. Especially native young people feel a connection with history, and boys more so than girls.

This has emerged from the WRR study Nationale Identiteit en meervoudig verleden (National identity and multiple pasts) from professor Maria Grever and Dr Kees Ribbens of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Grever and Ribbens asked more than 650 students aged 14 to 18 in Rotterdam, London and Lille to what extent they identify with the country in which they live. What role does national history play in this? The study is published today, Monday 24 September 2007.

Western government leaders talk regularly about the crisis of national identity in their countries. They see the lack of historical knowledge as a driving factor behind this. Dutch young people for instance no longer know who William of Orange is and why Surinamese people have emigrated to the Netherlands. Politicians also think that the integration of newcomers is progressing slowly because it is unclear what “being Dutch” exactly involves. They hope to improve this by introducing a national canon. But is this vision accurate? Is the government not overlooking the enormous diversity of the past and the changeability of social identities?

Grever and Ribbens investigated to what degree Dutch, British and French students aged 14 to 18 identify with their country of residence. They started with the assumption that there is not only one past, but that from generation to generation people pass on all sorts of cultural codes that continue to have an effect for a long time via stories and memories. The researchers looked into what national identity means to the youth. Despite the diversity of backgrounds they all find their country of residence important, though this applies more strongly for native youth than for those of immigrant background. The difference in commitment is also the case with regard to historical interest. Historical connection with the country of residence – like national pride – is primarily alive among native youth. That is not surprising, though native girls have less a feeling of “national pride” than boys.

The differences are greatest when it comes to religion. History of religion scored the highest among many ethnic groups, with the exception of the Surinamese and Antillean youth. Native youth have hardly any identification with this, though Dutch youth did have more interest in it than their English and French peers. Turkish and especially Moroccan youth have a strong cultural identification with Islam. It is conspicuous that although the groups surveyed hardly feel themselves to be European or world citizens, they are interested in European history and world history especially.

The WRR study Nationale Identiteit en meervoudig verleden will appear on Monday 24 September 2007. It supports the WRR report Identificatie met Nederland (Identification with the Netherlands) that professor Pauline Meurs will present to Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin, in the presence of Princess Maxima, on behalf of the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) on the same day.

Yvette Nelen | alfa
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