We citizens of the world would like to be allowed to travel wherever we like and to live where we choose.
By filling in a form and forking out for a visa now and then, we’re able to do pretty much just that.
Others are not so fortunate. By accident of birth, many are condemned to live in places they would prefer to leave. Places which are dangerous to life, health and liberty. Places which condemn their families to generations of powerlessness and poverty.
Which is why a citizenship ceremony is an important, joyful and humbling occasion.
Australia, being a nation almost entirely composed of recent immigrants and their descendants, has long allowed its citizens to hold dual nationality. Worldwide, there are nearly as many descendants of Dutch emigrants as of Dutch residents, (more than five million Americans, for starters, claim Dutch ancestry, as do five million South Africans, a million Canadians and 300,000 Australians) yet their citizenship laws have been stricter.
After more than twenty years living in Australia Mevrouw T, who wisely would never renounce her Dutch citizenship, was allowed to keep it while also becoming an Australian. Yesterday it was the turn of our son, taking advantage of a recently-opened window of opportunity and becoming a citizen of the Netherlands.
He faithfully practised the oath of allegiance, using his mother’s recording on the mobile phone to get his tongue around tricky words like ‘staatsburgerschap’ (citizenship) and ‘koningrijk’ (kingdom). Then he took his turn at reciting it, joining ten others and their guests, around the table decorated with artificial tulips and speculaas cookies (a Dutch contribution to English, incidentally, ‘koek’ being ‘cake’) and King Willem Alexander staring seriously from the wall.
The room’s wide windows took every advantage of the view to Sydney Harbour.
We applauded each new Netherlander as they received their certificate and shook the consul’s hand. Tears were shed.
I know, I know. Nations are merely lines on maps and citizenship is a just piece of paper. Being proud of one’s country, particularly when one is a citizen by birth, rather than conscious choice or effort, ought to be nonsense.
Maybe future generations will look back in scorn at the idea of nation states, particularly when they go to war over territory and cruelly turn back many who wish to come and live within their borders.
Being proud of what your community does for its members and for the rest of the world’s citizens is a different matter, particularly if you take an active part in the nation’s life.
For our son, Dutch citizenship means the convenience of being able to live and work in The Netherlands and other EU countries. He may or may not take advantage of it. It’s not yet of much practical importance. But it matters, all the same.
As the Dutch consul pointed out in his introductory speech, citizenship means a way of connecting with one’s ancestry. With this in mind, I checked out prominent Australian citizens with Dutch heritage. They include film-makers Paul Cox and Rolf de Heer, cricketer Tom Cooper, actors Ryan Kwanten and Anthony LaPaglia, and novelist J.M.Coetzee.
There was a surprise at the top of the list, the grandson of a man who migrated to Australia from Nederland in 1912, aged five. He’s our current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
We can’t help being proud of our nationality. My day seems absurdly brighter when ‘our’ Aussie cricketers win a test match. Mevrouw T religiously watches the NOS Journaal, the Dutch news broadcast each morning (8.04am on Australia’s SBS television) and springs to her country’s defence at the slightest hint of an insult.
But we’d like to think we take a broad world view. Messrs Abbott and Wilders don’t speak for all of us when they demonise would-be immigrants.
Our son will now happily be able to support a certain Orange football team, in the unlikely event that the Socceroos fail to crush Spain and Chile and progress to the second round of the World Cup. I’ll be doing likewise.
And while we were at the consulate, we enquired about what I’d need to do to get dual nationality myself. Apparently I would be eligible, so maybe…
I’m proud of my Dutch connection too, illogical though it may be.