ANNUAL THEME 2013: FREEDOM MAKE THE DEAL

On the 5th of May 1945 the war ended in the Netherlands. Not with a single all-decisive bang, but by means of a signature, at a desk. The site of the negotiations, Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen, has become famous for the event.* From that moment onwards, deals, agreements and treaties were made, gradually transforming wartime Europe into post-war Europe. Freedom started with agreements on paper. Only on the 15th of August did the war end in the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands, when occupier Japan surrendered in the Dutch East-Indies. 

Freedom obtains its shape, practically and legally, through deals, rules and treaties. ‘Treaties of Freedom’ has two meanings in the Dutch language. Firstly, treaties refer to agreements made on paper, sealed with signatures. Secondly, the Dutch verbverdragen, meaning treaties as well as the verb to undergo, signifies that a treaty is literally something people undergo, or experience, because people are bound by their agreements. Treaties bring peace and freedom, but also imply restraint, withdrawal and moderation. Being free isn’t something anyone can do alone: it is communal. This requires agreements. Freedom is a deal.

The 5th of May 1945 is the day of liberation, and with this, the day of new deals and self-imposed restraint. After the 5th of May 1945, an elaborate system of liberating deals was further created. Agreements that restrain us, but facilitate development. Today’s wealth is a product of the self-imposed post-war restraint.

Liberation Day provides a moment of reflection upon the agreements we made that safeguard our freedom. In order not to forget these agreements, they need to be maintained and kept up-to-date. Many agreements relating to freedom are almost impossible to imagine reality without. War in Europe seems inconceivable, even though the Yugoslavia wars didn’t take place that long ago. We have forgotten that war was a constant in Europe for centuries. The deals made in 1945 have evolved into cherished values about freedom, democracy, citizenship and the rule of law within two generations. A prerequisite for war remaining incomprehensible is keeping these principles alive and current. This is why freedom is based on agreements that require maintenance.

Agreements enable action as well as inaction. They provide capacity as well as limits. They do away with obstacles as well as create them. Freedom is reciprocal. It doesn’t simply exist; it is made by people in joint effort. Agreements support this process. Also if – or because – agreements might sometimes get in the way. Good deals on freedom are pressing ones.

History knows many treaties closely connected to war, aggression and armed conflict. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht is seen as a turning point in European history. It was the first time a conflict was endedby means of diplomacy rather than on a battlefield. Negotiation as a method had triumphed over warfare.

Treaties arbitrate conflict and seal freedom. However, not every treaty works well. Sometimes it’s an (undesired) pause on the way to the next war. The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles was the backdrop of the creation of the treaties that put an end to the hostilities between Germany and the Allied Forces after the Great War (1914-1918). But the suffocating measures imposed upon Germany by the victors made the treaties but a prelude to another conflict. Sometimes, a treaty doesn’t bring peace, but it’s the seed of the next war. If revenge and redress are the basis of the treaty, its purpose is likely to expire sooner rather than later.

The agreements made in May 1945 also harboured adverse effects. They brought peace, but not freedom everywhere. The Allied Forces made agreements on their sphere of influence within Europe. This was the footing of the division of Germany and Europe during the Cold War. After World War II came to an end in the Dutch east-Indies, a new battle began. This struggle concerned Indonesia’s sovereignty, proclaimed on the 17th of August 1945. 

Agreements on freedom aren’t the exclusive domain of governments and diplomats. These agreements are made between states, they are made within states between citizens and their governments, and chiefly, they are agreements between people. Our daily lives are brimming with agreements. Agreements about social interaction enable actions and provide opportunities for development, business and evolvement. Sometimes agreements are made that enable the state to direct, often agreements serve to protect citizens from the state. Deals and agreements aren’t just about war and peace, they also relate to integration, collaboration and partnership. European collaboration, initially designed to prevent a new war, has led to monetary unity. Free markets, agreements and legislation regulate movement of labour between countries. The 1985 Schengen Agreement isn’t about war and peace, but about the the enhancement of freedom of movement within a number of European countries.

On the 5th of May we celebrate the deal that was made that ended the war and heralded freedom. Treaties may evolve, they aren’t unalterable. Preferences and circumstances may change. Some parties may want to quit, or a treaty may be overtaken by current events. New actors may emerge. Is the original treaty up-to-date? This question may spawn fiery discussions. Surely, treaties aren’t eternal, but they are also not a quick temporary fix. Our liberating treaties demand perpetual discussion. This may sometimes be tough, nevertheless needed. The debate on agreements made must never be taboo. In the end, it’s these agreements, these words, that tame armed battle. Freedom is a deal. Let us keep the conversation about our deals flowing. 

* The surrender of the German occupier was signed for on the 6th of May in Wageningen. This surrender signified the end of the war in the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The war continued in the Dutch East-Indies until Japan surrendered on the 15th of August 1945. The 5th of May is the symbolic date on which the Netherlands celebrates liberation from the German and Japanese occupier.