On 5 May, the Netherlands celebrates its liberation. We celebrate the absence of war, the restoration of the constitutional state after the Second World War and the fact that this enables us to live in freedom.

After the ceremonies and commemorations on the evening of 4 May, the morning of 5 May forms a bridge to the celebration of freedom. The Netherlands celebrates the fact that the country was liberated in 1945 from both the German occupation in Europe and the Japanese occupation in Asia, and that since then, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has been free from war and oppression. The date 5 May refers to the day on which the German army capitulated in the Netherlands. However, the end of the Second World War did not mean an end to war in the world. Everyday people are still suffering due to armed conflicts and the violation of human rights. That is why 5 May in the Netherlands is also the day on which people reflect on the lack of freedom elsewhere in the world. Both then and now.

Each year, the National Committee holds the National Freedom Survey. It does so in order to evaluate the grounds of support in the Netherlands for remembrance and celebration, but also to gauge people’s opinions on current themes such as democracy and human rights. What do Dutch citizens consider to be important when it comes to working to safeguard freedom? The research shows that the significance of 5 May has broadened over the years. For the younger generations, the emphasis has shifted more in the direction of celebrating freedom. In 2011, when asked what they celebrate on 5 May, well over half of the Dutch people chose the answer: ‘The liberation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the end of the Second World War and the fact that we live in freedom.’

In 1996, the National Committee decided to make the celebration of freedom an explicit part of the celebration of Liberation Day. After all, 5 May is not only about looking back, but also about how the Netherlands can contribute to the freedom of others, both now and in the future. Since then, freedom is given attention on three levels: in relations amongst citizens themselves, in relations between citizens and their government, and in international relations.

The concept of freedom is multifaceted. That is why the National Committee for 4 and 5 May introduces a new, longer-term theme every five years as a way of giving direction to commemorating, celebrating and remembering. Each year a more specific theme is chosen that fits in with the longer-term theme. The annual theme inspires people to link the remembrance and celebration to current affairs and promotes the cohesion between the various activities on 4 and 5 May. Organisers and speakers apply the theme at the various different commemorations and celebrations. The theme can be used by anyone who is organising a commemoration or celebration or who feels some connection with the subject matter. The theme also forms the leit motif for the activities that the National Committee for 4 and 5 May organises itself, whereby the emphasis lies on the historical context on 4 May and on current developments on 5 May. The theme serves as the inspiration for the speech on Dam Square, for the Fifth of May Lecture, for the debates, for the opening of the national Liberation Day festivities and for the Liberation Festivals throughout the entire country.

5 May Lecture

The 5 May Lecture forms a pivotal moment between the national commemoration of Remembrance Day on 4 May an de celebration on 5 May. The 5 May Lecture takes place in a different Dutch province each year. In the build-up to 5 May, and on that day itself, the concept of freedom is highlighted in that province. Each year since 1997, The National Committee for 4 and 5 May has invited a prominent figure from within the Netherlands or abroad to give the Lecture on the morning of 5 May. The lecture focuses on the annual theme, which gives depth to all of the activities that take place on 4 and 5 May. The 5 May Lecture serves as a source of inspiration and profundity for the debate around freedom. The lecture is a moment of reflection on the vulnerability of freedom, not just in the Netherlands, but also elsewhere in the world. On the morning of 5 May 1995, Her Majesty the Queen held a lecture entitled ‘Commemorating, Fifty Years Later’ to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Since then, the 5 May Lecture has been held by both Dutch and foreign speakers, including the South African ambassador Carl Niehaus, the US ambassador Cynthia P. Schneider, the Prince of Orange and the former prime ministers Ruud Lubbers and Wim Kok, former NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Joachim Gauck, President of Germany.

Ernst Hirsch Ballin - 5 May Lecture 2013

Joachim Gauck - 5 May Lecture 2012

Liberation Festivals

In the afternoon of 5 May 14 different Liberation Festivals, one in each province and in Amsterdam and The Hague, are held to celebrate freedom. In addition to performances by countless major performing artists, there are also numerous debates and NGOs such as Amnesty International actively inform visitors about the lack of freedom in the rest of the world. The underlying idea is that 5 May is a holiday that should be celebrated to the fullest, but also that as much attention as possible should be given to the theme of freedom. At the Liberation Festivals, young people are made aware of the fact that freedom is not something they should take for granted. Together, the 14 Liberation Festivals on 5 May have grown to become the largest single-day cultural event in the Netherlands, with a total of no less than a million visitors in the peak years. Each year, the National Committee announces the Ambassadors of Freedom. Those are chosen from amongst well-known Dutch performing artists who have a broad fan base. In the run-up to 5 May, they are given maximal visibility in the media to get across their message about freedom. On 5 May, the Ambassadors of Freedom fly around the country in helicopters provided by the Ministry of Defence enabling them to be present at each of the festivals.

5 May Concert

Since 1996, the celebration of 5 May comes to a festive conclusion with the 5 May Concert on the Amstel river in Amsterdam. The audience at this light classical music concert always includes the head of state, representatives from the Parliament and from the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A number of people who have made a significant contribution to 4 and 5 May in the preceding year are also invited as special guests. Each year, a different orchestra and well-known Dutch performing artists perform there on a splendid stage against the distinctive backdrop of the Amstel. The 5 May Concert is free to the public and is broadcast live by the Dutch public television company NOS. This broadcast is watched by a million Dutch citizens.