Groningen’s hope in dark times

He was born in Westernieland in the north of the province of Groningen, currently lives in the Randstad and is one of the best known comedians in the country. And now he will take to the barricades to draw attention to the earthquake problems. Next Tuesday, Freek de Jonge will (for now) close out his campaign with a large demonstration at the Vismarkt. ‘But where are the students, and what is the RUG doing to help?’, he asks in an interview with the UK. ‘The university is part of the elite retreating into their own bulwark.’
By Leonie Sinnema / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Do you feel that students are sufficiently involved in the earthquake problems?

‘Students are probably more invested in their own interests and careers. But you should also figure out your own life, and when that life becomes intolerable… The earthquake problems are a model for life itself: for the way we want to live, and for the way we can. Nowadays we’re often labouring under the impression that other things are more important, or we’re too dumb to actually be interested. I don’t know to what extent students look beyond themselves these days, but I think it’d be wise to engage more with life and existence in general.’

You have called upon the RUG to develop a transitional faculty. What is that?

‘It would be a study programme that researches new possibilities and new ways of coexisting, based mainly on the question of how we can break up old power relations and structures. We need to move towards an economy that doesn’t demand anything from the world but rather adds to it. One that is in balance with the earth. They should be able to do this on rather short notice. Rotterdam already has a transition professor. In Groningen, the faculty could focus on gas services and how we can make the change toward new, sustainable services.’

Have you spoken to the university yet?

‘Yes, I’ve talked to Tom Postmes, who researches the psychological effects that earthquakes have, and Herman Broring, who focuses on their legal consequences. There are plenty of worried professors. But the university as a whole is missing from this discussion. The university is not taking up the societal position it should. They’re part of the elite retreating into their own bulwark. But there is a great societal need here in Groningen.’

Why are you coming to Groningen’s aid?

‘This is a national scandal as far as I’m concerned. I fail to understand why the media and politicians aren’t prioritising this issue. All the money goes to the Randstad, and Groningen is just some little province. They’ve contributed hundreds of billions to the economy but have never been compensated for that. It boggles the mind. The media is all over the Teeven deal and Trump, when there’s nothing we can even do about the latter. Nobody is paying attention to the problems in Groningen, nobody is empathising with the people here. It’s insane. Just insane!’

When did you start caring about this?

‘Like many others in the Randstad, I was following the news from a distance. I just sort of thought ‘well, it’s probably not that bad’ or ‘what are they whining about, they’re getting compensated.’ But when I was invited to come to Godlinze and heard someone there say that it felt like being held in an unsafe prison, it opened my eyes. I thought it was disgraceful.’

I soon thought: ‘I have to do something about this’, and I knew it would take more than showing my face around Groningen for a night. Stories about the people affected and the action committees are always touching. And people have tens of thousands of stories. The scope of it is almost unimaginable. I got quite emotional over it.’

Will we figure this out? Is there a solution?

‘Look, a war always serves as a great catalyst for these kinds of problems. So yes, that is what we’ll be aiming for. You can see it in America, where people are looking to start a civil war. As you can see I’m not overly optimistic. But that’s the crux of my appeal to students: be aware of the kind of society we’re heading towards. It’s five minutes to midnight: there’s still room to get on board and say: ‘It’s time to do something’ Make plans, come up with something smart!’



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