It’s official: Breukelen is dead.
The prime minster of the Netherlands, Jan Peter Balkenende, told The Brooklyn Paper on Sunday that he will not step in to ensure that the name of our ancestral Dutch village be affixed permanently to a consolidation of the villages of Breukelen, Maarssen and the contemptible Loenen.
The prime minister was in town as part of New York and Holland’s ongoing commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s “discovery” of the river that would later bear his name. As such, Balkenende spent most of Sunday afternoon making photo-op-style stops at places of importance to the Dutch community, including the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum, the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church.
But when he got to the Brooklyn Museum for a reception with Dutch Americans and diplomatic officials from the Netherlands, The Brooklyn Paper was waiting for him.
A trio of our reporters had visited Breukelen earlier this summer and discovered the horrific news that the village that gave our borough its very name, if not its spirit, would soon be merged and wiped off the map. The Paper’s editorial board took a strong position against the merger.
So after coolly welcoming Balkenende to Brooklyn, we asked whether he could ensure that the historic connection between Breukelen and Brooklyn would remain, even if there is no longer an independent city of Breukelen.
“I’m sure that the character of Breukelen will be the same” after the merger, Balkenende said. “There is no reason to fear for that.”
The prime minister was reminded that the name “Breukelen” will no longer be affixed to an independent municipality, but he refused to back down.
“We’ve seen this in many areas of the Netherlands,” he said, “so this is not new. There will be another name of the city, yes, but Breukelen will be the same.”
The Brooklyn Paper reminded Balkenende that he could simply order his ministers or technocrats to name the larger city “Breukelen,” thereby ending the conflict, but he refused.
“That’s up to the people over there,” he said.
Balkenende was reminded that he IS one of the people “over there,” but an aide stepped in and said that “it’s not for the government to decide” what name is given to the newly formed burg.
Balkenende’s bureaucratic answers in the interview will certainly shock Brooklynites, and they definitely didn’t satisfy some Dutch-Americans who were at the reception.
“This is a disaster — this should not be allowed to happen,” Jeroen Van Der Meer, who lives in Brooklyn.
Another Dutch Brooklynite, Serge Onnen, added, “It’s terrible.”
“They could make a whole tourist attraction to get people from Brooklyn to Breukelen,” Onnen said, though he denied that Balkenende could stop the merger, even though it is the Dutch government that is requiring it.
“Holland is not like the United States,” he said. “Politics is very different. Maybe Americans should step in.”
Onnen’s sangfroid in the face of civic annihilation may exasperate those unexperienced in Dutch governmental affairs (especially an inexperienced person from Brooklyn, New York), but it is how small-town politics gets played out overseas. Forty years ago, there were 1,000 cities and towns in Holland; now there are only 400.
“Small towns are inefficient,” Breukelen Mayor Ger Mik told The Brooklyn Paper in July. “If someone in the office that handles drivers licenses calls in sick one day. No one in town would be able to get a drivers license that day.”
©2009 Community News Group
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