Traditionally Wageningen is turned upside down on 5 May, when 10,000 people pour into the town to celebrate the end of the second world war with music and beer, leaving a sea of rubbish behind them. We asked international students what they think of all this. Do they know what we are celebrating on Bevrijdingsdag? And what does freedom mean to them?
Natapol Thongplew PhD candidate in the Environmental Policy, from Thailand ‘It is good to celebrate Liberation Day, the end of World War II. But I do sometimes wonder whether young people know what the day is all about. No one really pays any attention to freedom on Liberation Day. What I see mostly is people getting drunk and enjoying the freedom they have. To me freedom means being able to do as you like within the limits of the law and the culture, and always taking responsibility yourself. I don’t understand, actually, why you are not allowed to take your own food and drink along to the Liberation festival.’
Luis Carter Leal PhD candidate in Business Economics, from Chile ‘On Liberation Day the Netherlands celebrates the end of the German occupation. Wageningen undergoes a transformation on that day, and you can’t cycle through town. What I find a bit crazy is the contrast between the activities up the hill, with the vintage vehicles and the real commemoration with a diminishing number of veterans, and those in the centre with the young people who are just partying. In Chile we celebrate Independence Day, with a speech by the president, a military parade and drinking and dancing in a ramadas (a kind of marquee). To me freedom means being able to make my own choices and not being forced into anything.’
Chizu Sato Researcher/ teacher in the Sociology of Consumption and Households group, from Japan ‘The war ended in Japan on 15 August. At 12 noon we close our eyes for one minute to remember all those who died in the war. But my country lost the war. I have worked in the US and Canada as well. The Americans see themselves as winners; Canada sees it differently. But in both countries it meant a culture shock for me. It is important to learn about the different aspects of World War II. The day the Germans signed the capitulation is a day to celebrate for the Dutch, of course. But the most important thing about that celebration is that we do not repeat that violence and learn the lessons of the past for our future.’
Luis Gerardo Rosada Loría MSc student of Plant Sciences, from Mexico ‘I have only been here a couple of months but I have already heard about the Liberation festival. To me it’s fine to celebrate the end of a war with a party. We celebrate Independ ence Day with fireworks and a presidential speech. Realise what freedom means, but celebrate it with a party. Actually I recently walked into the Casteelse Poort museum with a friend, and saw a bit about Wageningen and the second world war. Unfortunately all the information was in Dutch. We had to ask for an explanation, and we looked up more information later on the internet.’
Hanna Barnes MSc student of Environmental Sciences, from England ‘If you google Wageningen you soon find out that the capitulation was signed here. Liberation Day is a big thing for little Wageningen. At last there is something to do in town. A friend told me that the Liberation fire is lit at midnight with some speeches. It’s good that they do that. I don’t think that much about freedom, but that is because there is freedom. In England we don’t make a big thing of Victory Day at all. On Remembrance Day we remember all the soldiers who died in the wars, but that is a very formal affair.’
Linda Calciolari BSc student of International Land and Water Management, from Italy ‘Liberation Day in Wageningen is great! Liberation is really something worth celebrating in the Netherlands. It was different in Italy. In Italy, the end of the war is celebrated on another day with an official ceremony.'
Rico Meyn BSc student of Communication Sciences, from Germany ‘We celebrate the reunification of Germany on 3 October, but that’s not much more than a party in Berlin. I can understand why there is a bigger celebration in the Netherlands and in Wageningen. You celebrate the peace and freedom you enjoy now, and there are fewer and fewer people who remember the war. But it is also good to pay attention to the need to prevent war. Half the world does not have the freedom we have. You should show solidarity with those people, and that is an element I miss.’
Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek