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Mark Rutte has said the Dutch need to ‘rediscover our national character’ following the bitter and polarising debates that broke out during the coronavirus pandemic.

The prime minister defended the lockdowns and other measures to contain the ‘monster’ of the coronavirus pandemic in the last two years, but acknowledged that they had divided communities and families. ‘We are a country with a large silent majority with a huge capacity to deal with setback. Huge resilience,’ he told the Parool. ‘But a large group of people have been personally affected by coronavirus.

‘Deaths, a business in trouble, children under psychological strain. Ultimately it’s hit all of us, more or less. And that’s put pressure on family ties and groups of friends.’ Rutte said he shared people’s impatience for the pandemic to be over, but was concerned about the increasingly shrill tone of conversations about measures such as QR codes and vaccines.

‘Self-mocking undertone’ ‘We’ve always had strong debates. We don’t have a hierarchy. We’re direct. But there was always a self-mocking undertone and people listened to each other. We’re a kind country as well. We’re still a great country, but also a kind country.’

While conspiracy theories about vaccines and assaults on freedom gained widespread publicity, Rutte believed that most people understood why the rules were necessary. ‘When a monster shows up you have to look it in the eye,’ he said. ‘And that monster is the pandemic. ‘So I’m saying, to myself but also to 17 million fellow countrymen: a lot has happened, but now we need to find ourselves again. ‘We’ve become a bit detached from each other physically. I hope we can go to sports events again and to festivals in the summer … but the rules were necessary. I had no choice. And I think the vast majority of people understand that.’

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