Charlie Hebdo in Amsterdam?

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Take a look at this distinguished elderly gentleman! Would someone with a grandfatherly face like that ever hurt even a flea?

Westergaard
Don’t worry: I won’t tell you that he has ever hurt anything, whether a flea or otherwise. On the other hand, he’s the target of many. This is Kurt Westergaard, one of the most “notorious” of those “Danish cartoonists” whose work back around 2005 touched off riots, death and general destruction around the world in support of the absurd notion that the Mohammed of Islam is something that is beyond criticism or ridicule. And of course Westergaard himself was the target of an attack back in 2010, where only the padlocked door to the “saferoom” he had established in his house enabled him to fend off the knife-wielding attentions of some sort of crazed fanatic or another.

Well, it turns out that Westergaard will be the featured speaker at the Vrije Woord (“Free Word”) Festival happening tonight at Amsterdam’s premier venue for that sort of public presentation, De Balie, right on the Leidseplein. De Balie officials only announced his presence this very morning, out of security considerations; previously there had only been talk of some “mystery speaker” and, somehow, the attendant possible necessity for the screening of attendees as they arrived.

That’s still a little less than a full 12 hours’ worth of notice, and as we have seen (as in the assassination on US Election Day, 2004, of the film-maker Theo Van Gogh), Amsterdam has plenty of Muslim fanatics. Can they get their act together in time to make Westergaard sorry he ever even considered visiting the Netherlands’ delightful (co-)capital? There will be security there in abundance, of course; indeed, usually De Balie is open seven days a week, if only for its cafe, but the building has been closed today and will only re-open when the Festival starts at 19.30.

This piece in the newspaper Het Parool notes that there has been no withdrawal from tonight’s festival by anyone who bought a ticket, although De Balie made that option available. Apparently some employees at De Balie have refused to work tonight, however, for whatever reason. Also, according to this other Parool article, the Netherlands chapter of international writers’ organization PEN got early confidential word at the end of March that Westergaard would be coming and withdrew its co-participation – the event had “become too big,” according to its chairwoman.

In a related story, you may have heard how around 150 writers are now protesting the intended awarding of the “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at an upcoming gala put on by the American PEN. But really, now: what is it – among many other things – that Charlie Hebdo and that Kurt Westergaard are satirizing? It has to do with the very fact of all the fanatics out there that make it necessary to layer on the security, to make people fear for their lives, just to make the point that – exactly like the Christian God in, for example, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and countless other works of Art – the Muslim God and Mohammed are not to be immune to satire and ridicule, and that those for whom this is unacceptable had best start accepting it or move back to wherever it is they originally came from.

So all power and plaudits to Kurt Westergaard, and to Charlie Hebdo. But keep an ear out on your May Saturday night for word of the latest killings, this time in Amsterdam.

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Hans Brinker’s Crazy-House

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Are you as afflicted by the ice-cold January weather as we are here in the Netherlands? Those of you dear readers living in the Southern Hemisphere – my statistics tell me that there are a few – I exclude from the get-go, but otherwise a story-book January does seem to be in effect in Europe, North America, and throughout Asia.

Love that or hate it (I’m not so enthusastic, to tell you the truth), there will always be winners emerging from this situation. Among these are clearly Holland’s ice-skate sellers, as we see from an article in Het Parool (Gekkenhuis [“Crazy-House”] at ice-skate factories).

The unnamed reporter from the Dutch news agency ANP sought out for his/her story the firms “Viking” in Almere and “Zandstra” in Joure (a city in Friesland, the Dutch province especially known for its ice-skating ardor). They’re likely not the only ones in the Netherlands, but provided some good material nonetheless. Normally, says Viking director Jaap Havekotte, they sell around 20,000 pairs of skates per year; this year they are on track for 50,000 or 60,000 pairs. “Our skates are flying out the door,” says the Dutchman. (Yes, that’s really the quote: Onze schaatsen vliegen de deur uit.) Zandstra spokesman Marco Vlap doesn’t want to reveal exact numbers, but confirms that his firm is also working like mad but probably won’t be able to keep up with this year’s demand.

Actually, points out Havekotte, last winter in December (2008) we also had a bit of a cold spell that set people to skating and so brought with it elevated sales figures. He doesn’t have to explicitly say it, but in most Dutch minds it had yet another effect: raising hopes for the holding of the Elfstedentocht, an eleven-city race over the frozen streams and canals of Friesland that occupies an honored and central place in Frisian and Dutch culture and is held whenever ice conditions permit – which they last did only back in January of 1997! Think of the Super Bowl – to come up with an American cultural equivalent – but one strictly subject to the weather year after year for its happening at all! (You can check it out at the Elfstedentocht website, including the race-route, but the text is available only in Dutch or Frisian!) The cold didn’t last long enough then for that, but maybe it will this time, in which case you can expect some tenths-of-a-percentage point to be shaved from the 2010 GDP in the blizzard of sick-days taken as people flock up to Friesland and/or in front of their TV sets.

While you’re waiting to see if that happens, this article in English (“Amsterdam prepares canals for ice skating fun”) tells of our fine city’s preparations for letting people skate on certain of the historic canals, should the cold weather indeed continue. Personally, I sincerely hope that it won’t, but nonetheless those measures now being undertaken are mainly banning boat traffic on certain of the canals to protect the forming ice. You can peruse a map here showing to which stretches of which canal that ban applies, as well as the accompanying detailed list.

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Through Recession with Dutch Luck & Pluck

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

It’s coming on Christmas, but it’s also coming on the end of 2008, and so it’s time to look ahead to 2009. Economically, things do not look good. The leading Dutch business newspaper Het Financiële Dagblad has already picked up on remarks from Vice President-elect Joe Biden that will be televised later today on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that the US economy is in danger of “absolutely tanking.” (You can get the run-down in English plus a brief video of their interview here.)

Right, but what about closer to (the €S) home, what about the Netherlands’ economy? Also from Het Financiële Dagblad, we get some good news straight from the Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende that he is confident that the strong character of the Dutch will get them through the hard times. (more…)

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Russian-Georgian Naval Conflict

Monday, August 11th, 2008

The Dutch daily Het Parool has word of the current military struggle between Russia and Georgia spreading beyond land conflict (Russian Fleet Sinks Georgian Boat). Quoting Russian press bureaus, who in turn gained their information from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, the paper reports that yesterday (Sunday) two Georgian patrol boats in the Black Sea fired rockets at Russian warships, who returned fire and sunk one of the boats. Spokesmen for the Georgian government were not available for comment. (more…)

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Zanzibarred!

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

One of Amsterdam’s less-known but worthwhile tourist attractions is the Tropenmuseum, or Museum of the Tropics, housed in a magnificent late-19th-century building way over on the east side of the city, generally outside the radius within which most tourists venture. True, its original purpose was as a storage and display point mostly for what the Dutch colonial authorities were looting out of the lands where their authority held sway (the same could be said of the British Museum, or indeed the Louvre), but time has moved on since then and the facility is now known simply as an interesting museum for non-Western cultures – even if what is contained within still probably originated as loot from those non-Western areas where Dutch colonial authority once held sway.

The museum’s sister-institution, installed in its eastern wing, is the Tropentheater (English version unfortunately not yet available), which offers a platform for the staging of usually non-Western-related musical and drama productions. And coming up this week at the Tropentheater (starting tomorrow) we had an interesting affair called the “Zanzibara Festival”: a festival of music and films about the Swahili culture of East Africa, predominately in Kenya, Tanzania, and yes, Zanzibar. At the center of the festivities was the Kilimani Qusida Group from that Indian Ocean island, a group of Islamic musicians specializing in Sufi music (Sufism is essentially Islamic mysticism), scheduled to travel out of Zanzibar for the first time in their lives to come play in Amsterdam. I’ve seen posters for this Zanzibara festival all over town – I even saw them on a visit to Antwerp a few weeks ago. (more…)

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Honesty Upon Parting

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

The name’s Berlijn: Dick Berlijn. He’s Dutch, of course. He’s a general. In fact he is currently Commandant der Strijdkrachten, the highest-ranking officer in the Dutch armed forces, equivalent to the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But now, after almost a forty-year military career – spent mostly in the Koninklijke Luchtmacht, i.e. the Dutch air force – he’s about to head off into retirement.

In other words, as anyone with any military experience would put it: he’s a short-timer! (Or “short,” for short, meaning that your military service and the obligations related thereto are about to expire. I myself have been “short,” in fact twice.) It means you (mostly) don’t have to care anymore. It means you (finally!) can open up a bit and say what you really think. (more…)

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Obama Picks Up Another Endorsement!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gained yet another endorsement from a politician on Tuesday – yes, not just any “Tuesday” but on SuperDuper Tuesday. What is more, the endorsement was pronounced right in the middle of the day when primary voters were supposed to head to their local polls to vote.

But that was because this time, as the newspaper Het Parool reports, the endorsement came from Dutch Finance Minister and senior Labor Party figure Wouter Bos, who called Obama “the most inspiring” of the various American candidates in the regular weekly appearance he makes on an evening program of Holland’s “RTL Z” channel. (Early evening program Central European Time, but six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time: thus, endorsement pronounced around noon/early afternoon in the US, depending on where you are.) (more…)

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Florida Election “Chaos”?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

As things get mighty close to Election Day, it’s rather hard to believe that the potential for big trouble in counting the ballots cast in Florida is equal this year to what the Nation was unfortunately called upon to witness back in 2000. In fact, in his piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post, former President Jimmy Carter (famous in his ex-presidential phase for, among other things, the election observers his Carter Center provides) states that “a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely.” The Dutch newspaper Het Parool picks up on this, and some other, related developments, to sound the alarm in Chaos Threatens Again at the Florida Polls. (more…)

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Pim Fortuyn’s Legacy Totters To Its End

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

What would you call a political party whose representatives in the national legislature repudiate party leadership and the party name? Which can’t find any way to pay around €200,000 in debts? You’d call it a dead political party, for sure. And this is the case with the Dutch party LPF, whose eight members in the Tweede Kamer announced Tuesday afternoon that they had repudiated their party membership. “LPF” stands for Lijst Pim Fortuyn, so anyone wondering what became of the legacy of that Dutch politician, himself assassinated in May, 2002, just before a general election, can know that it has all come to this rather sorry end. (more…)

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Sensitive Matter Requiring Your Urgent Attention!

Monday, July 19th, 2004

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am fine today, and how are you? I hope this weblog entry finds you in the best of health. I am Prince MAO Kawanza, chairman of the West African Expatriate Legal Defence Fund, an institution established under the late Nigerian Head of State, General Sani Abacha, for the provision of legal assistance to travellers from West African states ensnared in difficulties with foreign criminal justice systems. General Abacha chose to fund our laudable institution by means of a special tax on revenues from the Nigerian petroleum sector, which revenues are estimated to total more than USD 45 billion yearly. (more…)

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The EU’s New “Terrorism Czar”

Friday, March 26th, 2004

I really wanted to use this weblog entry to continue my coverage of the Danish newspaper Politiken’s great “Europa XL” series of cultural portraits of the current EU member-states. (Portugal was up next.) But 1) Politiken has changed its on-line format since I last looked (check it out), and in that new format I’m having a hard time finding anything about “Europa XL” (although that was supposed to be an on-going, long-running series that was going to segue into covering the ten new EU member-states); and 2) There are a heck of a lot of important things going on now, like the just-ended EU summit, not mention changes of government in both Spain and Poland (the key states blocking progress on approving the proposed EU Constitution back last December, you may recall).

So OK, let’s take one of those important new developments – namely the appointment of the Dutchman Gijs de Vries as Europe’s newly-created “terrorism czar” – and see what we can find out from the Dutch press about this guy and what he’s supposed to do. (more…)

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The Dutch in Iraq: To Shoot or Not To Shoot

Saturday, February 28th, 2004

Those 1,260 Dutch soldiers now serving in Iraq – are they allowed to shoot if necessary, or not? Surprisingly, especially at this late point (after all, Dutch troops were sent to help out the Coalition forces there late last July), there has seemed to be some confusion on this point for a while now, which finally prompted the predominant house of the Dutch legislature – the Tweede Kamer – actually to interrupt its pre-Spring vacation yesterday to stage a debate on the matter, starring several of the key ministers involved.

That debate, and the affair generally, is covered well both in Het Parool (Troops in Iraq May Shoot) and the NRC Handelsblad (lead article: Chamber Swallows Ministers’ Explanation). Fortunately, it is still true (knock-on-wood) that there have yet been no Dutch casualties in Iraq. On the other hand, there has indeed been one case of those Dutch forces inflicting a casualty (and you truly get the impression that creating victims, for the Dutch, causes just as much shock and horror as becoming them themselves). That was back on 27 December of last year, when sergeant-majoor Erik O. shot an Iraqi looter in the back and killed him – so this was no ordinary trooper, as sergeant-majoor (just as the American sergeant-major) is the highest Dutch army enlisted rank. Sergeant-majoor “O.” was shipped back to the Netherlands and incarcerated there on 1 January – put at freedom a week later, though still under charges. (more…)

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The Dutch Review the “State of the Union”

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

I’m over here in the US now, and clearly where you are determines what you hear and what you cover. Or perhaps “what you couldn’t escape, even if you tried,” since President Bush’s State of the Union speech last night dominated the airwaves everywhere and the on-line American press this morning.

But I reside in the Netherlands, so let’s take a look homeward: How did the President’s speech go over in the Dutch press? I ask that in full awareness of the inherent asymmetry at the bottom of all of this: there’s of course a yearly, regularly-scheduled policy speech delivered each year on behalf of the Dutch government too (called the troonrede, or “throne-speech,” it occurs on the third Tuesday of September, and happens to be delivered by the Queen), but there is naturally hardly the same attention – if, indeed, any at all – devoted by the American press to that. All completely understandable: just speaking of events of this past year, it’s not the Dutch who have thrown the geopolitical structure of the Middle East on its ear, together with the whole web of post-World War II Western Alliance relations, by invading Iraq.

Still, this example of the sovereign actually reading the speech (as also happens yearly in the United Kingdom, of course) might be something worth transferring over to American practice, if the royalty-less American society could somehow come up with an appropriate analogous figure (the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, perhaps?). My reason for suggesting that is that in that case perhaps – just perhaps – the sitting President would be deterred from delivering, for public reading by another, any text that ultimately amounts to a mere electioneering stunt, rather than a sober, candid view of what the government has done and what it intends to do. The former is at least the overwhelming impression Dutch writers and editors took away from Bush’s performance last night, as reflected even in headlines such as Het Parool’s Bush’s State of the Union Mainly an Electioneering Speech (verkiezingsrede). (more…)

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Dutch Budget Deficit Threatens to Top 3%

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

It looks like I’ve gotten my comeuppance for my recent preoccupation on these pages with next summer’s European Cup football championship – and with clam penises (yes, sad but true). Edward over at “A Fistful of Euros” has scooped me on the prospect that has now arisen that the even the Netherlands government’s budget deficit might slip above the Stability Pact’s 3% limit – this when it is the Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm (apparently known in internal EU circles as Il Duro, or “the hard-assed one” in Italian) who is raising the biggest stink about Germany and France not meeting that obligation for three years in a row now. He scooped me when I’m the one who lives in Holland!

Fortunately, our division of labor still holds – I can take a look into the Dutch on-line press to see what is being written locally about this predicament. (Frans Groenendijk, in comments to Edward’s post, already examines what Zalm has written on the subject in his own (i.e. Zalm’s) weblog. Frans has one, too.)

Coverage in the NRC Handelsblad is extensive, while in some of the other, more down-market papers it is missing entirely – this is a complicated financial affair that risks making Dutch eyes glaze over in boredom, I guess. For those interested nonetheless, a good place is to start is in their lead article. (more…)

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Holland’s Houses

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

Today is Holland Day at EuroSavant! The good reason for that is that yesterday was Prinsjesdag, or the third Tuesday in September, which is when every year the Dutch Queen Beatrix rides an elaborate, old-fashioned coach to the Binnenhof in the Hague, the Dutch house of parliament, to read out a speech which the current government provides her with, which lays out that government’s program for the year. It probably comes as no surprise to you that this year’s government program has already provoked much wailing and gnashing of teeth: €10 billion to be saved this fiscal year, €7 billion the next, and so cut-backs in all sorts of government programs and services held dear by Dutch society.

Given that good reason to make today “Holland Day,” though, I’m going to ignore it – too boring, and too specific to Dutch conditions. If you don’t live here, why would you want to know about that? In fact, you’ve already discovered everything you would want and need to know in my two sentences above.

No, if it’s to be “Holland Day,” let’s devote our attention to something a bit more interesting, to a phenomenon out of Dutch society that does pique the interest even of those who are not native Hollanders: bordellos. Does it come as a surprise to you that, recently, even the municipal authorities of Rotterdam have gotten themselves in to the business of setting up a bawdy house? (more…)

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Dutch “Gut Check” on Iraq

Monday, August 25th, 2003

I’m back now from Prague – and what a mess has arisen since I left last Tuesday, the 19th! That was the day that UN headquarters in Baghdad was attacked by a suicide truck-bomber, who caused the deaths of twenty-three personnel including UN Iraq envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

This is obviously a “gut check” moment. Things have not been going well there, and now there is this atrocity; do we stay or do we flee? Among other things, this warrants a check of the Dutch press to see what is being said there. (more…)

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Gerhard Schröder Returns to Italy

Wednesday, August 13th, 2003

Bundeskanzler Schröder gave up his usual yearly vacation in Italy this year, you’ll recall, shortly after the row Silvio Berlusconi caused in the European Parliament with German MEP Martin Schulz in the first week of July, followed by rather insensitive comments about German tourists from (former) Italian state secretary for economic affairs Stefano Stefani. (If you need to catch up on this subject, you can start your review of EuroSavant coverage here.) But soon he’ll be heading back to Italy for a visit.

This good news about the dawning of German-Italian reconciliation comes not from the German press, but from the Dutch newspaper Het Parool. (And I got the news that Schröder would give Italy a pass this summer originally from the Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen: How is it that LowLands journals can keep scooping their German counterparts like this when it comes to practical details that we want to know, like just where the Bundeskanzler will be and will not be? Although it looks like Het Parool got this information from the BBC.) There’s a catch: Schröder will be travelling to Italy on 22 August not for some delayed vacation (too late for that: the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that his cabinet returns to work today), but to meet with president of the European Commission Romano Prodi in Verona, ostensibly to attend a showing of the opera “Carmen” there. Prodi is a leading rival of the Italian premier. But there’s also a counter-catch: the mayor of Verona has also invited Berlusconi to attend that same opera performance. No word yet on whether he intends to accept this invitation.

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Volkert van der Graaf’s Sentencing and Standard Dutch Practice

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

My amazement (expressed below in my previous entry) at the eighteen-year sentence given to the murderer of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn is an admittedly American point-of-view – but surely within the Netherlands there must be some dissension as well? (more…)

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Epidemics

Saturday, April 5th, 2003

It’s a Saturday, and American troops are camped south of Baghdad, at the airport. Down south, British troops continue to besiege Basra. By this point, the BBC World Service has discontinued its continuous war coverage in order to broadcast Saturday Sportsworld. And that’s a good thing, too; after a week’s break for Euro 2004 national team qualification, there’s a full schedule of English football matches scheduled for today and tomorrow. Just today, Manchester United win 4-0 over Liverpool to go even at the top of the Premiership standings with Arsenal, who draw 1-1 at Aston Villa.

But in the Dutch papers today, it’s all about epidemics. (more…)

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