Olympics: The Taxman Calls

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

Congratulations! You’re a 2016 Rio Olympics medal-winner! Quite the difference from being, say, merely a lottery-winner, gained from sheer dumb luck – admittedly in the face of odds heavily stacked in favor of the House – rather than years and years of training to get to the top of your chosen branch of athletics.

In actuality, though, there’s often no difference at all between the two. It simply depends on your country’s particular tax-regime You’ve just very publicly received a nice chunk of money, after all, whether via dumb luck or no. A government – often more than one – is likely interested in demanding a piece of it.

OLMedaille
As you see, the Belgian paper La Libre Belgique recently devoted a bit of space and one of its writers (no by-line) to this issue of the tax-status of the money its athletes gain win they win Olympic medals. First of all, such prizes are paid by the national federation of the athlete, so they differ by country. For Belgium the pay-outs are as follows: (for individual events) €50,000 for gold, €30,000 for silver and €20,000 for bronze; for team events, it’s €12,500/€7,500/€5,000. Further individual event competitors who place fourth get €10,000, fifth get €5,000.

You might think the government most interested would be that of Brazil, but no: another piece in the Dutch business newspaper Het Financiele Dagblad (behind a paywall) reveals that Brazil has waived any taxes on the amounts Olympic winners receive. (Is this a general rule among countries hosting the Games? You might think so; there is no information here either way.)

At least this means that taxation on these winnings will be determined solely by an athlete’s country of nationality. Here the anti-Double Taxation treaty Belgium concluded with Brazil back in 1972 prescribes that such finanical gains for Belgians operating in Brazil will be taxed according to the Brazilian authorities, and not again by the Belgian government. But, to repeat, the Brazilian authorities have waived any tax. So Belgian athletes are in luck.

The La Libre Belgique piece also claims there is no anti-Double Taxation Treaty between the Netherlands and Brazil – surprisingly. So Dutch athletes do have their winnings taxed, as income. And the HFD piece (behind paywall) also states that the prize-money amounts are less there: only €19,125 for an individual gold, €12,750 for silver, €9.350 for team gold. Of course, presumably there is support from the Dutch athletic federations (probably underwritten to some extent by the government) for training and being able to live without a day-job during that training, but that is surely the case in Belgium as well.

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Head Down South for Blackface

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

Just a heads-up here to all my readers, as part of this weblog’s public service function, for the coming annual controversy over the Father Christmas-associated figure in Dutch culture of Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete.” As a rule this squabble only gets going around mid-November, when major Dutch cities stage elaborate “arrivals” of Father Christmas (Sinterklaas) from Spain, always accompanied by his multiple Zwarte Piet helpers, gaudily attired and in blackface with a curly black wig, preparatory to the Dutch celebration of pakjesavond on 5 December when Sinterklaas and his assistants visit houses to bring presents to well-behaved children and to chastise the naughty.

Of course, observers outside the Netherlands and even within have come to take increasing offence at what they take to be the implicit racism of Zwarte Piet. Things came to a head during last year’s go-round, what with an intensive level of international press attention and even street-disturbances in the city of Gouda on the occasion of Sinterklaas’ “arrival” there. Recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its (non-enforceable) judgment that the Netherlands should dial Black Pete back.

It’s possible that last year represented, to coin a (not easily repeatable) phrase, peak Black Pete, as Amsterdam and various other Dutch cities have taken steps to minimize that racial dimension, and have banned Black Pete entirely from their schools. Of course, we’ll have to see when the time comes – in a little over a month – just what the differences will be between the new Black Petes and the old. For there will surely still be Black Petes: there remains considerable resentment among man-on-the-street Dutch people at what is perceived as outside interference in cultural practices that (in their view) do not harm anybody and are ultimately no one’s business outside the Netherlands.

Make that outside the Netherlands or Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, where they also celebrate Sinterklaas (although their pakjesavond is on 6 December*).

ZPiet
“Come on down to Antwerp,” is the message. “We keep our Black Petes black!”

This bit of touristic promotional work comes from alderman Koen Kennis, who represents in Antwerp the N-VA or Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie party, a right-wing, strongly Flemish nationalist party whose key demand is for Flanders to secede from Belgium entirely.

Of course, the Netherlands certainly has its own parallel party to the N-VA, namely the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) headed by the notorious Geert Wilders – one which certainly books healthy gains in its electoral support with every such Zwarte Piet controversy. As one would expect, Wilders has been unyielding in his “Leave Black Pete alone!” attitude, but his party is nowhere strong enough in any municipality to push that through as city policy. Things are different – for now – in Antwerp.

* Note to children with family connections in both the Netherlands and Flanders: the two territories are of course adjacent, so keep in mind the “double-dipping” possibilities of presents north of the border on the evening of the 5th, then presents south of the border on the evening of the 6th!

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Euro-horse Already Out of Barn

Monday, March 9th, 2015

The tweet reads “High time for a parliamentary investigation into the euro.” Could they be talking about Greece?

DDSEnquete
For indeed, doubt was thrown on Greece’s continued membership just yesterday, by Finance Minister Varoufakis, in the event that Eurogroup ministers refuse to accept Athens’ own ideas about how to deal with its tremendous burden of sovereign debt. This despite that fact that there is no mention in the treaties underpinning the Eurozone for any member leaving it, much less any prescribed procedure. Still, there is neither any authorization nor prescribed procedure for, say, giving birth during a transcontinental airline flight, yet that does happen from time to time; if/when the emergency arises and Greece just has to return to the drachma, they’ll surely find some way to do it, with or without formal EU treaty provisions.

In any event, this tweet (from the right-wing Dutch political blog Dagelijkse Standaard) does after all call for a parliamentary inquiry, and cuts closer to home. This is a petition directed to the Netherlands parliament, initiated by a group of political commentators led by a certain Thierry Baudet. Still only in his early 30s, Baudet already has a string of publications to his name, most of them in a Eurosceptic vein, decrying the threat to the nation-state posed by the super-national European institutions. More directly relevant, he also succeeded back in 2013 in having a referendum submitted to the Dutch Tweede Kamer – that is, he gained more than the 40,000 signatures required to put it to the attention of the parliament – which was to be “concerning the future of the Netherlands within the European Union.” The Tweede Kamer did duly consider the proposal, then rejected it.

Unsurprisingly, the group behind this latest proposed referendum has its own website, complete with a dedicated page to “Why a parliamentary inquiry over the euro?” Key to their argument is their assertion that it was assumed Northern European lands would allow themselves to become responsible for the fiscal failures of Southern European lands.

Despite what was claimed later, this perverse mechanism was amply foreseen by politicians. As Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission at the time when the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, said, “The difficult moments were predictable. When we created the euro, my complaint as an economist was (and I discussed this with Kohl and with other heads-of-state): how can we have a common currency without shared financial, economic and political pillars? The answer was: for now we have made this leap forward. The rest will follow.”

And:

It continues to surprise us how it could have been possible for such a radical decision to be paired with such little critical debate. What role did the government play here? How is it possible that politicians did not take more care over the financial stability of our country? What did those involved know precisely about the risks? And what did they not know? . . . Did people realize that this euro eventually would make necessary a very great transfer of power over to Brussels – such as the banking union, the stability pact and the upcoming budgetary union?

So they want the Dutch parliament to look into such questions, obviously with a view towards taking further concrete measures should unsatisfactory answers be revealed.

First of all, again, there is no explicit procedure available for any country now using the euro to ditch it for another currency – although, granted, that procedure can be made up on the fly, but surely not with great accompanying financial and economic chaos. More importantly, although this conservative group can probably once again get their 40,000 signatures to bring this measure before the Tweede Kamer as well, the question of the Netherlands in the euro is surely settled for now. There is no sign at all of any truly widespread political rejection by the Dutch populace of the common currency.

Indeed, economic analysis has tended to show that the euro has greatly benefited those Northern European lands heavily involved in trade and able to keep their labor costs in check – such as Germany, especially, but also the Netherlands, both of whom have seen their terms of trade steadily improve since the introduction of the euro in 1999 against Southern European lands with less ability to hold costs down. This widening gap between those advantaged and those disadvantaged by the euro contributed substantially towards getting everyone in the sovereign-debt mess we find ourselves in now – well, except for Germany and the Netherlands (again), plus a few other Eurozone countries (and Denmark) who find that they can actually ask borrowers to pay them to take their money on loan these days, rather than actually pay positive rates of interest.

This initiative must therefore be counted as merely a cry from out of the Dutch conservative wilderness. To the extent anyone takes it seriously, it is surely not constructive, in that doubts concerning any Eurozone member’s commitment to the euro are not useful just now as that grouping has to decide what to do about Greece’s new governing regime and its demands to cut down austerity. It’s rather the Greek people who need to examine the depth of their commitment to the euro, and thereby their level of support for future negotiating maneuvering by their Syriza government which we can surely expect more of in the near future

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Netherlands Imam Gala Under Threat

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Eagle-eyed Telegraaf journalist Alexander Bakker sends us advanced word of an interesting event happening next March 8 in Rijswijk (a suburb of The Hague), check it out:

Rohamaa
As you can probably make out, it’s going to be a sort of imam-extravaganza: the smaller-type bits there just under the date speak of “Readings | Films | Live translation | Anasheed* | Child-care.”

I won’t be there, unfortunately, but I hope that doesn’t mean that I can’t remark how the poster Bakker retweets reminds me too much of some WWE event; much better is this one:

Rohamaa2

I found this one, naturally enough, on the website for the event’s main sponsor, the Rohamaa Foundation (Rohamaa = رحماء = “merciful”). That second poster, just like the first one, takes care to note that there will be separate lecture-halls for males and females. The two posters also share the prominent slogan Zij Hebben Recht Op Ons or “They have a right to us,” meaning “They have a right to our help,” for it’s clear from their website that Rohamaa is mainly a charitable foundation channeling financial contributions and other assistance to hot-spots in the Arab world (and, Allah knows – Syria! – these places do stand in need).

The thing is, I feel quite confident in saying that the staging of such a clearly Islamic public event would not per se excite notice in the media – i.e. this sort of thing is normally “dog-bites-man” by now. But no, there is a problem: three of the headline imams are of the sort of reputation that the Dutch authorities have denied them a visa to come. In turn, this has prompted the local Rijswijk authorities (civil government, police, courts) to confer on the issue; the local government spokesman is unsure “whether there will be a decision.” What sort of “decision” could we be talking about here? The Telegraaf article does not say; but what could it be otherwise than to disallow the event?

Back to the Rohamaa website, and if you scroll down you can read (again, in Dutch) a press-release of two days ago telling of how the Foundation is “indignant” at the decision to deny those visas – apparently after they first had first been routinely granted, with no indication of anything untoward. Even more annoying: the top Ministry official in charge of the decision stated on TV that he knew nothing about the dossier.

Then this:

We fear that such decisions merely contribute to an increasingly polarized climate in the Netherlands. One could conclude from this that things in the Netherlands are measured by two different standards: freedom of expression is a great societal blessing, requiring guarding at all times, except when it has to do with certain minorities. This feeling has prevailed now for some time and is by this merely confirmed and enlarged.

Hear, hear! Vrijheid van meningsuiting, people! Freedom of expression!

* Anasheed is basically Islamic vocal music, mostly a capella.

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It’s Euroelection Time!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Yes, voters in the Netherlands and the UK go to the polls today to elect their Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Looks like it’s been mostly a rainy Thursday in much of the UK – not good for turnout! (More precisely: Only the fanatics can be counted on to make it to the polls, here meaning the anti-EU, Tea Party-like UK Independence Party.) The weather in the Netherlands, in contrast, has been pretty good.

Ireland and the Czech Republic join in tomorrow, while most of the rest of the 28 member-states get this done on Sunday, the 25th. And that’s when you can expect the results, i.e. after the 25th; it’s been reported that the Brussels authorities are at pains not to let the early-voters release their election results early, and so possibly influence the attitudes of later-voters.

Here at €S, as usual, we’ll cover these Euroelections as the spirit moves us – if you’re really interested, your best bet is probably the @EuroSavant Twitter-feed since this is not, of course, a Euroelection-dedicated site.

One that is, is a site called transform! from the European Network for Alternative Thinking and Political Dialogue.

Transorm
Actually, you’ll have the choice there of reading in English (from transform! europe proper), German (from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) or French (from a site called Regards.fr). Those of you with a nose for these things will have detected already that these sites will largely be reporting – again, from Sunday – on the MEP election results from a Left point-of-view, but it is clear that they have a structure in place to provide comprehensive and multi-lingual coverage. They also have a Twitter-feed: @transform_ntwrk.

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Electoral Self-Absorption

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Let me offer you a pair of neologisms, if I may, the first of which you see right here:

stemfie

That’s “stemfie,” a Dutch neologism constructed from a mix of stemmen (NL: to vote) and, of course, selfie, a word which now stretches far beyond just the English language and whose meaning I don’t have to tell you.

Now, about the second one. “Selfie” – such a childish-sounding word! Indeed, it basically describes a childish act, but I’d like to bring forward a replacement for it that describes even better what is going on: narcissie. That’s right, don’t call them “selfies,” call them “narcissies.”

I have no hope that this will ever actually catch on, but I am glad to offer it here just the same.

But back to the Dutch stemfie: A mini-craze arose at the time of the municipal elections last March 19 to photograph oneself with one’s ballot-paper, and indeed in this picture you see no less a personage doing that than Alexander Pechtold, leader of one of the main Dutch political parties, D66. Wait a second, objected the NGO whose name translates to “Platform for the Protection of Citizens’ Rights”: it’s never been allowed to make photographs within the voting-booth or of ballot-papers!

Well, now a panel of judges in The Hague has ruled that that is perfectly OK. That is actually the same thing as what the current Minister of the Interior (i.e. responsible for police and law-enforcement) was assuring everyone at the time of that election.

Which probably makes it opportune to remind ourselves why, under the “secret ballot,” it generally still is forbidden most other places to photograph inside the voting-booth. It’s all about some third party buying your vote, or otherwise forcing you to vote the way that this third party dictates: the “secret” in “secret ballot” means denying third parties any method to be able to verify that that vote has actually been carried out as they directed.

In the Netherlands that is again possible. Oh sure, people will claim that they are just having a laugh with that stemfie, but there will be no way to tell whether, in reality, they have been blackmailed or otherwise suborned to vote in a way that some other person wants them to. There has always been a reason, in other words, for that “No photographs!” prohibition; it’s unfortunate to see the Netherlands authorities throw that overboard in the cause of a passing fad.

Remember: “narcissie”! Far & wide may it spread, and you heard it hear first!

UPDATE: In today’s coverage of this matter on Flemish radio (VRT) they took pains to mention that the stemfie is certainly still illegal in Belgium.

LATER UPDATE: In the fast-moving world of social media, apparently yet another variant of “selfie” has come along: “belfie.” It means “butt selfie,” or “bum selfie” if you prefer.

But I’m cool with that, and can even offer my own recommended alternative designation: “rearcissie”!

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Dutch Scramble For Picketty

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

There’s just been an interesting entry on the nrc.nl>boeken blog which the leading Dutch quality newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, maintains over the subject of books.

Piketty_NL
Yes, this has to do with the French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century – not broadly noticed in his native France, but a run-away best-seller in the US and the UK, which is said to break new ground in the economic treatment of the causes of, and remedies to, societal inequality.

Especially in today’s book market, there’s nothing that excites publishers so much as what seems to be a sure-fire hit, certain money in the bank, so that NRC reporters Hanneke Chin-A-Fo and Toef Jaeger can write here about the unseemly scramble that broke out among Dutch-language publishing houses to gain exclusive rights to this work.

In the first round of bids to the French publisher Editions du Seuil the bidding went up to €40,000, an especially high amount for a non-fiction work. Yesterday the second round closed.

It turns out we have a winner! In an update to the post, the journalists reveal that the fairly prominent Amsterdam publishing house De Bezige Bij (yes, the name means “The Busy Bee”) has crowed in a tweet that it has gained the prize, although the winning price was not disclosed (only 140 characters, you know). They promise the Dutch version for January.

According to Chin-A-Fo and Jaeger there were further reasons to go hard for this work, in that not only is it likely to be assigned to be bought en masse by students in higher education, but it also promises to be a significant “prestige project” and so likely in the future to attract other star economists to want to publish in Dutch there.

Well, to the extent economists – or any other foreign non-fiction writer – want to publish in Dutch in the first place. In my view, for all the buzz that De Bezige Bij discerned around this book, I strongly suspect that they will soon be suffering from some buyer’s remorse. I mean, January 2015: Surely the sensation around this work will have died out by then!

In any case, the sort of educated Dutch (and Flemish) economists, and sundry other intellectuals, truly interested in reading this are certainly able, in the vast majority of cases, to read it just as well in the English version that is already out. (Which is said to currently be hard to get ahold of, admittedly – but surely way before January! Indeed, I’d venture that quite a few of these people could also read Piketty quite comfortably in the original French.)

Then there is also the evidence that led some observers to opine that people are mostly buying Piketty to display on their shelves rather than actually to read him. (Yes, he has a very readable style, peppered with references to popular literature and the like; but the book is also some 700 pages long.) Dutch readers probably are subject to the same temptation – but then surely that grandstanding function can be better fulfilled with the English version or, again, even better, the French!

In any case, the funny thing is that Dutch publishers had the chance to buy the rights way back last September, when the original French version came out. Cheeeeeeeeeeeep! No inequality on show there: they all passed.

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You Can’t Go Home Again

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Not if you’re Volkert, you can’t.

Volkert
But who is this “Volkert” of which the NOS, the Dutch public umbrella news organization, writes? If you’re Dutch and/or if you were anywhere in the country around 2001/2002, you don’t need to be told: it’s Volkert van der Graaf, the assassin of Pim Fortuyn, whom Van der Graaf shot in a Hilversum parking-lot on 6 May 2002, nine days before a general election in whose campaign Fortuyn was coming on from virtually nowhere to take the country by storm.

And the news today is that Van der Graaf is scheduled to be released from prison on 2 May, so a little less than 12 years after his heinous crime. Ponder that for a second: 12 years, for the in-plain-daylight murder of a dynamic political figure who was heading towards a significant upending of his country’s political establishment. (Here’s another data-point along the same lines, fresh from today’s news as well: 20 years prison demanded by prosecutors – what the judge will impose is another question entirely, but is not likely to be more – for a 24-year-old youth who burned a house down last summer and so killed a mother inside and her 17- and 14-year-old daughters.) (more…)

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Misled Micturation

Monday, May 27th, 2013

It’s a tough, cynical world out there, and we all know to be a bit suspicious when someone claims to be taking up a collection for a good cause, even when what’s being collected is . . . um, urine:

Farmaceutisch bedrijf misleidde zwangere vrouwen jarenlang: http://t.co/8vHmvaUbzz

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


Wait, what sort of pervert would be interested in other people’s urine? Turns out, when it comes from pregnant ladies its hormone content is quite valuable, and so the pharmaceutical company MSD (= Merck Sharp & Dohme, better known in the US simply as Merck*) started a “Mothers for Mothers” program in Brazil, way back in 1986, to convince expectant ladies there to contribute their precious bodily fluids on a regular basis towards a campaign to manufacture drugs designed to ease pregnancy complications.

Reasonable, right? But it has finally emerged that all these contributions (from 6,000 women at the program’s peak) were instead being diverted to produce a drug called “PG600” used – controversially – to speed up piglet production in sows, i.e. to accelerate pork production.

The funny thing is that this “Mothers for Mothers” program was started in Brazil right after a similar campaign in the Netherlands had to be canceled in the mid-1980s, precisely because Dutch women stopped cooperating when similar misuse of their contributions came to light there. Time then to head for the Third World, to somewhere that doesn’t get news from Holland, eh? The word from this Volkskrant piece is that, according to a company spokesperson, “MSD is busy now developing a program in which women will be informed that human hormones are needed for the production of PG600.” Good luck with that.

* Company slogan (from website) = “Be well!” Perhaps something rather along the lines of “Pee well!” is in order.

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Dutch Party-Pooper!

Monday, April 8th, 2013

We’re now into April, the weather is finally going to start to warm up in the next few days (so they promise us – but with much rain initially), and it’s a fine April indeed to be in the Netherlands! We’ve got a big party scheduled for just next Saturday when, after a ten-year renovation, the Rijksmuseum will be reopened and will be free for everyone (for that initial day). Then there is another special party due at the end of the month. Yes, April 30 has officially been Queen’s Day for a long, long time, held to celebrate the birthday of Queen Beatrix, but this time Queen’s Day will officially and permanently turn into Kings Day as our new King, Willem-Alexander, is crowned that day in the Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam.

So what’s this discordant note that I see emanating from one of the country’s main papers?

‘Het is 2013. Hoog tijd om eens op te houden met de #monarchie#vkopinie http://t.co/nibO1bH2jN

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“It is 2013 – high time to stop with the monarchy”! Can it be that the Dutch royal house enjoys less support among its native populace than is supposed?

Probably not – but that does not mean that there is not a good case for abolition nonetheless. The tweet links to the Volkskrant article laying out the republican case by Max Westerman, a former reporter for Dutch TV, but this time all my dear readers are in luck, as that is just a translation back into Dutch of the original English piece that was published in the Wall Street Journal.

I do recomment that you take a look at the latter, if you have any interest at all in Dutch affairs. For it is certainly true that the history of the Netherlands is by far that of republicanism, i.e. of operating without a king, and it was only the European Great Powers after Napoleon’s defeat who foisted a king on the nation, and at a relatively late point in the history of kingship (1813) at that.

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Romney’s Money Goes Dutch

Monday, November 5th, 2012

You can now add the Netherlands to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland in the Mitt Romney tax-avoidance Hall of Fame:

#Romney ontwijkt belasting door sluipweg via Nederland http://t.co/S1w4WKy2

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“[S]luipweg via nederland” – you can translate that as “Dutch dodge,” through which Bain Capital managed to avoid €80 million in taxation on dividends in 2004 by channeling an investment in the Irish pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott through a Dutch holding company that held the shares. He also avoided that way a substantial sum in Irish wealth tax.

Note that this is in the period after 1999 when Romney claimed to have cut connections with Bain. This tax-trick was uncovered through cooperative research undertaken by Gawker and a Dutch independent financial investigation website called Follow the Money, using public SEC filings, once-confidential documents made public by Bain, and data from the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Note that it was apparently perfectly legal.

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No “European Spring”

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Politically, this has been a most eventful week in the Netherlands. As we head massively onto the streets today in our orange apparel to celebrate the QueensDay holiday, many of us will drink and dance in the sunny weather in part simply to forget the experience of the government falling, followed by the cobbling-together by a hastily-formed temporary coalition of a budget-cut package to meet EU demands.

So yes, it has been a remarkable past couple of days. This, however, just goes too far:

Paul Brill: ‘Begint in Den Haag de Europese lente?’ http://t.co/LgHpwSBb #vkopinie

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


“Has the European Spring begun in The Hague?” asks commentator Paul Brill – as in “Europe’s Arab Spring,” you understand.

Thank God for that question-mark, for actually going through his piece makes it clear that Brill is hardly sure himself that the answer is “yes.” (What we also might have here is a rogue third-party headline-writer; I understand that column-writers for periodicals – as opposed to bloggers – usually don’t write their own headlines.) What makes Brill (or his headline-writer) think of the Arab Spring is the series of “No!” gestures to the EU austerity regime – mostly being pushed by Germany – now in the cards. You have the French presidential election run-off next Sunday, which according to most polls will elevate François Hollande to that position, who will then reject the EU’s new Austerity Pact. On the same day there will be national elections in Greece, and polls there forecast a defeat for the PASOK and New Democracy parties – now ruling in a grand coalition, but for decades the two main competing parties representing (respectively) the Left and the Right on the Greek political scene. As of next week they will likely be superseded by brand-new parties, all of them promoting resistance to the terms of Greece’s bail-out from the IMF, EU and ECB.

And then the Netherlands: Once seen as reliably in Germany’s austerity camp – indeed, Finance Minister De Jager has made quite a name for himself as scourge and hector of those irresponsible, debt-ridden Southern Europeans – this country effectively made its first substantial anti-austerity gesture with the collapse of the government, brought about when the right-wing, populist PVV party would not go along with the budget cuts being proposed. Yes, as stated, enough budget cuts to satisfy the EU were ultimately approved anyway via a one-time reshuffling of the political deck, but the fact that the PVV was effectively part of the governing coalition (it “tolerated” it, i.e. promised not to vote against it on important matters) meant that there would have to be new elections (in early September), to form a new government.

Notably, a couple of important parties held themselves aloof from those budget cuts, namely over on the Left in the forms of the Labor Party (PvdA) and the Socialist Party. The strategy here was clear: they won’t be tainted by those budget cuts in that election, so that a vote for the Left offers a means for the Dutch electorate to vote against budget cuts and austerity, and basically to join the likely French and Greeks “No!” against the EU austerity regime.

So that is what is really going on here. The Greeks and the French seem unlikely to accede to German demands for EU member-state austerity as the best way out of the financial and sovereign-debt crises. But the Dutch – the Dutch! those traditional lap-dogs of the Germans! – now seem quite likely to do the same. If they do that, however, they’ll do it in September, so forget about any “European Spring.”

For that matter, let’s give the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc. some proper respect for what they have accomplished/are accomplishing and simply drop any further hyperbolic talk about a “European Spring,” “Autumn,” or anything else. The Europeans have their own notable Days of Revolt to their credit in history, but they were back in 1789, 1848 and (to the East) 1989, and certainly not today.

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Dancing (PM) Fool

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Another chance here to hit on the theme of the Netherlands leading the way to the Moral Apocalypse.

Saturday was quite a day for carousing, probably the year’s peak, at least for Amsterdam, for while the yearly Gay Pride Canal Parade which I treated in my previous post was proceeding, something called Dance Valley was going on as well – also yearly, consisting of tens of thousands congregating in an area of farmland called Spaarnewoude, just west of Amsterdam, to spend the day gyrating to electronic music coming out of huge speakers.

“Nothing really wrong with that,” you might say – and some of you might even add “. . . especially if that diverted some impressionable youth from otherwise spending their Saturday watching the homosexuals do their thing on Amsterdam’s canals!” True enough, were it not for one particular “impressionable youth” so diverted: our very own Prime Minister, Mark Rutte! The Algemeen Dagblad has the story: Mark Rutte dances along at Dance Valley, complete with pictures and even a brief video of the PM swaying along with the crowd. (I would embed it here, but it’s not all that interesting.) He’s the dude with the shades and the open-necked white shirt, who apparently likes to pose with chicks (with shades). Well, he is only 44, but he heads the VVD, the right-wing businessman’s party, so you’d think he would at least wear a tie!

For the sake of any of you who might gain satisfaction anew from the fact, let me repeat here my observation from that earlier post that the Canal Parade (and therefore Dance Valley, only about 15km to the west) had to deal with repeated interruptions of heavy rains and thunder/lightning. Also, from the AD article, Rutte has attended Dance Valley before, as recently as 2008, when he lost his telephone and so had his friends treated to rude SMS messages from same. But he wasn’t Netherlands head-of-government then.

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OPW – Other People’s WiFi

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Nicholas Jackson of the Atlantic has a quite interesting blogpost up entitled “What’s Yours Is Mine: Using a Wireless Network You Don’t Own.” Is that theft? Or is it simply OK, no big deal?

The immediate impetus to his post is a recent ruling in the Netherlands, to the effect that that is in fact just no big deal, even if the wireless network you’re using happens to be secured, so that you have succeeded in breaking that security to use it! A controversial point-of-view, to be sure, which has also set off a mini-firestorm of discussion over on Slashdot.

Many of the legal issues here are somewhat subtle, meaning that reliance on machine-translation of the original Dutch report on the judge’s ruling is likely to be misleading. But that is where EuroSavant can step in; what follows is my own human-translated version of that piece, as a contribution to the discussion.
(more…)

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Coot Report

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

A brief mention here of an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw that just might represent something quintessentially Dutch. It’s actually in the paper’s Groen! (“Green!”) section, which makes a lot of sense since it’s mainly a report – on the website of a major national newspaper, mind you – about the fortunes of a pair of common waterfowl, specifically two coots. Reporter Koos Dijksterhuis’ lede:

The coots had already been busy for weeks with the defense of their nest. Every presumed enemy was driven away with elan by a fierce flapping of wings. Finally the family swam around, but with seven chicks.

And so on, continuing to the depiction of an idyllic family meal. But it’s hardly all sweetness and light. There’s mention of parent coots even pecking their young to death if they find them too much trouble, but in this case things don’t come to that. Instead, Dijksterhuis notes that none of the seven chicks are to be seen after only five days, victims of one predator or another. Especially suspicious as culprits are the sea gulls (specifically, black-backed gulls), which have even been known to hunt young coot chicks in pairs: the first swoops over, prompting the chick to dive in panic, but then the second is there to snatch it when it resurfaces.

Dijksterhuis goes on to note that he sees many more such gulls than he can recall in the past. Is it because of the prey of this sort that they can find inland, or something else? Anyway, note well that this piece – labeled natuurdagboek or “nature diary,” so that it seems to be part of a series – appeared the very same day as nationalwide elections were happening here in the Netherlands. The “printing” capacity of the Internet is truly without limit.

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Dutch Ready to Legalize All Drugs?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Who knows? It’s seems more possible than it has been before – even in the Netherlands, with its softer-than-usual policy towards such things as marijuana – after an opinion piece (Save the country, allow drugs), co-written by some local political notables, appeared yesterday in the leading quality newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad. Among the article’s nine co-signatories, the ones that stand out above the rest are probably Dr. Els Borst-Eilers and Ms. Hedy d’Ancona, both former national Ministers of Health, and most definitely Prof. Frits Bolkestein, former Dutch Eurocommissioner, former Minister of Defense, and one of the most influential politicians on the national scene in the last twenty years.

Even here, such a policy suggestion is highly controversial and, in view of the high-profile names attached to it, it immediately provoked comment within the Dutch press – from within the NRC itself, of course, but also in the form of a press-agency treatment available in other newspapers, among which Trouw (Bolkestein wants to legalize all drugs). (more…)

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Dutch Keystone Kops/Kriminals

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I came across this amusing piece while surfing through the European press today and immediately realized that compressing the tale down to 140 characters to send out as a tweet would in no way do it justice. Note that it’s from the leading Flemish newspaper De Standaard; it’s about a Belgian guy, to be sure, but it’s also easy to see other reasons why that paper would want to write about something like this, since the Flemings and Dutch like to make fun of each other.

There was this Belgian guy, see, living in the Netherlands, just above the Belgian border in Roosendaal, and he found that he had lost his Dutch residence permit and so needed visit the local police station to get a new one. Bad move: he was, after all, wanted for questioning in connection with his alleged assault with a knife on his then-girlfriend back in August, 2008, something the police officer there discovered rather easily while looking up his records.

So the Rosendaal police got to chalk up an easy win, with a wanted suspect falling right into their lap, right? Not exactly: he was able rather swiftly to escape “via the garden” – aren’t police-gardens against regulations? – so that an arrest order for him was issued yet again. Easy come, easy go.

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Give Us Less WWII – But Also More

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

It’s now early May, the time of year when many West European countries celebrate their liberation at the end of World War II. Today is in fact Liberation Day in the Netherlands, a public holiday, while yesterday was Dodenherdenkingdag – Day for the Remembrance of the Dead. And at a ceremony in The Hague a certain Eberhard van der Laan, a former government minister for the Dutch Labor Party, gave an interesting, even provocative speech (covered here in the Algemeen Dagblad) calling for a line of a certain sort to be drawn under the WWII experience so that society can finally move on.

The “hook” to Van der Laan’s speech, as it were, was the fact that it has now been 65 years since the end of the war – that’s the standard retirement age, at least within Europe, so why don’t we finally put WWII out to retirement as well? With this, the ex-politician was giving voice to what many in Europe surely have always thought in secret about the War (especially those too young to have lived through it): for how long will we have to keep paying respect, keep letting it influence our lives? It’s a very pertinent question, especially when applied to Germany and the issue of when, if ever, the guilt for what that nation perpetrated will finally be washed away and made irrelevant through the eroding effect of all the passing years. (more…)

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Terrorism: Learning the Dutch Approach

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

And now we have the proverbial bomb going off in the middle of a crowded Times Square in New York City – a rather crude explosive device, we’re told, but one that could certainly have taken many lives and caused who-knows-what other damage to the markets, to American Constitutional liberties, etc. had it not been for an alert sidewalk T-shirt seller who noticed something strange and notified the police in time.

Notice something? That tragedy (almost) happened, not in Baghdad or some exotic place like that, but in one of the most American of American places. And don’t forget Major Hasan and his homicidal rage at another bastion of the red-white-and-blue, Fort Hood, TX. What ever happened to President George W. Bush’s 2003 promise: “We are fighting that enemy [i.e. terrorists] in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities”? I guess American soldiers are not fighting so much anymore in Iraq, at least; could that be the reason? (more…)

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Ash Takes Bloom Off the Dutch Rose

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

In case you were wondering how we were coping here in the Netherlands with the flights shut-down stemming from the volcano-ash, a recent article in De Volkskrant by Carien ten Have lays out all the effects pretty well. The executive summary would read: Dutch life has suddenly gotten a lot less romantic for a while, and just when Spring has come and the trees are in bloom!

Even if you don’t read Dutch, that article might be worth a click anyway due to the attractive, if “canned” (i.e. from one of those photo agencies, in this case Colourbox), photo of roses at the top. ‘Cause if there’s one thing everyone associates with Holland, it’s flowers, and that business is heavily dependent on air transport for product-delivery that usually has to happen within a span of a few days, at most. What may come as a surprise is that much of that flower product-delivery to buyers is within the Netherlands – or within the immediate vicinity in Northwest Europe – and sourced with flowers usually flown in from more exotic locales like Kenya and Ecuador. Those are of course now cut-off, and that is the main cause for the steep price-rises now seen here for flowers, whether for foreign ones that got here anyway (or were here before the Eyjafjallajökull volcano blew) or the domestically-grown variety. Still, never fear (if you’ve got the money to pay): “There are sufficient Dutch flowers to supply the European market,” declares Herman de Boon, who is the Dutch answer to Mr. Bean even as he serves at the same time as Chairman of the Dutch Association of Flower Wholesalers.

The situation is similar when it comes to other exotic things that have to be flown in: fruits & vegetables, for instance. There’s still enough in stock, just don’t expect to be able to take your Spring sweetheart to a restaurant to enjoy things like Peruvian asparagus or Egyptian green beans for a while. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical and medical sectors have also felt the flight-ban’s effects; for example, apparently some radiation-based medicines for fighting cancer must be used within 24 hours or they go to waste.

Here’s an informative English-language run-down from Global Post on how the Dutch flower industry has been dealing with a difficult week – including some good news at least for those hospitals, mentioned at the very end.

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Addiction Switch

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Most societies are marked by one or more characteristic, high-profile addictions: khat in Yemen, for example, coca leaves in Bolivia, vodka in Russia, etc. Some might be tempted to add “weed in the Netherlands” to that list, but apparently that really isn’t true anymore.

How about “video games” instead? The Dutch newspaper Trouw has a piece up now about that. (Game industry must warn against addiction; it’s credited to the Novum news agency, based in Amsterdam, of which I had never heard before.) Its starting-point is a recent report from the Rotterdam-based research bureau IVO, which must be an interesting place to work since it indeed specializes in “lifestyle” and addiction issues. (Check out its English page here, and you can download their video game report here, although it’s in Dutch and they’ll first ask you to enter some information about yourself.) IVO claims that the gaming industry is shirking its public responsibility by doing nothing to counteract video game addiction. In the meantime, the estimated number of such addicts in the Netherlands has reached between 30,000 and 80,000 (out of a population of 16 million).

Not only is that a conclusion that these companies don’t enjoy having made public, but IVO conducted the report in the first place on a commission from the Dutch Ministry of Health. Reaction has been swift from the NVPI, the Dutch industry association for “the entertainment industry.” Yes we do act against addiction, a spokesman claimed: we put recommended-age indications on the boxes of all such games, together with additional warnings if they involve such nasty things as sex, drugs, or violence. What else can you do?

That’s a valid point: what else? A further action discussed here is putting on some sort of “Watch out! This game can be addictive!” warning-label on as well. But that won’t work because 1) It’s lame; 2) If it has any effect, it will merely attract more buyers; and 3) For most players by far, the game will turn out not to be addicting.

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Cannachopper!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

For too many people – for far, far too many, in fact, but not for any of you readers of this weblog, I would wager – the only fact filed in their brains under “Netherlands” or “Holland” is “it’s that place where you can go smoke weed and it’s legal, man!” And that’s true: you can smoke weed here, and it’s legal, as long as you follow some trifling rules regarding time and place.

But Dutch culture also stems from a rather Calvinist historical background (think “Thou Shalt Not!”), which cannot but give rise to various paradoxes – if you’d rather not call them “hypocrisies” – such as that, while it’s legal to buy hash and marijuana in small amounts, it’s strictly-speaking illegal to supply the stuff in any commercially-meaningful amounts. And the public authorities take a particularly dim view of marijuana “farms” or “plantations.”

Combine all that with Dutch technical ingenuity, and what you can come up with as a result is what (fittingly) the Dutch religious newspaper Nederlands Dagblad is now reporting: Unmanned helicopter tracks down marijuana-cultivation. (more…)

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News Flash: Osama bin Laden Innocent of 9-11!

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

That’s at least according to “Devil’s Advocate” (Advocaat van de Duivel), a television program on the Dutch state network Nederland 2, on which every week “lawyer Gerard Spong defends a prominent personality about whom public opinion has an outspoken position,” according to its description on Nederland 2. We’re informed of this vital and earth-shaking development, not from a Dutch newspaper, but from journalists across the border writing for the German daily Die Welt (TV court declares Osaba bin Laden innocent; I tried but could not find any report on this in the on-line Dutch press).

Yes, this program is a sort of “people’s court” in which Spong – in his day-job a prominent Amsterdam defense attorney who charges up to €450 an hour – defends the notorious before a “citizen’s jury” and a larger studio audience, who are each then polled to see what effect his arguments have had on them. (Check it out: you can watch the entire latest program from this webpage, just click on the bekijk uitzending link, but of course it’s in Dutch with no sub-titles.) And in this particular episode that “citizen’s jury” ruled as “unproven” both the propositions that Bin Laden was the planner/director of the September 11 attacks and even that he was the founder/leader of al-Qaeda. Instead, both the jury and the studio audience ruled that those attacks on New York and Washington were most likely “a fiction propounded by Western politicians.” Still, Spong did try to push things a bit too far – maybe that’s just the professional instinct of any good defense lawyer – by also advancing the proposition that Bin Laden was a mere “freedom-fighter at war against the West”; the jury concluded instead that he is indeed “a terrorist who misuses Islam for personal ambitions to power.”

That Die Welt article holds tightly to the prescribed journalistic objectivity, simply passing on to readers the fact that this TV program occurred and the details as to what the “citizen’s jury” decided, without any additional editorial comment. In that same vox populi, vox dei spirit, it also displays in a prominent spot at its head a simple Yes/No on-line poll question: “Is al-Qaeda still a danger for the West?”

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Model for the Future

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

OK, let’s talk about the Olympics, then. But not the 2008 Beijing Olympics – rather, the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics! Yes, we pride ourselves here at EuroSavant on our solipsism, but the immediate motive for this nostalgic look 80 years backward is the excellent recent article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw by Haro Hielkema, Amsterdam: Example for the Rest, which is itself largely derived from the book Model voor de toekomst – Amsterdam, Olympische Spelen 1928 by Ruud Paauw and Jaap Visser (which was itself only published a few weeks ago, that is, just before the opening of the Beijing Games – which I bet will not surprise you at all). (more…)

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Fingering a New Dike

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Whatever happened to the Zuiderzee?

Literally the “South Sea,” this was a characteristic geographic feature of Holland that many of you may have caught mention of when reading about Rembrandt, say, or about the Dutch East India Company (or, for that matter, the Dutch West India Company), whose ships generally set sail from Amsterdam through the Zuiderzee on their way to found/supply/exploit the various Dutch colonies in the world.

But you don’t hear about the Zuiderzee nowadays, and that’s for a good reason: it was eliminated back in 1933. No, that big body of water lying in the middle of the Netherlands did not just dry up, but in that year it was rather cut off from the North Sea and turned into basically a big lake by a modern and uniquely Dutch engineering marvel, the Afsluitdijk, or “Closure Dike,” spanning 32 km/20 miles from the provinces of North Holland in the West to Friesland in the East. The Zuiderzee was at that point renamed the IJsselmeer (after the IJssel, the main river to run into it) and slowly but surely turned into a fresh-water lake. (more…)

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Gay Pride Parade in Polish Eyes

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Coming up this very next weekend: Gay Pride Amsterdam! What’s in it for you if you’re not gay? Well, the parade of boats through the city’s canals – actually, basically the Prinsengracht – is the highlight of the whole weekend and attracts 350,000 spectators, or so the above-linked website claims, so it’s something to consider going and watching, as long as you also realize that the “entertainment” on the passing boats verges into outright nudity not infrequently and into sheer camp always. Plus, there will be gay street parties all over the place from Friday to Sunday. Amsterdam is generally a big enough party-place on a summer weekend for one to be able to find a suitable heterosexual vibe somewhere, if that is more your thing – and meanwhile just think of all the sales- and tax-revenue those hundreds of thousands of visitors are bringing to the city! (more…)

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Nothing Really to Celebrate

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

As I noted in this previous post, July 21 – yesterday – is each year the Belgian National Holiday: think along the lines, for example, of the 4th of July in the US. Except that yesterday in Belgium the occasion was more like America on 4 July 1860: then, Abraham Lincoln had just been nominated to be the Republican Party candidate for the upcoming presidential election in November, and it was evident that, while he had a good chance of sweeping the more-populated Northern states with his party platform forbidding any more slavery in US territories, nobody in the South would vote for him. Indeed, if he turned out to win the presidency nonetheless (which of course he did), there was very likely to be serious trouble, yet it was hard to think of any alternative scenario by which the presidency could be won by any of the other candidates, each of which were politicians backed by yet-narrower sections of the country. Likewise, there was precious little of any “national” nature to be celebrated in Belgium on its “National Holiday” yesterday, even as one can assume that any similar implicit prospect of violence does not apply in this modern case.

When last we left portly, avuncular old King Albert II, he had received Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation but had yet to decide whether to accept it. (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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EU Constitution Or Else . . . Doin’ the Yugoslav Breakdown*?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

(Footnote out of the way first: * As opposed to doin’ the Foggy Mountain Breakdown, by Earl Scruggs – and folks, that link there actually takes you to a webpage showing the guitar fingerings for playing this timeless bluegrass classic!)

Prospects for a “Yes” vote on the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty are under pressure these days not only in France but also here in the Netherlands. Well, at least “Yes” is currently ahead of “No” by only about ten percentage points in the polls, which is taken to be a worrying sign. So cabinet ministers are swinging into action to tout the Constitution, including Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner who, as reported in the newspaper Trouw (registration required) has warned against the danger of war if the Constitution is not adopted.

War? Yes, war: Because without the more authoritative and more effective EU institutions that the Constitution will supposedly bring into being, Europe’s inherent “irritation, suspicion, and distrust” threatens to escalate out of control. Just like happened in the mid-1990s in the Balkans: “Yugoslavia was more integrated than the [European] Union is now, but bad will and the inability to stifle hidden irritations and rivalry led in a short time to war.” (more…)

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Monopoly for Danish in Denmark?

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

OK, OK, we’re back to serious again, although we remain in Denmark. The main serious thing that is happening there currently is that there’s an election campaign going on, heading for a vote scheduled for February 8. Here is CNN’s coverage if you want a little background; basically the incumbent premier, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is currently doing well in the polls, is required to hold a general election sometime this year, and so would to prefer to do so now.

But I don’t expect you to care. Shoot, I don’t care myself. If you send your web-browser to EuroSavant expecting at all to read Danish election coverage on any sort of regular basis, well, then you clearly misunderstand the wildly-scattershot quality that is central to this weblog’s self-conception. (Look, I’ve got eight languages to cover – don’t forget to include English! – and a focus that, if it even merits that name, shifts abruptly and unpredictably with my very whim.)

No, we don’t care about the upcoming election to the Danish Folketing (that’s their unicameral parliament) per se; what we might care about is the remarkable or even silly things that the pressures of such an election campaign might move Danish political parties and/or politicians to utter. And we have a prize specimen here today, from Politiken: Danish People’s Party Wants to Forbid Other Languages. (more…)

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