Dutch Friendliness in Iraq Can Mean Vulnerability

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Late last Saturday the second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq was killed when the convoy of two vehicles he was riding in was ambushed near Ar-Rumaytah in the South of the country . . .

Stop right there, MAO, you interrupt. The second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq? Look, that’s part of the risks for any military contingent that is there. Are we going to get a bulletin on this weblog every time a Dutch soldier bites the dust, just because you happen to live in their country – this when the total of American dead is pushing 950 and counting? Why don’t you favor us instead with accounts of ten US Marines dying in one day (free registration required), but while on the attack – why don’t you give credit where it’s due for real pain and suffering on a somewhat more significant scale?

You certainly have a point, although articles like the one just linked to (reference thanks to Intel Dump) are in English, so you don’t need my help to know what they say. I really don’t intend to report every Dutch fatality in Iraq; hopefully there won’t be any more, but you have to think that that’s unlikely. More pertinently, though, this latest incident – definitely the most serious violent incident of the entire Dutch occupation presence (so far) – raises interesting questions about the rather different way the Dutch go about their military duties there. (more…)

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Self-Portrait (in Dutch): Hungary

Saturday, July 24th, 2004

In the EuroSavant coverage of the Danish/Dutch Europa XL/Zelfportret Europa series we recently did the Czechs, and then we did the Slovaks: up until 1993 their fellow countrymen. Now we proceed from the Slovaks to the Hungarians, under inverse logic: these are long-time enemies, in the fundamental sense of two different ethnic nations laying claim to much the same bits of land. (From the Hungarians we could use that same “adversary” logic to proceed on to the Romanians, with whom the Hungarians have historically had even worse relations – except that the Romanians are not yet EU members.) (more…)

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Of False Alarms and Attacks Missed

Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

Here in the Netherlands we’ve been on a heightened state of terror-alert for over a week – which is the first time that any EU state has warned its citizens against possible imminent attacks since the train-bombings in Madrid of last March 11. Alex Burghoorn of De Volkskrant takes time out from day-to-day news to examine the general European phenomenon of terror-alerts in the recent article Terror Alarm is a Political Balancing-Act. (more…)

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Slovakia: The Past is Now

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

We recently covered the “Europa XL/Zelfportret Europa” portrait of the Czech Republic. Now it’s time to take up that country’s sister republic, Slovakia, which came into its own as an independent country only with the so-called “Velvet Divorce” of 1 January 1993. Did that “divorce” really ever need to come to pass? (more…)

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The Czech Republic – From a Prague Point-of-View

Saturday, July 3rd, 2004

The “Europa XL” series carries on, and now it’s getting to the real interesting countries among the fresh member-states which joined the European Union only as of last May 1. But this time it’s not really “Europa XL” – it’s rather “Zelfportret Europa,” that is, the version of this series as carried by the Dutch newspaper Trouw. As I’ve written, I do prefer to deal with this series in its Danish form, in the webpages of the Copenhagen-based newspaper Politiken, but Politiken is showing disturbing signs of neglecting “Europa XL.” In the first place, that newspaper’s master page for “Europa XL” is what you could call “hidden,” i.e. it’s not accessible from the main homepage – i.e. the frontpage – that any visitor to the Politiken website would naturally visit first to see the customary summary presentation of the day’s news. Of course, you can get there easily via the links that I give you, but its being “hidden” does mean that it is probably impossible to run across for any visitor to Politiken who does not already know about it. (more…)

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Taking Responsibility for Your Own Continent

Thursday, July 1st, 2004

Both American Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan are now in the Darfur region of Sudan, in order to draw attention to what has been called one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises ever, the assaults on the black Sudanese people there by Arab “Janjaweed” militias has resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people since February, 2003, the displacement from their homes of one million, rape on a massive scale, and similar horrors. And the US government has introduced a UN Security Council resolution calling for international sanctions – an arms embargo, travel restrictions – against those militias.

If nothing else, this bringing-together in one out-of-the-way spot of two of the world’s most prominent and powerful figures is succeeding in attracting press attention to a conflict most of the world has up to now preferred to ignore. Strangely, that also includes countries in what you could call the immediate neighborhood; and in its coverage today (Ethnic Cleansing/Africa Ignores Sudan) the Dutch newspaper Trouw brings to light and examines this attitude. (more…)

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Football as Nationalism, as Religion

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

For those of you who live outside the “Old World” and so who may fail to grasp the fact: Yes, the currently on-going “Euro2004” European football championship is a big deal over here, routinely re-directing daily life with its schedule of football broadcasts and calling forth floods of uniformly-colored crowds in central cities throughout the continent. So it should be no surprise when press coverage takes a step back from the “trees” of the action and results of individual games to contemplate the wider “forest” of what it all means. Often this stepping-back goes no further than attempts to find a secret formula to unlock football-championship success, which are interesting enough in themselves. But lately some analysts have gone even further than that. (more…)

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Europa XL Now Also in Dutch!

Monday, June 14th, 2004

My review of and commentary upon the cultural portraits of the EU member-states presented in the Europa XL series by the Danish newspaper Politiken is an on-going feature of this site, and you see over on the left-side of the homepage that links to the individual portraits, by country, are gathered together there for readers’ convenience. Today I discovered that the same series is also being presented by the Dutch newspaper Trouw. Yes, now these selections of each country’s typical painting, photograph, person, food-dish, etc. are available in the form of Danish and Dutch versions of the same explanatory texts (but the copyright is held by Politiken).

Maybe that’s not so much of a big deal for those of you who don’t read either Danish or Dutch, but it could be interesting for those Dutch-speakers out there, to enjoy the unalloyed texts themselves and check up on what I write all the more closely! Also, now I get the choice of practicing one of those two languages or the other when I want to cover the next cultural portrait – or maybe both, to cross-check. By the way, I also noticed that the portrait of the Czech Republic has now been added to the series, as chosen by Czech writer Ivan Klima. An excellent choice! I’m sure to cover this one very soon.

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Strasbourg Seat for Sale

Friday, June 11th, 2004

The elections for EuroParliament delegates are now going on in the 25 member states, according to when each state prefers to have its citizens go to the polls during the required Thursday-to-Sunday time-frame. (But you already know that, as I recently covered the rise of the UKIP in Britain in this context.) Whoever wins one of the EP’s 786 seats gets – among other rights and obligations – a very decent, tax-free salary-plus-allowances for the next five years. Especially for MEPs from the new member-states of Central Europe, the pay and perks of representing your country in Strasbourg easily rival anything you might be able to earn at home, in either the private or public sector (often including even as president or prime minister). What’s more, the election rules are such that it is common that such legislators are elected off of party lists, rather than on the basis of geographical constituencies. How many of those on the list are elected – i.e. how far down the list the candidates are chosen for office – depends on how much voter support the party itself gets in the given election.

So why not put list-positions up for sale? (more…)

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A “Pim Fortuyn” for Britain?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

The every-five-years elections to the European Parliament will begin tomorrow (some countries vote on Thursday, others on the following Sunday), and polls in the UK are pointing toward a surprising result. The heretofore almost-unknown UK Independence Party (UKIP) stands to post impressive results, which could catapult it up into the company of that country’s main political parties (Labour and the Conservatives) and leave the Liberal Democrats back in a distant fourth place.

The reason why this is alarming to many is at the same time the reason why the UKIP seems to be gaining so much support, namely its call for a “friendly” but complete withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. Up until the UKIP, the most “extreme” position on this issue had been that of the Conservatives, who maintain a suspicious attitude about what goes on within EU institutions, and who don’t want any new European Constitution and certainly won’t give up the pound sterling for the euro, but who don’t go so far as to advocate withdrawal (upon which, in the UKIP’s imaginings, the UK would join the ranks of countries like Norway and Switzerland, who supposedly enjoy much of the trade benefits associated with the EU anyway without having to put up with all that quasi-governmental stuff).

Even if most or all of the new British Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) turn out to come from the UKIP, that would not mean Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But the worrying thing about that party’s seeming rise in popularity is that the British people’s attitudes towards the EU were supposed to get steadily more warm and chummy with time, guided by constant persuasion (propaganda?) from the bully-pulpit manned by a Labour government that has been in power since 1997. After all, referenda are now in store, eventually, on both the questions of switching to the euro and adopting a new EU Constitution (when/if member-state governments finally succeed in adopting one), and the hope had been that attitudes would have softened enough by the time those happen to ensure “Yes” votes. The UK is not obliged ever to adopt the euro – unlike, say, all of the ten new member-states, whenever they meet certain economic and fiscal criteria – but it’s possible (although still unclear at this point) that a “No” vote on the Constitution could indeed mean insistence from the other EU members that the UK withdraw its membership.

A key factor in the UKIP’s new popularity is said to be its new leading spokesman and candidate, Robert Kilroy-Silk, who had an interview show on the BBC up until earlier this year, when he had to resign after saying nasty things on-air about Arabs. There’s an entertaining portrait from the Guardian available, but I’m more intrigued by this analysis as to whether he might be the “British Pim Fortuyn,” from a source best-placed to judge such things: the Dutch newspaper Trouw. (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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Bush as Baghdad Bob?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2003

The ol’ reliable Dutch newspaper Trouw has come up with another interesting commentary article – at first glance, at least – entitled Bush als Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. (Yes, you understand that headline correctly. For the English translation, simply remove one strategic “l”.) Remember him? He was the “Information Minister” in Saddam Hussein’s regime, the one who never let reality get in the way of his own convictions about how the war to defend his country against Coalition forces was going. (And who still has his own fan-site.)

Frankly, Trouw (no specific author indicated) has something there. It reminds us that al-Sahhaf’s favorite phrase was “We have the situation under control.” When we have President Bush now asserting that the increased tempo of attacks and bombings in Iraq is actually a good sign, since it shows the Iraqi resistance’s desperation, the comparison with al-Sahhaf starts to sound more reasonable. It’s actually somewhat of a surprise that someone else (some Democrat, say) didn’t come up with this parallel earlier. No one else did at least as I far as I can tell, in my frequent reviews of the various European national presses. If anyone can set me straight on that, I’d be glad to hear about it, via e-mail and/or under “Comments.” (more…)

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Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) During WWII

Monday, October 27th, 2003

One of my weblog entries back on October 18 had to do with an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw which treated seven supposed contradictions in the long reign of Pope John Paul II, including the question of his record in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. (True, that was not when he was Pope; but it was when he was a Catholic seminarian.)

That entry has now prompted Nik to respond with an extensive comment shedding further light on just what the then-Karol Wojtyla did during those trying years, a comment which debunks any allegation of morally cowardly behavior, which it is pretty fair to say the Trouw writer was trying to insinuate. That comment (the link is here) is too valuable to leave only for those who, wandering in the on-line wilderness of my weblog archives, happen to click the “Comment” link of the right past entry. I would instead encourage any readers interested in the life of John Paul II to follow that link above to check it out.

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John Paul II’s “Seven Swords”

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

The Pope celebrated the 25th anniversary of his accession on Thursday, and I provided on these pages one evaluation of his legacy, from a Czech source. But here’s another, from the Dutch newspaper Trouw which, interestingly enough, used to be the newspaper for Dutch Catholics, although now it’s non-sectarian, as well as generally a cut above most of the rest of the pack in the intelligence of its articles, as regular EuroSavant readers probably are aware. My specific motivations for bringing you this are 1) Trouw’s excellent, straightforward, even bullet-point treatment of the contradictions that have characterized this Pope’s reign, that I thought you might like to know about, and 2) The rather-too-hagiographical treatment of John Paul II that I have run across elsewhere, such as this entry on “Fistful of Euros.” (I could leave a comment – but in the form of a €S-type article analysis? Better to put it on my own site and use the great new weblogging feature of “Trackback”!) Longevity is hardly a recommendation for someone’s performance in office per se; the Duvaliers oppressed Haiti for decades on end, just to name one example, and, to name but another, Haidar Aliev has pillaged Azerbaijan for 35 years and just recently topped it all off by installing his son to succeed him as president, via a fraudulent election.

But now to the Trouw article, The Seven Silver Swords of Karol Wojtyla. (Registration required, as usual, and in Dutch. But if you try, you can probably figure out what they want you to fill out. And if you don’t erase the “cookie,” you’ll never have to do this again at your computer!) (more…)

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A Nice* Refresher

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

The EU’s Nice Treaty of December, 2000, stands in the immediate background to the ongoing deliberations in Rome over the draft Constitution that began this past weekend. As I mentioned yesterday, should this attempt to arrive at a mutually-acceptable EU Constitution (or perhaps “constitutional treaty”) fail, the status quo of that Nice Treaty is what the EU will be left with, until (if/when) the next attempt at further institutional reform actually succeeds. As we also have seen, Nice has had a more direct influence on the Rome IGC, in that the advantageous voting allocation in the European Council awarded there to Spain and Poland – for whatever reason – has become a point of contention. Those countries seemingly refuse to agree to the draft Constitution terms which would have them give it up.

So we find just what the doctor ordered in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, namely a refresher on that Nice summit of almost three years ago was all about, in an article entitled Failed Nice Summit Continues to Play Tricks with the EU. (more…)

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The New NATO Secretary-General (For Next Year)

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Open the envelope, and the winner is . . . Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for next Secretary-General of NATO! And so the Netherlands contributes its third Secretary-General in the history of the Atlantic Alliance, the first two (as only NATO trivia-buffs will know) having been Dirk Stikker and Joseph Luns. Me, I’m slightly disappointed since I was looking forward to seeing the Norwegian Defense Minister, Kristin Krohn Devold, named instead as NATO’s first female Secretary-General. The New York Times Magazine, in a hagiographical article about her that it published back on August 24, virtually promised that this would happen. (That article has by now retreated behind the NYT’s paid archives-access gate; if you think you might like to pay to see it, the link is here.)

No, its Jaap de Hoop Scheffer instead – and surely it’s time here for a survey of the Dutch press to find out how the thinking-class in Holland is reacting to one of its own being picked out for such a crucial international position. What sort of a politician is he? What qualities will he bring to NATO? What is Holland losing by having him (temporarily) plucked away from its political scene? After all, he is currently the Dutch Foreign Affairs minister; and he used to be head of the CDA, the right-wing, somewhat Christian-oriented (“Christian lite,” anybody? – as opposed to the more “hard-core” Christian parties EuroSavant has briefly discussed before) political party which is now the Netherlands’ largest and whose current leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende (the man who replaced De Hoop Scheffer), is prime minister. (more…)

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The Implications of Sweden’s “No” – A Dutch View

Monday, September 15th, 2003

The votes are in, the Swedish people have spoken: 56% of the voters said “No,” and so they prevail, for a while at least.

I had hoped to find something interesting to tell you about the referendum’s result in the national press of Germany: the nation that, after all, was once the guiding power behind the idea of one single currency for all of the EU, yet which now, by its misbehavior in getting its own fiscal house in order and staying under the 3%-of-GDP limit for government budget deficits, is quite possibly driving away those EU members (such as Sweden) who do not use the euro but are/were contemplating that. But the on-line German newspapers that I’ve looked at for today aren’t very on-the-ball: they’ll tell you little else than what you already will have been able to find out from your own newspaper of choice (with one exception, noted below). OK, they quote Bundeskanzler Schröder lamenting the continued absence of Sweden from the ranks of EU countries using the euro. Well, he would lament, wouldn’t he? I’d definitely file that bit of news under “dog-bites-man.” (more…)

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Dutch Are Unimpressed by Bush Speech

Thursday, September 11th, 2003

I’d like to follow up Tuesday’s treatment of the French press’ reaction to President Bush’s speech of last Sunday evening on Iraq and Afghanistan with a look at the Dutch press. Remember that the Dutch were rather more supportive of America’s drive for war with Iraq last spring than were the French/Germans/Belgians. Plus, the Dutch are already there on occupation, with a battalion-plus down south in the British sector, and have been since July. So did Bush’s address fall on more sympathetic ears in Holland? Nah – although at least there were fewer adjectives like “infantile” trotted out.

(For those of you who don’t feel like “going below the fold” to “More…”, tomorrow my ambition is to get reactions to the stabbing of the deceased Swedish foreign minister and euro advocate (that is, the common currency) Anna Lindh from my “Sweden-surrogate” – i.e. the Danish press. There might very well be something there to write about, or there might not: latest reports indicate that her attacker was merely your random lunatic, with no particular axe to grind (unfortunate choice of metaphor?) concerning the referendum on adopting the euro that will (or is supposed to) occur in Sweden on Sunday.) (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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Saddam’s Waiter Tells All!

Sunday, June 29th, 2003

In my leisurely survey through the (Saturday) Dutch newspapers this Sunday, I came across a couple of interesting articles on Iraq. (more…)

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RIAS and the Revolt of 17 June 1953

Wednesday, June 18th, 2003

Going through the Dutch press today, I ran across an article that sheds further light on the workers’ revolt in the DDR (East Germany) in June, 1953 – in the daily Trouw, formerly a religiously-affiliated journal, now simply a respected, mainstream Dutch newspaper. It is entitled Duitsland/De revolutie waarover niemand sprak – “Germany/The Revolution that No One Talked About.” (more…)

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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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