In Memoriam: Jeen van den Berg, Ice skating legend

Today we mourn the passing and celebrate the life of Jeen van den Berg

Jeen van den Berg (8 January 1928 – 8 October 2014) was a Dutch speed skater primarily known as the winner of the Elfstedentocht of 1954. He rode the race a record seven times, his first in 1947 and his final race in 1997.

On 3 February 1954, van den Berg finished the race in a record 7 hours and 35 minutes, a record bettered by Evert van Benthem only 31 years later. He came third in the infamous 1963 race.

In 1973 he became the first Dutch marathon skate champion. As a long-track speed skater, Van den Berg took part at the 1956 and 1960 Winter Olympics. In 1956 he finished 24th at the 5000 meters and in 1960 he ended 19th at the 5000 and 22nd at the 1500 meters.

Jeen has accumulated over a thousand throphees  during his skating career and was the first official Marathon skating Champion, he was already 44 by then. He said goodbye to the ice skating world in 2000 as official during the Dutch skating Championships. He was honorary citizen of Herenveen and Knight in the order of Oranje Nassau. He was also called Mr Thialf (Thialf is probably the best and most famous ice skating ring in the world)

Jeen was a teacher by proffesion and was married to Atty van den Berg. He suffered a brain haemorrhage and died in a nursery home

May he rest in peace, he will be missed



Liberation Day

May 5th Liberation Day

Today it is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. A day the whole country celebrates that we became free again in 1945 after the capitulation of the Third Reich.

In the Netherlands we celebrate that on May 5  Germany capitulated in the western Netherlands. On that date the capitulation supposedly should be signed between the German General John Blaskowitz and the Canadian General Charles Foulkes. This happened in Hotel De Wereld (The World) in Wageningen, in the presence of Prince Bernhard. The agreement was signed on May 6 at the adjacent to Hotel The World placed Auditorium of the then Agricultural College. Prince Bernhard was not present there. The deed itself, presently in the Municipal Wageningen, is dated Wageningen May 5, 1945. Actually it was merely an agreement on the technical development of German troops in the Netherlands in accordance with the capitulation of German troops on 4 May in north-west Europe. This fact is not widely known in the Netherlands.

Despite what some Americans think, the Netherlands was actually just partially liberated by US forces.

The southern part of the Netherlands – down the large rivers – was liberated in the fall of 1944. On September 12, 1944 , the Americans entered South Limburg and the first Dutch municipalities were liberated ,Eijsden , Mesch , Mheer and Noorbeek. On September 14, 1944 Maastricht was liberated .

Operation Market Garden was subsequently deployed, a risky plan to cross over the river in one go and thus draw into Germany . Obviously Netherlands would then be liberated in the process . The operation ran from 17 to September 25, 1944 , and ended in a German victory in the Battle of Arnhem . In the fall of 1944, the remaining part of the Netherlands south of the river , except for the area east of the Meuse , was liberated , mainly to get free access to the important port of Antwerp

The Germans resisted fiercely and particularly in Zeeland. Walcheren was flooded by the Allies in November 1944 by bombing the dikes. This drove the Germans out of their positions . The front was now positioned at the major rivers and the Allied advance stalled temporarily in the Netherlands.

Then the worst winter in the history of our country followed.The Dutch famine of 1944, known as the Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”) in Dutch, was a famine that took place in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces above the great rivers, .A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived because of soup kitchens. About 22,000 died because of the famine. Most vulnerable according to the death reports were elderly men

Towards the end of World War II, food supplies became increasingly scarce in the Netherlands. After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew increasingly worse in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands After the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch government’s appeal for a railway strike starting September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts, the German administration retaliated by placing an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.

In search of food, people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugarbeets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating. From September 1944 until early 1945 the deaths of 18,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause and in many more as a contributing factor. The Dutch Famine ended with the liberation of the western Netherlands in May 1945. Shortly before that, some relief had come from the ‘Swedish bread’, which was actually baked in the Netherlands but made from flour shipped in from Sweden. Shortly after these shipments, the German occupiers allowed coordinated air drops of food by the Royal Air Force over German-occupied Dutch territory in Operation Manna. The two events are often confused, even resulting in the commemoration of bread being dropped from airplanes, something that never happened.

The northern part of the Netherlands was only released in the spring of 1945 . This second phase of liberation began outside the Netherlands after the Allied capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in Germany on March 7, 1945, British-Canadian forces bent down to eastern Netherlands . On March 23, 1945 , the first Allied units entered in Dinxperlo Netherlands and Elten , which was a hard battle.

At this time there was no longer a regular front . The Canadians used a kind of ‘relay’ tactiek which involved the forward units getting relieved by units behind them.They tried to advance as far as possible with blockades and reinforcements circumvented and success exploited directly.About flank security the allied units no longer could be bothered This was almost no longer necessary since the defending German forces consisted largely of unmotivated old men and young boys who were also poorly stocked .

Conversely, the city of Groningen ,on 14 , 15 and 16 April was defended fiercly by thousands of fanatical German and Dutch SS . In the ensuing battle , the north side of the Market went up in flames . Groningen was not the only example : part of the occupiers and collaborators indeed defended themselves to the end.

After the capitulation the Allied forces could finally enter the remaining part of the Netherlands to flush out the remaining resisting German and Dutch fighters.The island Schiermonnikoog was the last municipality in the Netherlands, on June 11, 1945, that was liberated. When in April 1945 the province of Groningen was liberated by the Canadians, a group of about 120 SS fled to the island, which had still a German garrison. On June 11, the last 600 German troops on Schiermonnikoog were taken by the Canadians.

So you see, the liberation of the Netherlands was a matter of different countries working together and we owe these countries a great deal. And I like to think that we do show it when possible. Many WWII Veteran, be it a Canadian, British or American (and let’s not forget the Polish forces in English service), that has visited our country after the war will be able to attest to that. Today the whole country will celebrate in honor of those that fought and gave life and limb for our freedom. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts

Dutch Tolerance, the myth (2002–present)

After Janmaat it was silent for a while on the extreme right of the political spectrum. We all figured that we where still a very tolerant country and continued as we always had done, ignoring the problems that we had created ourselves until Pim Fortuyn came to the stage. Now don’t get me wrong. Fortuyn was not nearly as bad as Janmaat and he was among the first to openly speak about the real problems we had created however many people felt he was doing so in a populist way

In 1992 Fortuyn wrote “Aan het volk van Nederland” (To the people of the Netherlands), declaring he was the successor to the charismatic but controversial 18th-century Dutch politician Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol. A one-time communist and former member of the social-democratic Labour Party, Fortuyn was elected “lijsttrekker” of the newly formed Livable Netherlands party by a large majority on 26 November 2001, prior to the Dutch general election of 2002.

On 9 February 2002, he was interviewed by the Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper (unfortunately not archived). His statements were considered so controversial that the party dismissed him as lijsttrekker the next day. Fortuyn had said that he favoured putting an end to Muslim immigration, if possible. Having been rejected by Livable Netherlands, Fortuyn founded his own party LPF (Pim Fortuyn List) on 11 February 2002. Many Livable Netherlands supporters transferred their support to the new party.

election poster LPF

As lijsttrekker for the Livable Rotterdam party, a local issues party, he achieved a major victory in the Rotterdam district council elections in early March 2002. The new party won about 36% of the seats, making it the largest party in the council. For the first time since the Second World War, the Labour Party was out of power in Rotterdam.

Fortuyn’s victory made him the subject of hundreds of interviews during the next three months, and he made many statements about his political ideology. In March he released his book The Mess of Eight Purple Years (De puinhopen van acht jaar Paars), which he used as his political agenda for the upcoming general election. Purple is the colour to indicate a coalition government consisting of left parties (red) and conservative-liberal parties (blue). The Netherlands had been governed by such a coalition for eight years at that time.

the book

In August 2001, Fortuyn was quoted in the Rotterdams Dagblad newspaper saying, “I am also in favour of a cold war with Islam. I see Islam as an extraordinary threat, as a hostile religion. In the TV program, Business class, Fortuyn said that Muslims in the Netherlands did not accept Dutch society.He appeared on the program several times. It was moderated by his friend Harry Mens. Since his death, commentators have suggested Fortuyn’s words were interpreted rather harshly, if not wrongly. For instance, he said that Muslims in the Netherlands needed to accept living together with the Dutch, and that if this was unacceptable for them, then they were free to leave. His concluding words in the TV program were “…I want to live together with the Muslim people, but it takes two to tango.”

After his death a statue was placed at his home in Rotterdam

On 9 February 2002, additional statements made by him were carried in the Volkskrant. He said that the Netherlands, with a population of 16 million, had enough inhabitants, and the practice of allowing as many as 40,000 asylum-seekers into the country each year had to be stopped. (This figure was higher than the actual numbers, and immigrants were decreasing at the time.). He claimed that if he became part of the next government, he would pursue a restrictive immigration policy while also granting citizenship to a large group of illegal immigrants.

He said that he did not intend to “unload our Moroccan hooligans” onto the Moroccan King Hassan. Hassan had died three years earlier. He considered Article 7 of the constitution, which asserts freedom of speech, of more importance than Article 1, which forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, life principles, political inclination, race, or sexual preference. Fortuyn distanced himself from Hans Janmaat of the Centrum Democraten, who in the 1980s wanted to remove all foreigners from the country and was repeatedly convicted for discrimination and hate speech.

Fortuyn proposed that all people who already resided in the Netherlands would be able to stay, but he emphasized the need of the immigrants to adopt Dutch society’s consensus on human rights as their own. He said “If it were legally possible, I’d say no more Muslims will get in here”, claiming that the influx of Muslims would threaten freedoms in the liberal Dutch society. He thought Muslim culture had never undergone a process of modernisation and therefore still lacked acceptance of democracy and women’s, gays’, lesbians’ and minorities’ rights. He feared Muslims would try to replace the Dutch legal system with the shari’a law.

He said he was concerned about intolerance in the Muslim community. In a televised debate in 2002, “Fortuyn baited the Muslim cleric by flaunting his homosexuality. Finally the imam exploded, denouncing Fortuyn in strongly anti-homosexual terms. Fortuyn calmly turned to the camera and, addressing viewers directly, told them that this is the kind of Trojan horse of intolerance the Dutch are inviting into their society in the name of multiculturalism.”

When asked by the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant whether he hated Islam, he replied:

I don’t hate Islam. I consider it a backward culture. I have travelled much in the world. And wherever Islam rules, it’s just terrible. All the hypocrisy. It’s a bit like those old reformed protestants. The Reformed lie all the time. And why is that? Because they have standards and values that are so high that you can’t humanly maintain them. You also see that in that Muslim culture. Then look at the Netherlands. In what country could an electoral leader of such a large movement as mine be openly homosexual? How wonderful that that’s possible. That’s something that one can be proud of. And I’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

Fortuyn used the word achterlijk, literally meaning “backward”, but commonly used as an insult in the sense of “retarded”. After his use of “achterlijk” caused an uproar, Fortuyn said he had used the word with its literal meaning of “backward”.

On 6 May 2002, at age 54, Fortuyn was assassinated in Hilversum, North Holland, by Volkert van der Graaf. The attack took place in a parking lot outside a radio studio where Fortuyn had just given an interview. This was nine days before the general election, for which he was running. The attacker was pursued by Hans Smolders, Fortuyn’s driver, and was arrested by the police shortly afterward, still in possession of a handgun. Months later, Van der Graaf confessed in court to the first notable political assassination in the Netherlands since 1672 (excluding WW II events). He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. (and will be released on probation this month after having served 12 years)

His Killer Volkert van der G

The assassination shocked many residents of the Netherlands and highlighted the cultural clashes within the country. Various conspiracy theories arose after Pim Fortuyn’s murder and deeply affected Dutch politics and society. Politicians from all parties suspended campaigning. After consultation with LPF, the government decided not to postpone the elections. As Dutch law did not permit modifying the ballots, Fortuyn became a posthumous candidate. The LPF made an unprecedented debut in the House of Representatives by winning 26 seats (17% of the 150 seats in the house). The LPF joined a cabinet with the Christian Democratic Appeal and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, but conflicts in the rudderless LPF quickly collapsed the cabinet, forcing new elections. By the following year, the party had lost support, winning only eight seats in the2003 elections. It won no seats in the 2006 elections, by which time the Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, had emerged as a successor.

funeral Fortuyn

During the last months of his life, Fortuyn had become closer to the Catholic Church. To the surprise of many commentators and Dutch TV hosts, Fortuyn insisted on Fr. Louis Berger, a parish priest from The Hague, accompanying him in some of his last TV appearances. According to the New York Times, Berger had become his “friend and confessor” during the last weeks of his life.

Fortuyn was initially buried in Driehuis in the Netherlands. He was re-interred on 20 July 2002, at San Giorgio della Richinvelda, in the province of Pordenone in Italy, where he had owned a house.

And so we come to Geert Wilders, the New Janmaat (and by some even compared to Goebels and even Hitler). Wilders is a man that makes no secret of how he sees out Dutch?Arabic citizens, he doesn’t care if they are born here, he doesn’t care if they do well at school, work hard and are fully intergrated into society. Geert Wilders has just one M.O… getting into power over the back of the immigrants and their kids.

Geert Wilders

In 1997, Wilders was elected for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) to the municipal council of Utrecht (same as me), the fourth largest city of the Netherlands He lived in Kanaleneiland,(again, same as me.. in fact same street as I do) a suburb with cheap social housing and high apartment blocks, and which has a relatively high number of immigrants. While a city councilor, Wilders was mugged in his own neighbourhood; some have speculated that this may have catalysed his political transformation. He was not rewarded for his time on the municipal council of Utrecht, for in the following elections he would score well below the national average in the University city.

A year later, he was elected to the Netherlands’ national parliament, but his first four years in parliament drew little attention. However, his appointment in 2002 as a public spokesman for the VVD led Wilders to become more well known for his outspoken criticism of Islamic extremism. Tensions immediately developed within the party, as Wilders found himself to be to the right of most members, and challenged the party line in his public statements. He was expelled from the VVD parliamentary party, and in September 2004, Wilders left the VVD, having been a member since 1989, to form his own political party, Groep Wilders, later renamed the Party for Freedom. The crunch issue with the VVD party line was about his refusal to endorse the party’s position that European Union accession negotiations must be started with Turkey.

The Party for Freedom’s political platform often overlaps those of the assassinated Rotterdam politician Pim Fortuyn and his Pim Fortuyn List. After his death, Fortuyn’s impact remained, as more and more politicians sought to gain political mileage by directly confronting topics such as a ban on immigration that were, from a politically correct point of view, considered unmentionable in the Netherlands until Fortuyn came on the scene and upended the Dutch tradition of consensus politics with an anti-immigration stance. Wilders would position himself to inherit Fortuyn’s constituency. The Party for Freedom called for a €16 billion tax reduction, a far stricter policy toward recreational drug use, investing more in roads and other infrastructure, building nuclear power plants and including animal rights in the Dutch constitution. In the 2006 Dutch parliamentary election, their first parliamentary election, the Party for Freedom won 9 out of the 150 open seats.

Anti pvv logo

In March 2009, in a party meeting in Venlo, Wilders said “I want to be prime minister“, believing the PVV will eventually become the Netherlands’ biggest party. “At some point it’s going to happen and then it will be a big honour to fulfil the post of prime minister”.

Polling conducted throughout March 2009 by Maurice de Hond indicated the Party for Freedom was the most popular parliamentary party. The polls predicted that the party would take 21% of the national vote, winning 32 out of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. If the polling results were replicated in an election, Wilders would be a major power broker. Under such circumstances, there would also be some likelihood of him becoming Prime Minister of the Netherlands. This has been partially attributed to timely prosecution attempts against him for hate speech and the travel ban imposed on him by the United Kingdom, as well as dissatisfaction with the Dutch government‘s response to the global financial crisis of 2008–2009.

Wilders (right) with the leaders of VVD and CDA following the 2010 election.

On 3 March 2010, elections for the local councils were held in the municipalities of The Netherlands. The PVV only contested these local elections in the Dutch towns The Hague and Almere, because of a shortage of good candidates. The big gains that were scored indicated that the party and Wilders might dominate the political scene in the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled on 9 June 2010. The PVV won in Almere and came second to the Dutch Labour party in The Hague. In Almere, the PVV won 21 percent of the vote to Labour’s 18 percent, preliminary results showed. In The Hague, the PVV had 8 seats—second to Labour with 10 seats.

On 8 March 2010, Wilders announced that he would take a seat on the Hague city council, after it became clear he won 13,000 preference votes. Earlier he had said he would not take up a seat if he won. In the parliamentary elections on 9 June 2010, the PVV went from 9 to 24 seats (out of 150) resulting from over 15% of the vote. This made the PVV the third party in size. With a fragmented parliament, at least three parties were required for an absolute majority. A coalition of VVD and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) was negotiated with parliamentary support by the PVV. The PVV did not become part of the government formed by VVD and CDA but actively participated in the negotiations and thus policy decisions and – as part of the outcome agreed that they would not support any motion to dismiss ministers concerning topics listed in a so-called “support agreement” – much like the Danish model where the Danish People’s Party plays a similar role. The very fact of the participation of Wilder’s party in these negotiations caused fierce discussions in political circles.

On 21 April 2012, Wilders withdrew his support from the Rutte cabinet because of new austerity measures that were about to be taken. Commenting on his withdrawal Wilders blamed the “European dictates” pointing to the 3% rule on budget deficit for European countries although his party had supported these rules earlier on. The cabinet blamed Wilders for what they call his “lack of political will” and “political cowardice” in regards to addressing the economic woes of the Netherlands.Wilders’ withdrawal from the negotiations led to new elections in September. Wilders and the PVV ran on a campaign to have the Netherlands withdraw from the European Union and for a return to the guilder. The PVV won only 15 seats in the election.

Then two weeks ago during the City Council elections he made some controversial remarks again. When he was in the Hague on a campaign trail he asked the crowd “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in your city and country” the crowd chanted “Fewer Fewer Fewer” after which Wilders responded “then we going to take care of that” The fact that he said it, the crowd responded and he made the promise was not even what shocked me. I was absolutely not surprised and actually glad he showed his true colors at last (he always claimed NOT to be a racist and he was always careful in his wording not to target a specific group from a specific country) No, what shocked me was the poll a few days later which showed that a whopping 45% of the people questioned about it had absolutely no problem with what he said (thank God the majority still does)

Soo… If you still think the Netherlands is such a tolerant country think again. We have become a country that has just as much racists as for example Germany, the USA or the UK We have a long way to g before we are free from this hate mongering lunatic and as long as this man is around I am afraid I can not call my country a “tolerant and welcoming country”

Of course the Netherlands is still filled with millions of beautiful people from all walks of live and all religions, cultural backgrounds and there still are loads of tolerant people, we just aren’t the most tolerant country anymore.

Dutch Tolerance, the myth (1960’s -2002)

There is a lot of talk during the last.. well… decades if not centuries, about the so called “Dutch tolerance” and yes, if you check our past the Dutch have been a very tolerant people. First of course there s the multicultural aspect.. If you check cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht you will see that we have many nationalities roaming across the city streets. You can see a lot of people from the former colonies like Suriname and Bonaire whom have been part of our Dutch culture for many centuries. Most of these Dutchman you will find in Amsterdam and Rotterdam as where the Hague is more the city where you will find the people that originate from areas like Indonesia. Since the mid 60 there has been a huge growth in Dutchman that originate from the middle Eastern areas like Morocco and Turkey and with the things happening in central and north Africa in recent decades the amount of people originating from the African continent has been growing as well.

Of course where cultures meet lot of things happen, always has been doing that always will be doing that. These “things” can be positive and negative but they almost always come from either lack of knowledge about a certain culture or (more positive) curiosity about these different cultures.

Of course all these “new Dutch” had their reasons for coming to the Netherlands. When it comes to people from the former colonies many things can be the reason ranging from economic to family related issues, although clearly not “original Dutch” I don’t think there are many Dutch that are counting them as “allochtoon”

An “Allowhat?” you might ask yourself now. In the Netherlands there is a distinction between the people that are “original” Dutch and those that are “Import”. If you are Born and bred Dutch with Dutch parents and grandparents you are considered “Autochtoon”. Anybody else is considered “Allochtoon”. I Highly doubt  if there is a translation for these words in English (or any other language for that matter). It has been “invented” as political correct alternative for the many words depicting “others” that might be offending to the subject in question such as “Negers” (litteral “Negros” but more regarded in the same way by many as the dreaded “N” word” in English)

So..back to the reasons of moving to the Netherlands. As said, the former people from our former colonies could have many reason like work or family related. Then there is a large group of people that originate from either Morocco or Turkey. In the post WWII era there was enough work in Holland, in fact there was so much work that the Dutch where feeling to “high and mighty” to do the dirty work themselves. If you where Dutch in those days you would opt for a job as manager or salesman, working in a store or in an office building. Jobs like Garbage collector, factory line worker, cleaner and maid where “sourced out”. Many small temp job agencies came to live that had a representative in these countries and they where recruiting the Moroccan and Turkeys people for these “Dirty jobs” Many came to Holland invited by us to do the jobs we didn’t want to do ourselves. Although many came here as “temp workers” or as we called them “Gast Arbeiders” (Guest workers) most of them ended up staying either marrying someone they met over here but in many cases bringing wife and kids over as well. No real efforts where made during those days to have these people integrating into our society since “they would not stay anyways”

Here is where the main problem started, although we did invite these people most of us never really tried to actually “get to know them”. If you where lucky, people greeted each other when they met but more interaction then that was not really there. However as it goes with people, most of us get kids eventually and these kids grew up in a split world. In one world they where at home wit their family, the language was Arabic (Moroccan, Turkeys, Kurdisch etc etc) and there was (and still is btw) a big chance that at least one if not both parents where unable to speak proper Dutch. Since these kids grew up never hearing Dutch they entered the school systems with a severe disadvantage since all classes in Dutch schools (some university classes excluded) are. in Dutch. Imagine being 6 and going to the first grade for the first time and being greeted by a lady that is talking to you like your deaf (why are people shouting when they talk to deaf people, they can’t hear you). often in typical Dutch “high speed talking” Kids at the playground laughing at you or with you? or are they even laughing? could be crying, or shouting or, or, or). So these kids start with a disadvantage that often only gets bigger with time passing since teachers simply don’t have the time p go one on one with a student.

And so this first “Dutch born” generation grew up in relative anonymity. Although these kids did learn the language, the cultural gap between home and school still made them relatively lost between two worlds and many if not most of these kids left school after primary school. However by then the jobs we Dutch didn’t want to do when there parents came over we now needed ourselves and so the unemployment within this generation grew bigger and bigger.

It was the 2nd and 3rd generation after WWII (basically my generation) and the things that happened in WWII was something we only knew from History class and the things our own parents still knew. Since our own parents where typically around 5 or 6 in”45 the seriousness of what had happened did not sink in for a lot of people. Yes, we knew there had been war, people had been killed and we did understand that such a war should never happen again however the reasons and motives… we just didn’t mirror it onto how we treated our Moroccan class mates unwillingly creating a generation of kids that grew up with bullying and in some cases even flat out hatred towards them. Then the extreme right wing started to show it’s ugly face.

Old pamflet of the CD saying: You can choose before it is too late

First there was Hans Janmaat , This man was from the WWII generation (born in ‘37) and should have know better but he was the first really racist, right wing politician in our country. Janmaat wanted to represent the indigenous Dutch workers and middle class. His views were based mostly on economic and materialistic arguments rather than an underlying ideology.Disappointing economic growth, unemployment and government cutbacks could not be addressed while large numbers of immigrants were flowing into the country Janmaat was against a multicultural society: he argued that immigrants should either assimilate into Dutch culture, or return to their country of birth. His best known slogans were “Holland is not a country of immigration,” “full=full” and “we will abolish the multicultural society, as soon as we get the chance and power”; he was convicted for the last two statements. According to Jan van de Beek, Hans Janmaat often used economic arguments in his tirades against immigrants.

He was often accused of committing acts of hate speech, and received fines and a conditional prison sentence for incitement to hatred and discrimination against foreigners.

He often made controversial remarks about immigrants and other politicians. He argued that Ernst Hirsch Ballin should not be allowed to hold a high office because of his Jewish heritage  and said he was not saddened by the sudden death of political opponent Ien Dales.

Other parties erected a cordon sanitaire around Janmaat, ignoring him while he spoke in parliament. A taboo on discussing negative aspects of immigration existed in the Dutch political climate in the 1980s.

Meindert Fennema, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory of Ethnic Relations at the University of Amsterdam, argued in 2006 that Janmaat was convicted for statements that are now commonplace  due to changes in the political climate (caused in part by the September 11 attacks, and the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh).

More in the following blog

Utrecht, The letters of Utrecht (an eternal poem) and a brief history

The Letters of Utrecht

A poem for the future grows in the stones of the street in the center of the town of Utrecht, The Netherlands. One character per stone, one stone per week. Every Saturday a stone mason turns the next stone into the next Letter. In months words appear. With the years verses grow in the streets, extended by a different poet of Utrechts’ guild of poets every few years. Through the centuries the line of the poem will itself draw letters on the map of the changing city.


The poem continues for as long as someone is willing to contribute the next Letter as a gift to his town and its future citizens and link his or her name with a Letter by bearing the costs of its creation. The costs per Letter are expected to be around 100 Euro, including 10 Euro for a good cause. A consecutive number will help the sponsor find his/her letter, and count the weeks since the beginning of the year 2000. Contribute your Letter!

the letters of Utrecht

At the same time of the publication on the street the Letter appears on this website, with the name of the sponsor. The stone mason can engrave the name or initials of the sponsor in the side of the stone (invisible under the surface of the street).

The Letters of Utrecht were unveiled on June 2, 2012. The beginning of the poem of the Letters of Utrecht was predated to fictitiously start on New Year’s day of the year 2000. The first 648 characters were actually placed on May 30th and 31st, 2012. From June 2d, 2012 onwards the next character is hewn out of the next stone every Saturday.

Stichting Letters van Utrecht organizes the project, the fiscal authorities in the Netherlands mark it as a cultural organization for the general benefit (culturele ANBI). Gifts can be declared in a Dutch tax declaration.

The poem that the Letters of Utrecht spell out on the street is also published on this site (Dutch version, seeNederlands), up to the most recently hewn letter.

The parts not yet published in the street will remain secret. The poem will be extended by a different poet whenever required. It is never completed.

List of Letters, sponsors, dates and position.

The following is a rough translation of the poem:

Ruben van Gogh (Letters 1-124):
Je zult ergens moeten beginnen om het verleden een plaats te geven, het heden doet er steeds minder toe. Hoe verder je bent, hoe beter. Ga maar door nu,
You have to begin somewhere to give the past its place, the present matters ever less. The further you are, the better. Continue now,

Ingmar Heytze (Letters 125-240):
laat je sporen na. Vergeet de flits waarin je mag bestaan, de wereld is je stratenplan. Was er een tijd dat je een ander was: die ging voorbij.
leave your footprints. Forget the flash, in which you may exist, the world is your map. If there was a time when you where another: it went by.

Chrétien Breukers (Letters 241-374):
Je bent die ander al. Je bent, zoals je weet, van dit verhaal de spil. Dit is de eeuwigheid. Die duurt. Die heeft de tijd. Ga daarom op in je verhaal en zwelg. Vertel.
You are the other already. You are, as you know, the center of this story. This is eternity. It lasts. It has the time. Become one with your story and revel. Tell.

Alexis de Roode (Letters 375-532):
Vertel ons wie je bent met elke stap. In ons verhaal verdwijnen wij vanzelf, en enkel jij blijft over op den duur. Jij en deze letters, die uit steen gehouwen zijn. Zoals de letters op ons graf.
Tell us who you are with every step. In our story we vanish inevitably, only you remain in the long run. You and these letters hewn from stone. As the letters on our grave.

Ellen Deckwitz (Letters 533-682):
De barsten in de Dom. Naar de hemel opgestoken als een wijsvinger, om de schuldigen aan te duiden en meer tijd te eisen. Zodat we weer rechtop kunnen gaan, als mensen langs de gracht.
The cracks in the cathedral’s tower. Raised to heaven as an index finger, to identify the guilty and demand more time. So that we can walk straight again as humans along the canal.

Mark Boog (Letters 683-?)
Die naar hun voeten staren. …
Those staring at their feet. Look upwards! See Utrecht’s churches…

(roughly translated up to Letter 733

The History of Utrecht

Utrecht (/ˈjuːtrɛkt/Dutch pronunciation: [ˈytrɛxt] ( )) is the capital and most populous city in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands with a population of 327,834 on 1 November 2013.

Utrecht’s ancient city centre features many buildings and structures from the Early Middle Ages. It has been the religious centre of the Netherlands since the 8th century. Currently it is the see of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the most important Dutch Roman Catholic leader Utrecht is also the see of the archbishop of the Old Catholic church, titular head of the Union of Utrecht (Old Catholic), and the location of the offices of the main Protestant church. Until the Dutch Golden Age, Utrecht was the most important city of the Netherlands; then, Amsterdam became its cultural centre and most populous city.

Castle Vredenburg

Utrecht is host to Utrecht University, the largest university of the Netherlands, as well as several other institutes for higher education. Due to its central position within the country, it is an important transport hub for both rail and road transport. It has the second highest number of cultural events in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam.


The academic building of the Utrecht University situated next to the Dom Church

Origins (until 650)

Many of the features in Blaeu‘s 1652 map of Utrecht can still be recognised in the city center

Although there is some evidence of earlier inhabitation in the region of Utrecht, dating back to the Stone Age (app. 2200 BCE) and settling in the Bronze Age (app. 1800–800 BCE),the founding date of the city is usually related to the construction of a Roman fortification (castellum), probably built in around 50 CE. These fortresses were designed to house a cohort of about 500 Roman soldiers. Near the fort a settlement would grow housing artisans, traders and soldiers’ wives and children. A line of such fortresses was built after the Roman emperor Claudius decided the empire should not expand further north. To consolidate the border the limes Germanicus defense line was constructed. This line was located at the borders of the main branch of the river Rhine, which at that time flowed through a more northern bed compared to today, along what is now the Kromme Rijn.

In Roman times, the name of the Utrecht fortress was simply Traiectum denoting its location at a possibility to cross the Rhine. Traiectum became Dutch Trecht. The U comes from Old Dutch “uut” meaning downriver. It was added to distinguish from the other Tricht, Maas-tricht. In 11th-century official documents it was then Latinized as Ultra Traiectum. Around the year 200, the wooden walls of the fortification were replaced by sturdier tuff stone walls, remnants of which are still to be found below the buildings around Dom Square.

From the middle of the 3rd century Germanic tribes regularly invaded the Roman territories. Around 275 the Romans could no longer maintain the northern border and Utrecht was abandoned. Little is known about the next period 270–650. Utrecht is first spoken of again centuries after the Romans left. Under the influence of the growing realms of the Franks a church was built in the 7th century within the walls of the Roman fortress during Dagobert I‘s reign. In ongoing border conflicts with the Frisians the church was however destroyed.

Centre of Christianity in the Netherlands (650–1579)

The Dom tower, with to the left behind it the remaining section of the Dom church. The two parts have not been connected since the collapse of the nave in 1674.

By the mid-7th century, English and Irish missionaries set out to convert the Frisians. The pope appointed their leader, Willibrordus, bishop of the Frisians; which is usually considered to be the beginning of the Bishopric of Utrecht. In 723, the Frankish leader Charles Martel bestowed the fortress in Utrecht and the surrounding lands as the base of bishops. From then on Utrecht became one of the most influential seats of power for the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. The see of the archbishops of Utrecht was located at the uneasy northern border of the Carolingian Empire. Furthermore it had to compete with the nearby trading centre Dorestad, also founded near the location of a Roman fortress. After the downfall of Dorestad around 850, Utrecht became one of the most important cities in the Netherlands. The importance of Utrecht as a centre of Christianity is illustrated by the election of the Utrecht-born Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens as pope in 1522 (the last non-Italian pope before John Paul II)Pope Adrian died one year later after his election and although he ordered to build the Paus Huize in Utrecht he never actually saw it.


When the Frankish rulers established the system of feudalism, the Bishops of Utrecht came to exercise worldly power as prince-bishops. The territory of the bishopric not only included the modern province of Utrecht (Nedersticht, ‘lower Sticht‘), but also extended to the northeast. The feudal system led to conflict, and the prince-bishopric was at odds with the Counts of Holland and the Dukes of Guelders. The Veluwe region was soon seized by Guelders, but large areas in the modern province of Overijssel remained as the Oversticht.

Clerical buildings

Several churches and monasteries were built inside, or close to, the city of Utrecht. The most dominant of these was the Cathedral of Saint Martin, inside the old Roman fortress. The construction of the present Gothic building was begun in 1254 after an earlier romanesque construction had been badly damaged by fire. The choir and transept were finished from 1320 and were followed then by the ambitious Dom tower. The last part to be constructed was the central nave, from 1420. By that time, however, the age of the great cathedrals had come to an end and declining finances prevented the ambitious project from being finished, the construction of the central nave being suspended before the planned flying buttresses could be finished. Besides the cathedral there were four collegiate churches in Utrecht: St. Salvator’s Church (demolished in the 16th century), on the Dom square, dating back to the early 8th century. Saint John (Janskerk), originating in 1040; Saint Peter, building started in 1039 and Saint Mary‘s church building started around 1090 (demolished in the early 19th century, cloister survives). Besides these churches the city housed Saint Paul‘s Abbey. The 15th-century beguine monastery of Saint Nicholas, and a 14th-century chapter house of the Teutonic Knights.

Besides these buildings which were part of the official structures of the bishopric; an additional four parish churches were constructed in the city: the Jacobikerk (dedicated to Saint James), founded in the 11th century, with the current Gothic church dating back to the 14th century; the Buurkerk (Neighbourhood-church) of the 11th-century parish in the centre of the city; Nicolaichurch (dedicated to Saint Nicholas), from the 12th century and the 13th-century Geertekerk (dedicated to Saint Gertrude of Nivelles).

City of Utrecht

The location on the banks of the river Rhine allowed Utrecht to become an important trade centre in the Northern Netherlands. The growing town Utrecht was granted city rights by Henry V. in 1122. When the main flow of the Rhine moved south, the old bed, which still flowed through the heart of the town became evermore canalized; and a very rare wharf system was built as an inner city harbour system. On the wharfs storage facilities (werfkelders) were built, on top of which the main street, including houses was constructed. The wharfs and the cellars are accessible from a platform at water level with stairs descending from the street level to form a unique structure. The relations between the bishop, who controlled many lands outside of the city, and the citizens of Utrecht was not always easy. The bishop, for example dammed the Kromme Rijn at Wijk bij Duurstede to protect his estates from flooding. This threatened shipping for the city and led the city of Utrecht to commission a canal to ensure access to the town for shipping trade: the Vaartse Rijn, connecting Utrecht to the Hollandse IJssel at IJsselstein.

The end of independence

In 1528, the secular powers of the bishop over both Neder- and Oversticht – which included the city of Utrecht – were transferred to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who became the Lord of the Seventeen Provinces (the current Benelux and the northern parts of France). This transition was not an easy one and Charles V tried to exert his power over the citizens of the city, who had achieved a certain level of independence from the bishops and were not willing to cede this to their new lord. Charles decided to build a heavily fortified castle Vredenburg to house a large garrison whose chief task would be to maintain order in the city. The castle would last less than 50 years before it was demolished in an uprising in the early stages of the Dutch Revolt.

Republic of the Netherlands (1579–1815)

Prince Maurits in Utrecht, 31 July 1618

In 1579 the northern seven provinces signed the Union of Utrecht, in which they decided to join forces against Spanish rule. The Union of Utrecht is seen as the beginning of the Dutch Republic. In 1580 the new and predominantly Protestant state abolished the bishoprics, including the one in Utrecht, which had become an archbishopric in 1559. The stadtholders disapproved of the independent course of the Utrecht bourgeoisie and brought the city under much more direct control of the Holland dominated leadership of the republic. This was the start of a long period of stagnation of trade and development in Utrecht, an atypical city in the new state, still about 40% Catholic in the mid-17th century, and even more so among the elite groups, who included many rural nobility and gentry with town houses there.

The city, which was held against its will in the states of the Republic, failed to defend itself against the French invasion in 1672 (the Disaster Year).

The lack of structural integrity proved to be the undoing of the central section of the cathedral of St Martin church when Utrecht was struck by atornado in 1674.

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 settled the War of the Spanish Succession.

Since 1723 (but especially after 1870) Utrecht became the centre of the non-Roman Old Catholic Churches in the world.

Modern history (1815–present)

In the early 19th century, the role of Utrecht as a fortified town had become obsolete. The fortifications of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie were moved east of Utrecht. The town walls could now be demolished to allow for expansion. The moats remained intact and formed an important feature of the Zocher plantsoen, an English style landscape park that remains largely intact today.

1960s style architecture at the Jaarbeursplein

Growth of the city increased when, in 1843, a railway connecting Utrecht to Amsterdam was opened. After that, Utrecht gradually became the main hub of theDutch railway network.

In 1853, the Dutch government allowed the bishopric of Utrecht to be reinstated by Rome, and Utrecht became the centre of Dutch Catholicism once more.

With the industrial revolution finally gathering speed in the Netherlands and the ramparts taken down, Utrecht began to grow far beyond the medieval center from the 1880s onward with the construction of neighbourhoods such as Oudwijk, Wittevrouwen, Vogelenbuurt to the East, and Lombok to the West. New middle class residential areas, such as Tuindorp and Oog in Al, were built in the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, several Jugendstil houses and office buildings were built, followed by Rietveld who built the Rietveld Schröder House (1924), and Dudok’s construction of the city theater (1941).

During World War II, Utrecht was held by the Germans until the general German surrender of the Netherlands on 5 May 1945. Canadian troops that surrounded the city entered it after that surrender, on 7 May 1945.

Since World War II, the city has grown considerably when new neighbourhoods such as OvervechtKanaleneilandHoograven and Lunetten were built. Additionally the area surrounding Utrecht Centraal railway station and the station itself have been developed following modernist ideas of the 1960s, in a brutaliststyle. This led to the construction of the shopping mall Hoog Catharijne, music centre Vredenburg (Hertzberger, 1979), and conversion of part of the ancient canal structure into a highway (Catherijnebaan). Protest against further modernisation of the city centre followed even before the last buildings were finalised. In the early 21st century the whole area is being redeveloped. An architectural unique music palace is being constructed, that will be run jointly by Vredenburg, Tivoli and the SJU Jazzpodium.

Currently the city is expanding once more with the development of the Leidsche Rijn housing area.