I Predict A Riot

Don’t you just love when you’ve got friends visiting and you get to take them out, show them around, and get them to the fringe edge of a riot? That’s what I did yesterday when I took a visiting friend to Amsterdam. We had a bit of culture first, with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, and then took in a bit of political protest-turned-riot. Water cannons, included!

Student Protest in Amsterdam
A student protest had been taking place in the Museumplein behind the Van Gogh Museum. That explained the unusually large police presence we’d seen in front of the museum. There had been vans full of police who looked a bit more paramilitary than your average street copper. As we left the museum, we heard and saw a few fireworks coming from behind the museum, but I figured it was just people setting off New Year’s fireworks a bit early. After all, we’ve been hearing fireworks here in Utrecht for the past week or so.

The fireworks soon stopped and we decided to head over to the Museumplein to be touristy and see the I Amsterdam sign/sculpture. As we rounded the corner, we suddenly saw a lot of young people and a lot of police. Then we saw the water cannons. Then we saw people scattering, running toward us, as the huge tank-like vehicle with the water cannons started racing around the field where the protest had taken place.
Water Cannon Vehicle

Water Cannons

To be honest, I think the students who were left on the field were probably the ones least invested in the idea behind the protest. A lot of them just seemed to be having fun running away from the water. I think the more serious students had already left when the protest had broken down into small fights and random acts of idiocy. As we were leaving the museum, we had seen a large group of students standing together outside of the museum, many with purple scarves of some sort tied around their heads or necks. I honestly hadn’t known who or what they were, so I thought they were just one of the school groups visiting the museum or something similar. When I finally saw a news story about the day’s events, I realized they had been part of the protest.

Student Protest in Amsterdam

For the record, the protest seemed to be based on a proposal by the education minister for longer school hours. The students were protesting that they would be “confined” despite not having enough teachers to actually teach any classes for this additional time. For those of you who can read Dutch, there’s an article about the protest here at nu.nl. I suspect the original protest had some merit, but was ruined by those who just want to cause trouble.

Regardless, it was certainly an interesting sight to see. I’ve never seen water cannons in use in person before. The whole experience was a bit surreal. To go from admiring the works of a great artist to suddenly stumbling across rioting next to a major tourist spot in the middle of Amsterdam was odd. To be taking photos of the water cannons and then taking photos of the I Amsterdam sculpture while the water cannons continue behind me felt a bit weird, as well. A bit like fiddling while Rome is burning.
Student Protest in Amsterdam

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17 thoughts on “I Predict A Riot

    • I’m glad I did get to see it. So random! But at the moment I was sort of thrown by it all. It was like, “Ooo! Something strange! let me take photos!” Then, as I’m taking photos and seeing the water cannons and seeing people running toward me, I had second thoughts and started to wonder if we shouldn’t get ourselves out of there! We compromised and backed up a bit. ;)

  1. Oh dear! I haven’t seen images of this protest on TV… your photos are an excellent testimony. Coming from a country where you see every week protests and demonstrations going out of control just bec. it’s a habit, I have to confess that it unsettles me a little to think that now things like these might take place in peaceful quiet law-abiding Holland as well…
    This morning I saw the news of the clashes between police and football fans at the Amsterdam Arena, I couldn’t believe it – I actually thought they were images from Syria or some other far away country… Mmmmm….

    • I was saying to someone else just now that I thought the water cannons might have been a bit of overkill. Hard to tell, but certainly by the time the fireworks had started going off, a lot of the other students had moved away from the area all together. The ones who were left really did seem to be having fun, while the water cannon tank was what scared me the most. It seemed overly enthusiastic and I think it even ran into one of the vehicles parked along the edge. Still, I’ll take student protests over football hooligans any day! But yeah, I’d rather none of the violence be taking place at all.

  2. The contrast you mention is what strikes me the most! It’s like when Fiorentina fans run amok in Florence! It’s strange seeing riots in such a beautiful city.

    I really like that second photo!

    *on a plus side I used the term “run amok” for the first time ever! I can finally cross that one off the list. :)

    • It was just so unexpected! In looking through other news photos, I think we may have missed the worst of it. Just as well, since what we saw was disturbing enough!

      The second one is my favorite, too, despite not being the best focus. It still seems to tie the elements of the story together. Plus, I love that even the policeman is using his phone to film it all. I prefer to think it’s for his own use.

      Run amok is such a great term. It’s a shame — in some ways — that we don’t get to use it more often!

  3. What a strange experience! I was part of a huge student protest on that exact same spot once, when I was a student. No watercanons though, that one was very well organized and peaceful (despite some rude home-made signs and lots of booing of the minister that was in charge of education back then :-) It seems some estudents just wanted to have some “fun” (in the sense of causing a bit of a stir) and the police just made sure it didn’t go any further then that.Don’t see the need for the water canon though…

    • I certainly appreciate the idea of students protesting and think it’s a shame US students aren’t more politically active in their own interests, but it’s always a shame when a few bad eggs give everyone else a bad name. I can see the fireworks that some of them seem to have set off as being dangerous, but the water cannons just seem a bit excessive …

  4. Wow; that is more than a little scary. A few years ago I received the book The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook:Travel as,what I thought was, a “gag gift”. I never read it fully, but I might give it a read before my next trip around the corner or around the globe.

  5. I think the ME (the more military looking cops) and the water cannons were in place for any possible football riots to begin with, since I can tell you, whenever there’s a match those procedures are unfortunately standard. So I think it’s more a combination of both. And as the protest turned around in a more grim atmosphere, yeah, I can see why they were used.

    I must say, this is the first protest I’ve seen where water cannons were used. Especially considering I too remember protesting in HS.

    • Is the Museumplein that common an area for football rioting? I figured that would be closer to the stadium or at least in other parts of the city. The student protest seemed to be much earlier than the football match. I think we got there around 1 p.m. or so and were already seeing the heavy police presence only in that one area.

  6. wow that is quite a happening you found yourself in. Mostly protests here are peaceful and do only involve the ME (Mobiele Eenheid= Mobile Unit) as distant bystanders in case things do go wrong. Football hooligans and ME confrontations are a lot more common. From what I understand this protest was by Highschool kids (ages between 13 and 18) There have been some protests by them in the past, and because there are a lot of teenage boys in them who think that causing trouble is fun, they ended badly as well. Which is really a shame (but rather unsurprising, they are after all teenage boys) because the reasons they protest are usually quite valid. Their message is hurt by things like this.

    • I’ve heard enough stories — and seen footage — of football hooligans to not be surprised that they would have more of a police presence. Certainly the few protests I’ve seen here in Utrecht have usually been devoid of much of a police presence at all, unless they’re specifically marching through the city. As you said, it’s a shame that a few stereotypical teenagers took away the attention from the real issue at hand. Oh well, it certainly made for a memorable visit to Amsterdam! :)

  7. In America, students protest are so common, but in Netherland…!!
    I remember eighties, when students protested about better conditions and high quality of education.
    Why students protested in Netherland.. deja vu???

    • Student protests aren’t that unusual in Europe. Having water cannons turned on them is more unusual, at least here in the Netherlands. In this case, they were protesting longer hours without enough teachers to fill the hours.

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