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!
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.
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.
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.