Nederland in the News

Train Trein
The Netherlands has been making news over the past few days, for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Although to watch some of the international news programs, you wouldn’t know it. For example, there was a train crash on Saturday, in which one woman died and 117 were injured, but it didn’t get a mention on BBC’s The Hub news program, which we watch nightly. It’s not that they don’t cover similar stories, since the plane crash that happened that day elsewhere was covered quite extensively.

It seems that the crash was the result of one of the drivers missing possibly missing a red light. However, the driver may not face prosecution, because the signal safety was out of date. It, and most of the other signals across the country, lack the updated security, which would cause the train to halt and avoid running into another train. They have been attempting to update the security of the signals since the 1980s, but the original plan was put on hold, because of a different EU system. However, the EU system was prohibitively expensive and never put in place. Since 2006, they’ve been installing an improved version of the system they started with in the ’80s, but only 1,264 signals have been refitted. Out of 6,000. The transport minister said in November of last year that she is not planning on rolling out the upgrade across the country. I wonder if that plan will change now.

Milling About
However, it is not likely to change any time soon, since the other bit of news is that our government has fallen apart. Geert Wilders, leader of the PPV, who made up an unofficial part of the majority coalition, decided to take his toys and go home (he pulled out of the budget negotiations), causing the coalition to collapse. Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) handed in his cabinet’s resignation yesterday to Queen Beatrix. There was a debate today as to when the election should be held, with some groups preferring to hold it within the next few months, but it seems as if it is going to be put off until the beginning of September. We will be left with a caretaker government in which the current figures carry on, but cannot make any major laws or changes.

The collapse hasn’t come as any real shock, since the VVD and CDA were unable to form a more stable coalition, ultimately having to depend upon an unofficial majority through the support of Wilders and his PPV party. The problem is that Wilders is a eurosceptic and heavily opposed to what he calls the “Islamisation” of the Netherlands and Europe in general. His party’s support has dropped recently as the party itself seems to be falling apart. He’s not well-liked by many here, and he was always viewed as the straw that would probably break the coalition’s back eventually.

So now comes the juggling to see which parties will take the lead in the election, which may well depend on when the election is held. If it were to be held sooner, certain parties would be more likely to come out on top, whereas with a longer delay, other parties might be able to take the lead. As for now, there’s still talk that an agreement over the austerity plan will be reached before the deadline of April 30, when it is supposed to go to the European Commission in Brussels. I guess we’ll see.

Here are some English-language stories with more details:
Train crash
Election
Government collapse

I thought this was an interesting opinion piece (in Dutch) about Wilders having laid the ground work to make a move to the US.

Highs and Lows of Free Speech

It was announced today that MP Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV party, was acquitted of charges of inciting hatred and insulting Muslims as a group. This ongoing case has made me think more closely about the freedom of speech, a freedom we talk about a lot in the United States, but don’t necessarily really think about often.

Some argued that the case was a matter of protecting free-speech rights, while others argued that it was necessary to protect a minority group from words and actions that could lead to violence. Both issues are important, but from my understanding of the case, as much as I dislike Wilders, I didn’t truly understand how a case could be made against him. Do I disagree with his statements comparing the Qur’an to Mein Kampf? Yes, of course. I think that’s just sensationalism designed to get attention. Do I think he’s right in regards to his thoughts on non-Western immigrants? No. I don’t like stereotypes that create anger and fear in both sides of the populace, thus ensuring that integration becomes more difficult.

Yet while the things he says are often (usually) repugnant to me, I don’t think he committed a crime. For what it’s worth, even the public prosecutor didn’t believe a crime had been committed and called for an acquittal. There’s a fine line in free speech. The things Wilders has said in the public forum tread closely to that line, but I don’t know that he crossed it. As a politician and public figure, I would expect him to be more careful with his words, but I do believe in the freedom to express dissenting ideas.

There is a famous quote, erroneously attributed to Voltaire, that sums up the feelings many people have regarding the freedom of speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I lean in this direction, as much as I dislike the things that people like Wilders or groups like the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan have to say. As a secularist, I also believe very firmly in the separation of church and state. I don’t believe extra protection should be given to religions. I do believe, though, that everyone should have all of the same basic rights and freedoms, as long as they don’t infringe upon the rights, freedoms and security of others. Thus, the freedom of speech should be maintained and not treated lightly. You may not like what a person is saying, but if you start treading on their rights to say something with which you disagree, you also run the risk of having your own rights to express your point of view limited, and that is the bottom line for me. I may dislike what someone says, but at least I have the freedom to say so!

If you want to read more about Wilders and this trial, Radio Netherlands Worldwide has a number of articles (in English) that you may want to use as a starting point.

Do Your Duty

Brave Hond [Day 61/365]
Today is election day for the municipal voting. Expats, as well as Dutch citizens are hopefully heading to the polls today to make their voices heard. As an EU citizen, G could vote, so I went with him, even though I can’t vote for another three years. I hated not being able to vote! I looked longingly at the booths while G was in there, lucky bastard! At least I’ll be able to vote when they hold the municipal elections again in four years.
Polling Place
Our polling place is at one of the school buildings just a minute’s walk from home. It’s a university-age school, though, and the voting room was a relatively small room on the ground floor, not the echo-y high-school gymnasiums in which I’m used to voting. We went just before noon and there was no waiting, no long line. It will be interesting to see what the overall turnout is. At least it has been a beautiful day, with the sun shining and the temperature not too cold. No excuse there not to vote, at least!
Election Day
In response to Geert Wilders’ latest bit of idiocy, in which he wants to ban head scarves — we’re talking head scarves, not burquas — many people are planning on wearing head scarves into their polling place today, men, as well as women, as a form of protest against Wilders. If Wilders gets his way, no one will be able to wear a head scarf into a municipal building in Den Haag or Almere (the only two cities where his PVV party is on the ballot). I must admit, I thought about wearing one myself today, out of principle, even though I can’t vote and the PVV is not on our ballot here in Utrecht.

On a happier note, the first photo here is a picture of the dog who was waiting patiently while his owner went inside to vote. Such a good dog!