Today’s Commemoration, Tomorrow’s History

In an effort to save money and increase productivity, Portugal is getting rid of some holidays that people don’t really celebrate anymore.  Among the obsolete days of non-work, the day the nation dumped the monarchy and became a republic, October 5th, 1910.  More than 100 years since that significant moment in history, no one alive remembers it, and few are the voices that think its worth hanging on to as a holiday.

Here in the Netherlands, this past Friday was Remembrance day, which includes the 2 minutes of silence which takes place every May the 4th in memoriam of all the victims of WWII (though more recently it has been expanded to include victims of all military conflicts, its still more famous for WWII victims).  A friend’s grandfather, who lived through the occupation of the country and the war that caused so much pain and destruction, finds the 2 minutes of silence un-necessary – after all, he lived through it. But WWII is much more recent and much more significant in the lives of present day people in the Netherlands that the establishment of the republic is for today’s Portuguese. The reasons probably seem obvious.

But it occurs to me that 100 years from now, WWII remembrance day may also get put aside for economic or social purposes.  At some point enough time passes that these significant moments that some lived through and others know all-to-well from stories and history books, even these seemingly vital rituals will not be seen the same way.  This is not to say it is a good or bad development, these moments in history and the holidays dedicated to them, can fade over time.  It is, if anything, just an odd characteristic of us as a species.  We may record history, but over time, to some degree, it becomes natural to forget.

Imagine that. The era will come where WWII is referred to in the same far-off spirit as today we look at the war of 1812 or the wars during Roman times. September 11th will no longer be remembered as it is today, nothing special will take place at the sight of the World Trade Center, life – like time – just keep moving along.

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ctrp388 Journalism Under Attack in the Netherlands

Brenno
Brenno at CCC2011 near Berlin

An investigative journalist in the Netherlands has exposed major security flaws in a major government project which promised safe and easy travel throughout the country. He has been reporting the results of his work to both the public and the government. The goal was to inform the public while also pressuring decision makers to address this problem before further damage is done. The result, however, is that Brenno de Winter is now being prosecuted for his journalistic investigation. Laws that protect a journalist in such a situation? -the Netherlands doesn’t have any. How can that be? In this podcast Brenno explains the saga as he now faces jail time as punishment for having exposed massive flaws in a 3 billion euro investment (OV-Chip Card) carried out with public funds.

Follow Brenno on twitter for the latest info on the case AND the card.

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Dutch Municipal Elections Article

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote this past week for the Guardian CiF, to read the full text, click the link below:

The media have recycled the same headlines following Dutch elections for about a decade now, and similar observations are regularly trumpeted in international newspapers. Part of me thinks they actually just run the same articles, updating the picture, changing a few names, and maybe touching up a few percentage points. The political landscape is changing in the Netherlands, it is true. “How could this happen in this bastion of a liberal democracy?” commentators ask in an accusing tone.

I shall go against the international headlines and some of the Dutch media when I say to you, please remain calm. This sudden explosion of intolerance and fragmented politics is nothing new; we have been reading about it for decades. The myth maintained by international media outlets and perhaps the Dutch bureau of tourism, which parrots the Netherlands as an open-minded leftwing paradise, has long kept a smoke screen over the well-established and not always tolerant tradition of smaller parties, extremist or moderate, left or right, which rise up suddenly, gain power and occasionally disappear into obscurity as fast as they came.

The international press summed up the results of yesterday’s Dutch legislative elections as a major victory for the far-right, anti-Islam and ironically named Freedom Party (PVV). They are also quick to point to the two cities (out of the entire country!) where the PVV managed to top the polls in local elections. But while The Hague, where the PVV is now the second-largest party, is certainly a city of international and national importance, gaining control of it, along with the little-known city of Almere, does not equal an electoral sweep.

The PVV’s sporadic success is significant not so much because of the small number of votes they won, but because of the xenophobic, nationalist rhetoric that has managed to get them votes. While this development grabs the headlines, several Dutch political parties on both the centre and the left have made just as many – if not more – gains. In the cities of Utrecht and Nijmegen, the Green-Left party (GroenLinks) gained enough to become the largest party. The more moderate D66 party made the biggest gains nationwide, becoming the largest party in Leiden, Haarlem, and Hilversum. The socially progressive and fiscally conservative party’s success was far greater than that of the PVV, but since they don’t say controversial things about the Muslim faith or try to convince people that the country is being taken over, they’re just not as fun for the front page.

[read full text]

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ctrp316 Coffeeshops, Drug Tourism, and Politics

Two Dutch municipalities decided last year that all their coffeeshops must be closed down. While in other cities, like nearby Breda, city governments have no intention of going back to the days of street dealing in back alleys and dark corners.  Selçuk Akinci is a bloggingtweeting digital native, not to mention the chairperson of the Green Party Delegation for the city council of Breda. He has also spoken out and written over the last few years on the topic of coffeeshops and the attempts to shut them down or instate pass-card systems where only card carrying members could make purchases.  When in 2008, neighboring municipalities to Breda decided to close down their coffeeshops in effort to chase away drug tourism and other alleged undesireable elements, Selçuk was a vocal part of the effort to serve the influx of customers by setting up more coffeeshops in strategic locations.

From Breda, to the national level, to the European Court of Justice, Selçuk and I discuss drug policy in the Netherlands and just which way the political and social wind is blowing.

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