But there’s no bridge from anyplace I’ve lived to the Dutch polder. This is nothing like anything I have ever known. If my love of California came through the front door and my love of Scotland through the side, this sudden, inarticulate love of the Netherlands is the unexpected guest who appears one day in the living room, ringing no bell and answering no invitation. And yet, here it is, and it draws me out of the house and away from the cities every bright day. I go out for half-hour rides and come back three hours later, windblown and bright-eyed.
And the Noord-Hollands polder through which I’ve been riding is the real deal, the unfiltered, unadulterated Dutch landscape, served neat. It’s undiluted by tulips and uncut by the tourist trail. It stretches out northward from the urbanized shore of the IJ to the Afsluitdijk, making up the land between the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. The fields are punctuated by towns and villages: Purmerend, Volendam, Alkmaar, Heerhugowaard, Den Helder, Edam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Schagen, Heiloo. Straight, elevated canals and swift roads cross them, taking the people and the freight to and fro. But the land between is filled only with a kind of vastness: long, straight lines of pasture under the endless, endless sky.
Abi Sutherland declares her love for the flat, Dutch landscape. I’ve always found Noord-Holland, that stretched out farmland north of Amsterdam, to be dull and depressing, the worst part of the Netherlands but Abi shows it can be beautiful too.
So did Jacques Brel decades ago, talking about Vlaanderen, but it could be Holland as well:
Nicolas Freeling’s hero, inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam recherche, meets up with a woman who might have been blackmailed and gives a short description:
She was a solid, well-constructed woman, not fat at all but all curves, with the very fine-textured, pearly skin that goes so well with dark chestnut hair. Small good teeth, quite rare in Holland, where the women have excellent teeth looking like a well-polished row of marble gravestones.
From 1965, but as Sandra often noticed, Dutch women, especially young Dutch women, do tend to have huge perfect white teeth, though her comparison was more to do with horses than marble gravestones. A very Dutch mouth that.
I love Nicolas Freeling’s mysteries, another writer Sandra turned me on to, as he has a knack for getting Dutch people right: his Holland is one that’s still a ways behind the modern world, though getting there, a Holland gone some time I was born, but one I still recognised if only from period fiction.
You may have missed it, but Holland is slowly but surely being gripped by election fever as election night creeps closer. It’s still a while away though, as they’re being held on 12 September. Yet the electioneering battle has already started, still low key, as the various parties position themselves. The mainstream parties (social-democrat PvdA, Christan Democrat CDA, right-liberal VVD, and for now, the xenophobic PVV of Geert Wilders) are not doing well for the moment, with the last three of course hindered by their involvement in the current, disastrous government, while the PvdA still hasn’t learned to meaningfully oppose. Instead, as you can see the voters have polarised, with the echt-socialist SP winning big, while the centrist-liberal D66 also profiting; they always do if they haven’t been in government for a while, only to lose again once in office.
But the biggest news is hidden under the heading “Overige partijen” — “other parties: the Dutch branch of the Pirate Party would’ve been elected to parliament with one seat had elections been held today! That’s quite impressive for an internet only (so far) party with very little name recognition so far. It’s also a sign of health for our democracy if they do manage to get a seat in parliament; even better if they get a couple more, as they themselves are hoping.
The Dutch political system is one that naturally drives parties to the centre, as no party is ever capable of securing a majority in parliament on its own. This leads to periods of bland conformity as the rightwing parties get a little more leftist and the leftwing parties get a lot more rightwing; the nineties were like that, when VVD, D66 and PvdA outmanoeuvred the CDA to rule for most of the decade. For every action there’s a reaction and that gets you periods of greater polarisation as well as the rise of new parties. D66 got its start as the first of them, wanting to break open the cozy relationships between the old parties, but has long since been captured by the system; various other parties didn’t last long or became “confessional”, splinter parties you voted for to be ideologically pure but with no real hope of ever winning power.
Lately of course, with the near-simultaneous rise of the SP from small leftwing to largest leftwing opposition party and the xenophobic and populist movements of first Pim Fortuyn, then Geert Wilders polarisation has come back with a vengeance. This in turn naturally offers changes for new parties that deliberately refuse to place themselves on the old left-righ axis: the Partij voor de Dieren, the animal rights party managed this during the last elections, might the Piratenpartij follow them during this one? I hope so, because the system needs new blood and ideas.
On 8 May 2012 The Netherlands adopted crucial legislation to safeguard an open and secure internet in The Netherlands. It is the first country in Europe to implement net neutrality in the law. In addition, it adopted provisions protecting users against disconnection and wiretapping by providers. Digital rights movement Bits of Freedom calls upon other countries to follow the Dutch example.
In addition, the law includes an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting internetproviders from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). They may only do so under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent of the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The use of DPI gained much attention when KPN admitted that it analysed the traffic of its users to gather information on the use of certain apps. The law allows for wiretapping with a warrant.
Moreover, the law includes a provision ensuring that internet providers can only disconnect their users in a very limited set of circumstances. Internet access is very important for functioning in an information society, and providers currently could on the basis of their terms and conditions disconnect their users for numerous reasons. The provision allows for the disconnection in the case of fraud or when a user doesn’t pay his bills.
There are some specific Dutch clauses to the bill. The bill prohibits filtering of internet all together, providers cannot block any website or service whatsoever, no more blocking of Skype or Youtube on mobile phones just because it costs the providers money. But what it does allow is belief based filtering: there are a few providers who provide internet connections for e.g. Christians who’d rather not be confronted with the wicked outside and those are still legal. Which is as it should be.
The important thing is that no provider is now able to block services or websites they don’t like.
One advantage of the collapse of the Dutch government is that the socalled wietpas might just be scrapped, at least nationally. Tomorrow it will be rolled out in the southern provinces, which means foreign socalled drugs tourists will no longer be able to buy dope in a coffee shop in Maastricht or any other southern city. Next year it was supposed to be put in force nation wide, but this still has to be confirmed by parliament and might just be declared “controversial” now that the government has lost its mandate. Which means that it can’t be treated in parliament until after the elections, scheduled for the 12th of September and who knows what will happen after them.
The whole wietpas legislation has been driven by drugs warriors in the CDA and the VVD, though to a somewhat lesser extent there; it’s far from a given that these two parties will return to power, while other parties are less than interested in this subject. If the wietpas quietly disappears into the dustbin of history this will be very good for Amsterdam, as some twentyfive percent of tourists come here especially for the dope…
It still leaves the southern border provinces with it, but I suspect that it will die a quiet death there too if it’s never put into law nationally.