Joining the Dutch Resistance

When Grahame admitted that he had never travelled by Eurostar or stayed on a “Botel” it seemed like a good opportunity to sample a taste of Dutch Democracy in the impossibly picturesque city of Amsterdam. Any seasoned traveller knows that the cheapest fares are to be obtained on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, presumably leaving the weekends available for the so-called “bloated Eurocrats” to waste vast sums of public money on their superfast train rides back and forth to Britain.

Anyway, more of that later, but here we were coming out of the back of Amsterdam Central railway station to discover that I had “misremembered” exactly where we should pick up the ferry across the Nordzeekanaal to the Amstel, an old converted ship that was to be our accommodation for a couple of nights. The young man in the tourist information centre politely put us right and explained, with a complete lack of irony, how much we would like the trendy young vibe of the NDSM district. Now Grahame and I may sometimes feel as if we are still carefree twentysomethings criss-crossing Europe just as we did when we were students but I’m pretty bloody sure we don’t still look like them.

Midweek just happened to fit in with the eagerly awaited elections in the Netherlands. Twenty seven parties and a system of proportional representation meaning that the person with the most votes doesn’t necessarily get to lead the country followed by months of coalition-building to form a workable government; whoever thought that this peculiarly Dutch form of soporific would be attracting the eyes of the world? Enter Geert Wilders; an extremist politician with the stereotypical “dandelion clock” of blond hair and grab-bag of attention seeking populist policies: anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-Europe, anti-Green, anti-windmills.

Anti-windmills? In Holland? No, really. This guy is apparently vehemently against wind turbines and thinks Holland with be better off with more nuclear reactors. And just how can you be anti-Green when a substantial proportion of your tiny country is already under sea level? But if the past few months have taught us anything it is that logic has no place in contemporary politics, so despite the fact that no-one in the country would have been willing to form a government with him, Wilders coming first would have meant that Wilders (and his supporters) would have believed that they had won. If you’ve ever seen Dutch football fans on the rampage after thinking they have been cheated of a couple of goals (not one of my finest memories from a long policing career) you’d know what to expect next.

So how was Amsterdam on the day of this historic election? The city was sunny, welcoming and relaxed. If there were demonstrations at the polling booths or ardent discussions taking place in smoke-filled bars and cafes then we didn’t see any. The only political comment we heard was from one elderly antique dealer who said “you either get bitten by the dog or scratched by the cat, none of the parties does us much good these days” and the only political graffiti I noticed was a discrete “Dump Trump”.

We walked the canal-sides for hours, skipping out of the way of the ubiquitous bicycles and ducking into (non-smoky) cafes and bars whenever we needed a rest. The queues outside the Anne Franke Museum were even longer than on my previous visit but we did manage to tick off the Rembrandt Museum (wonderful) and the Diamond Museum (disappointing). Grahame steered me quickly past the House of Bols Gin Museum, probably having heard some of the family apocrypha of my over-indulgence in the luridly coloured, sticky-sweet alcoholic beverages of that same name.

Our final morning brought the news that Mark Rutte of the centre right VVD party had won a clear majority and that despite, or perhaps because of, a record 82% turn out, the extremist rhetoric of Wilders had lost the day. Oh, and to just thoroughly spit in his morning coffee, the Greens had grasped an unprecedented share of the vote.

Before catching our train for home we visited the Rijksmuseum to enjoy some more works by Rembrandt and some of his contemporaries. {I find I can’t do whole museums of this scale anymore and need to concentrate on just one section if I am to have any recollection of what I have seen}. Particularly striking was the 1650 painting of the “Threatened Swan” by Jan Asselijn. A magnificently lifelike bird lunges forward at the viewer, her spread wings defending the nest as if ready to fight to the death. Some years after it was completed this stunning picture was adopted as an allegorical symbol of the defence of Holland by assassinated statesman Johan de Witt and became the very first acquisition of the museum. Personally, I find the additional symbolism a little unnecessary, the quality of the work speaks for itself.

I cannot begrudge Mr Rutte his warnings to voters about how much of a mess the UK has got itself into following the vote to leave the European Union. It can hardly be denied. The Netherlands (like Austria which also saw off the far right in December) will not be following us into the wilderness any time soon.

Categories: Europe

1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    Thanks for the safe arrival note. You know that Kees’s mom and dad worked in the Royal Dutch Resistance during ww2, don’t you?
    We have sunny clear skies with 70 degree high today btw.
    Sandy

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