Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Amsterdam would appear to have things well under control when it comes to prostitution. Almost all the city’s prostitutes do business in a single area of 250 by 250 metres, enabling the police to keep tabs on anti-social behaviour, street crime and people trafficking. Meanwhile tourists can enjoy a stroll along the old canals and gawp at the ladies on display amid the legendary red lights and neon signs.
Nowhere in the world is prostitution as extensively regulated as it is in the Netherlands. Under Dutch law, it is a legal profession which requires prostitutes to obtain permits and pay taxes on what they earn.
The Netherlands is a world leader in this respect. In most countries, prostitution (or in any case offering sex for money) is illegal and far more difficult to control. It mainly takes place on the streets or in shady clubs, along darkened roads or on the wrong side of the tracks.
Since things in the Dutch capital are more orderly and mainstream, a growing number of cities are looking at the “Amsterdam model” as an example for creating a prostitution zone. There is already interest from Canada, Spain and Taiwan.
The most advanced plans are in Taiwan, where the government has announced that prostitution will only be permitted in specially allocated red-light zones. Women and men who want to work in brothels in these areas can apply for a permit. Prostitution in massage parlours and coffee houses outside these zones will remain illegal. The Taiwanese government says it hopes this approach will help them combat people trafficking and offer better protection to workers in the sex industry.
In Canada, too, the law on prostitution was recently relaxed. In the city of Toronto, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti proposed setting up a red-light district along the same lines as in Amsterdam. At present, prostitution is spread throughout the city. “It would also be a good thing for Toronto’s economy, as a red-light district will attract tourists,” Mr Mammoliti argues.
Ideally he would like to see the district located on Toronto Island, near the city centre. The suggested location has already sparked a good deal of criticism. Nevertheless, in Toronto it seems like the discussion is more about where rather than whether a red-light district should be created.
In Barcelona, things haven’t quite gone that far. The residents of the Raval district recently raised the alarm about the increase in prostitution on their streets. Raval borders on the famous shopping street Las Ramblas and has for some years been the pitch of mostly African prostitutes offering their services at rock bottom prices. Around the historical market hall La Boqueria, customers are pleasured out in the open in the evening and at night.
Local residents have had enough of these public shenanigans and want the sex workers banished from the streets. One solution could be along Dutch lines, with the prostitutes on display in windows.
While enthusiasm for an Amsterdam-style red-light district is on the increase abroad, the Dutch capital is clamping down on prostitution. Executive Councillor Lodewijk Asscher wants to turn the red-light district into Amsterdam’s calling card, a place where human trafficking and anti-social behaviour are a thing of the past. Around 100 of the district’s 500 prostitutes’ windows have already been closed and there are plans to shut down another 120. Instead of displaying scantily clad hookers, the windows now look in on the studios of young fashion designers and even an independent radio station.
Amsterdam’s red-light clean-up operation is controversial. Mariska Majoor of the city’s Prostitution Information Centre is one of those opposed to it. “These plans have been drafted to combat human trafficking, yet nowhere in the world is prostitution as well-regulated as it is here. Everything is transparent and in full view and the prostitutes are easy to approach. Even tourists are surprised by the measures and think they go against the spirit of the city.”
Monday, April 25, 2011
Last week Syrian protesters made a dramatic appeal to the Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera to devote more attention to events in the country. But there’s a reason for the lack of reporting. It’s virtually impossible for journalists to work in Syria.
For one thing, the regime does its best to obstruct journalists. And at the same time ordinary people – whether out of loyalty or fear – talk about activists in the same terms as state television uses. At least, that’s if you can manage to talk to any ordinary people. When we, Ozlem and I, last year tried to talk with a taxi driver in Aleppo, he simple said that everything was milk and honey in Syria. Yes, our of fear!
De facto: ''you are under pretty heavy pressure, because in principle anyone you talk to can get into a lot of trouble. It’s a worry that leaves you paralysed.”
Syria is ruled with an iron fist by President Bashar al-Assad, aided by a feared security apparatus represented at all levels of society. The protests, which started a month ago in the capital Damascus and spread to other cities, are unparalleled in the country.
The state of emergency imposed in 1963 will not officially have been lifted until President Assad has given his formal assent. But still people are taking to the streets to protest against corruption, poor socio-economic conditions and the secret police, in the hope that their call for democracy will be heard, says Dutch ambassador Dolf Hogewoning in Damascus. And their numbers are growing.
“People are seeing an opportunity to make their voices heard, and increasingly they’re getting the impression they can take to the streets without immediately being severely punished, as they would have been until recently. It’s been going on for a month, and for Syria extremely unusual things have been happening. In general you can say people have thrown off some of their fear.”
The courage has a price. Since the start of the uprising at least 300 people have been killed. Many more have been arrested or have disappeared. During protests in Homs at the beginning of this week an unknown number of people were killed when the security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters.
Last Wednesday it was announced that Syrian dissident Mahmoud Issa had been arrested by the political security service for reporting on events in his city for Al Jazeera.
Syrians expect the West to do more than just condemn the violence, says Marjolein Wijninckx of Dutch peace group IKV-Pax Christi.
“You could think about suspending certain cooperation agreements. For example, between the European Union and Syria there’s the European Neighbourhood Policy. Under the terms of this agreement Syria gets 40 million euros a year. And other countries also have agreements they could suspend.”
There’s no comparison between Syrian activism and Egypt’s mass revolution. It’s not clear how much support there is for the protestors – there are no opinion polls in Syria. The majority of the population say nothing and stay at home. But the Syrian president may well enjoy more support than his former Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak did.
The regime appears to be willing to lift the state of emergency. But Mr Hogewoning says he wonders how much freedom this will bring. Protestors will still need a permit, the ambassador says.
“What they give with one hand they can take away with the other.”
It will be interesting to see how Erdogan will act if Syria 'falls' and Iran will follow as the current AKP government has politically invested heavenly in these countries....
Sunday, April 24, 2011
A Dutch magazine has come up with an idea to make talking about homosexuality easier by using well-known sports people. L'HOMO is a special edition of Linda Magazine. It is the third time the gay glossy has been published. Scantily dressed sports personalities feature on the cover. They tell their story about homosexuality in the world of sport.
Under the title Sons of God, seven sportsmen bare their chests for a photo session. They are footballers Evgeniy Levchenko, Demy de Zeeuw, Kenneth Perez, Ronald de Boer, gymnast Jeffrey Wammes, tennis player John van Lottum and racing car driver Mike Verschuur. Only two of them are actually gay.
In the world of sport, heterosexuality is the norm. It’s an image that is seldom challenged, but are gay sportsmen doing themselves a favour? Owner/Editor Linda de Mol doesn’t think so. She believes revealing your sexuality can even be beneficial. Her slogan for the special edition is: 'Even more gold after coming out'.
Racing car driver Mike Verschuur, who had already come out of the closet, agrees.
“Many fellow drivers – not mentioning any names – told me they were gay too. But they dare not say so in public which is a real pity. Because there is nothing to fear. On the contrary, it has only made me stronger. It’s made me a better driver.”
For gymnast Jeffrey Wammes, the special edition was a perfect opportunity to come out. “There was already a lot of speculation about whether or not I fell for boys or girls. To me it has nothing to do with sport or how I perform. But when I was asked to do this, I made it clear straight away how things were and that’s that.”
Meanwhile we are all waiting for the first footballer to come out, in what is an extremely macho world. Ajax player Demy de Zeeuw doesn’t expect it to happen any time soon.
“It’s very difficult in football. That’s partly because of society. You want to change things, but there are some things that stay the same.”
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thanks to Gauri this blog became not dead; the first five weeks she did every day the Day opening and posted my posts next to hear own posts! Many thanks Gauri!
Today it looks like that they have unblocked blogger again, although it remains difficult to reach the site. Lets say and wait.
In the meanwhile, it was obvious that I could not drop on blogs of EC which use blogspot.com. Thanks for dropping 'by'!!
Wish you all a Happy Easter!
Saturday, April 2, 2011
The Dutch in Massachusetts, the USA
It’s an almost forgotten historical Dutch enclave: Whitinsville, Massachusetts. In around 1886 the first Dutchman arrived in the town from the province of Friesland, bringing with him a herd of dairy cows from the Netherlands.
Hans Miersma, 2.06 metres tall, plays basketball for Whitinsville Christian School. Last week, he led his team to victory in the Division 3 championships for smaller schools in the state of Massachusetts. His height and his blond hair leave little doubt as to his Dutch roots. And he’s not alone. His teammates all have typically Dutch surnames: Bloem, Koopman, VandenAkker and Dykstra. His coach is called Bajema, and the school principal is one of the many Vander Baans in and around Whitinsville.
Dutch family tree This Dutch-flavoured slice of small-town America is located just one hour west of Boston. The main street is home to Wiersma insurance, Vander Zicht real estate and the Hamer legal firm. The gravestones at the local cemetery mark the passing of people with Dutch surnames such as Foppema, Miedema, Bangma, Ebbeling and De Vries. It feels like discovering a long-lost branch of the Dutch family tree.
“Our ethnic background is Frisian,” confirms school principal Chris Vander Baan. History teacher Dick VandenBerg explains that around 1886 a man called Jan Bosma from near the Dutch town of Sneek became the first Dutch emigrant to settle in Whitinsville. Bosma brought his Frisian dairy cows with him, to replace local cattle that had succumbed to disease.
Dick VandenBerg recounts: “He described Whitinsville in the letters he sent home and before long around 60 families had followed in his footsteps. There was work for them here in the factory and on the farms.”
Economic emigrants Unlike the wave of emigration to West Michigan in the 19th century, the Dutch emigrants to Whitinsville did not emigrate because of their strict religious beliefs, according to Dick VandenBerg: "The emigration was economically motivated. But of course the church was still an important part of their cultural life. In around 1900 they founded the first Dutch Reformed church in New England right here."
Whitinsville is far less well known than places such as Grand Rapids and Holland in West Michigan, where many descendants and traditions established by Dutch emigrants can still be found.
Devoted to Jesus The first church services in Whitinsville were held in Dutch. It was also the language of tuition for the first pupils to attend the Christian school founded in 1928. Things have changed a lot since then. Whitinsville Christian now teaches around 550 pupils from pre-school to high-school, the majority of whom no longer have a Dutch background. But Dutch surnames continue to dominate the roll call and the school board.
The locals still refer to Whitinsville Christian as the “Dutch School”. It’s seen as something positive, since "the Dutch" in the community are known for being "particularly devoted to Jesus Christ and upholding Christian traditions," says school principal Chris Vander Baan. But the Dutch connection can have an adverse effect, discouraging people from other Christian backgrounds who sometimes think they won’t be welcome. Dutch treat That’s one of the main reasons why Dutch cultural heritage is no longer a major focus at school in Whitinsville. However, there is one notable exception: the pastry filled with ground almonds that is baked and sold as a December school fundraiser. "That’s a real Dutch treat that people from all over the county stand in line for," says Dick VandenBerg.
Dutch DNA is clearly evident in lanky basketball player Hans Miersma. His father John, only a few centimetres shorter, is treasurer of the school board and son of Dutch emigrants from Nunspeet and Leeuwarden. Hans and his three sisters are going on holiday to the Netherlands for the first time this spring. "I’m really curious about the land of my grandparents. I’m proud of my Dutch roots,” smiles Hans. “My dad says everyone there looks like me and for once I won’t tower above everyone in the street."
Friday, April 1, 2011
The Dutch Freedom Party insisted on the introduction, to shut up the opposing political parties and social movements which were pleading for a day off to celebrate the end of the islamic fasting period (Ramadan).
Due to the fact that the Freedom Party is supported by a large part of the Dutch voting corps, this seems to be a good consensus for the opposition.
Because it has been agreed on such a short notice in advance, the holiday will be actually celebrated for the first time next year. Public and company offices will be closed, small businesses have the opportunity to stay open to profit from the large number of people celebrating. Still, lots of Dutch are expected to take a day off to celebrate the new holiday.
If this holiday proves to be successful (both socially as well as economically), Wilders' disciples in the European Parliament will discuss the holiday to be introduced within the member states of the EU next year.
Happy Freedom Day, enjoy!