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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!
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
The theme of World Water Day, which is being held in Cape Town, is Water for Cities.
More than half the world's population lives in cities. Many of these are below sea level, and hence vulnerable to the effects of climate change, mostly flooding.
The Dutch know what it means to live in a delta - in their case, the confluence of the Rhine, Schelde and Meuse rivers which all flow into the North Sea in the southwest of the country. The Dutch experience has bred generations of experts, and Dutch experts today are helping solve water problems all over the world. They are involved in an estimated 40 percent of all water projects worldwide.
In the Netherlands there are over 2000 companies, research institutes and government offices which are specialised in water-related subjects. They employ 80,000 people who guarantee a turnover of billions of euros. After all, one third of the country is below sea level, so it's no surprise that Dutch history has been shaped by the need to keep the water out.
The great flood of 1953, vividly remembered to this day, killed 1830 people and scores more in neighbouring countries. Over 70,000 people become homeless. The tragedy ultimately led to the Delta Project, with barrages and dikes built to protect the estuaries of the delta in the southwestern Netherlands. It has been called one of the most revolutionary hydrological projects in the world.
The knowledge gathered in the Netherlands is applied at projects like Water Mondial, involving Mozambique, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
When the levee broke - New Orleans, 2005
The US city of New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leading to widespread loss of life and enormous damage. Dutch technology is being used to reinforce levees and build storm barriers.
Dutch companies are also involved in the world's biggest dredging project called "The World", consisting of 300 artifical islands to be built off the Dubai coast, depicting the world. The project has been suspended because of the financial crisis.
A Dutch technique for purifying sewage water is being used in Australia, the United States and China. The method involves a special design of hydraulic tank.
And you can't catch them young enough: three Dutch schoolchildren developed a pump which does not just dispense water, but desinfects it, and the jerrycans, when it operates. The pump is being tested in Ghana.
Crown Prince Willem Alexander is representing the Netherlands at the World Water event in South Africa. He said he hopes that World Water Day will make people more aware of water-related problems.
What such awareness can achieve, is illustrated by a few simple figures: the Dutch population has grown by 11 percent since 1990, but water use in that same period increaded by just 1 percent. In 1990 each Dutch citizen used 131 litres per year; by 2009 that had gone down to 119 litres.
-Shared by Hans A H C De Wit
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
“I wanted to write a story about my great-great-grandfather. He served as grand vizier or prime minister during Iran’s industrial revolution in Iran and he was murdered,” explains Kader Abdolah.
“My aim was to write about the vizier, but the shah or king turned out to be a better subject. I suspect the king was more important. In the king, I even discovered myself.”
Abdolah’s new novel De Koning is situated in Iran (formerly Persia), the land of his birth. It was also the setting for his internationally acclaimed book The House of the Mosque in 2005. His focus has now turned to the period of major change in the second half of the 19th century, with the advent of the telegraph, the railways, electricity and state reforms.
The shah or king reluctantly surrendered to technological innovation. But he wanted nothing to do with a parliament and a constitution, despite the urgent appeals from his grand vizier– who ruled the country on his behalf.
Such was his resistance that he ordered the murder of the grand vizier, great-great-grandfather. But eventually, the shah himself perished at the hands of an opponent. This is the tale Abdolah tells in De Koning.
Kader Abdolah sees parallels between the past and the present.
“In the shah of yesteryear I discovered the men and their power: Gaddafi, Mubarak, Khomeini.”
Dynasties crumbled as a result of the technological changes at that time, but they were essentially replaced by new dictators. The writer believes that this is where the present parts company with the past.
“Now there is Facebook. These dictatorships are no longer able to hold back freedom of speech. Facebook will remove Gaddafi, Muburak and the ayatollahs, and bring a new kind of democracy.”
Language of censorship
Kader Abdolah himself fled the Iran of the ayatollahs, because his life was in danger as a writer, a journalist and a member of the underground opposition. In 1988 he came to the Netherlands with his family. His own language, Persian, had become the language of censorship and so he resolved to write only in Dutch.
While the reformists in Iran are still being mercilessly combated and suppressed, Kader Abdolah has hope for the future of his homeland:
“Iran is one of the most important democracies in the Middle East. The revolutions in Egypt and Libya are superficial: Mubarak is gone, but the structure of dictatorship remains in Egypt. But in Iran there is a movement that goes right down to the foundations. It may take 30 or 40 years, but democracy will take root in people’s genes. In 20 years’ time, we will have a strong, fully formed democracy in my homeland,” he predicts.
Abdolah’s work has been translated into many languages. But in Iran, his books are banned. He sees the books he writes as weapons in a battle.
“When I write, I think of the people in Iran who fight against dictatorship. When I write I am on the frontline, in the vanguard against dictatorship. My books can be seen as literature, but they are also the true fight against the ayatollahs.”
The writer has a burning desire to return to his homeland one day. Will Kader Abdolah ever write in his mother tongue again?
“After 22 years I am no longer able to write in Persian. I can’t put my soul into it. I can only produce literature in Dutch. It’s painful, but that’s the turn my life has taken.”
Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit
Sunday, March 20, 2011
It’s a possibility the West should take seriously, says Glenn Schoen, terrorism expert with international security firm G4S.”Gaddafi’s got his back to the wall. Diplomatically and economically he can hardly do anything anymore. Militarily his capabilities will soon be limited. And one of the few options open to him to put pressure on the international community remains, of course, terrorism.”
It’s not clear whether Gaddafi now has potential terrorists in other countries. “We do know that the Libyan foreign secret service ESO is still active. Not only at embassies still in the hands of Tripoli, but also beyond. And we know that two months ago he probably sent some more people abroad to keep an eye on Libyan dissidents. So we can assume that he does have a certain capacity to do this, although it will be less than it was a few years ago.”
A Libyan terrorist attack could come in the next few days. “He’ll see when it’s useful to exert counter pressure,” says Glenn Schoen. That might be at the start of allied military action, to stop certain countries from helping the British, French and Americans. It would be a way for Gaddafi to create disunity in the Western world.
The longer the fighting in Libya goes on, the more time Gaddafi has to prepare terrorist attacks, Mr Schoen warns. Western countries should share secret information on the whereabouts of Libyan agents and on the flow of Libyan funds. And they should step up security for potential targets like civil aviation and the embassies of allied countries.
But not everyone is expecting fresh Libyan terrorist attacks. Dutch Libya expert Gerbert van der Aa thinks Gaddafi is now barely capable of carrying out major acts of terrorism against the West. Since Tripoli renounced terrorism, it has not maintained the international terrorist infrastructure it had in place for decades.
What’s more, many Libyan embassies – the bases for Libyan secret agents – have turned against the regime in Tripoli. And embassy personnel who nominally remain loyal to Gaddafi will not be willing to support terrorist attacks, says Mr Van der Aa, who recently wrote a book on the capricious colonel. “There’s a growing feeling at most embassies that they would be very happy for Gaddafi to go. So I don’t think there’s much support for him there.”
Shared by Hans A.H.C De Wit