Looking back on 2013: The Netherlands Year in Review

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The round-up of some of this year’s most noteworthy events and news stories features a wind turbine catches fire in Ooltgensplaat, Google deactivates Geert Wilders’ Gmail account created to spread his anti-Islam stickers, Groningen ends at the top in a satisfaction survey on wellbeing in European cities, the alleged burning of 18 million euros worth of paintings stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, an Ajax fan injured in stadium fall, the United Nations investigator that thinks the Netherlands should abolish the Zwarte Piet tradition, customs officers at Schiphol Airport arrest two women for smuggling about €400,000, the KNMI issues a Code Red weather warning for people living in the north of the Netherlands in December, many royals attend the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander, a collision between two planes at Schiphol airport and Prince Johan Friso laid to rest in a small cemetery in Lage Vuursche, a village in the province of Utrecht.  

wind turbines


In October, a wind turbine caught fire in Ooltgensplaat on Goeree-Overflakkee, costing the lives of two mechanics. Four mechanics were at work in the wind turbine on the Mariadijk, about 80 meters above ground. By a cause, yet unknown, a fire started in the engine room. The identity of the victims wasn’t disclosed. The windmills of wind farms in Rijnwoude and Zoeterwoude were stopped for two minutes in November in memory of two mechanics who were killed in Ooltgensplaat. Radio station BNR reported that the 1900 windmills in the Netherlands are not sufficiently protected against fire. Also, the fire department is not always able to assist in case of fire. The BNR’s report was based on statements of experts.    

Wilders presenting his anti-Islam sticker


Google recently deactivated the islamsticker@gmail Gmail account PVV leader Geert Wilders was using to spread his anti-Islam stickers. The deactivation was probably prompted by the many complaints Wilders’ umpteenth anti-Islam initiative had prompted. It was the politician himself who reported via Twitter on Boxing Day that his account had been closed. “Unbelievable; Google just blocked the account” he tweeted. After Google cut-off a Gmail account, Wilders registered a domain with Danish webhost One.com and used it to create a new email address for distributing the stickers. The hosting company says they do not have plans to follow Google’s lead and shut down the account for offensive content, a company executive said.     The European Commission confirmed that nothing beats Groningen, a city in North Netherlands. In a large satisfaction survey on wellbeing in European cities, Groningen ends at the top in three categories. Nowhere else is the population so content with health care (95 percent), public space (94 percent), and education (89 percent). In the total score, Groningen ends at position 3 of 79. Aalborg in Denmark and Hamburg are at the top of the list. Copenhagen, Oslo, and Zürich follow after Groningen. Amsterdam follows at position 7, with 96 percent of the population content.  

The Concert by Johannes Vermeer / Wikipedia


The research team of Justice in Romania in July said that the paintings stolen last year from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam are possibly all incinerated. It involves seven paintings with an estimated value of 18 million euro of, among others, Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin. The artworks are burned in the house of the mother of the prime suspect Radu Dogaru, in the Romanian village of Carcaliu, announced the Romanian television channel PRO TV. Chief suspect Radu Dogaru threatened to sue the Dutch museum for inadequate security arrangements. “I could not imagine that a museum would exhibit such valuable works with so little security”, Dogaru told the court on Oct. 22. Dutch authorities said that none of the paintings was equipped with an alarm despite an estimated value of €18-million, or $24 million. Dogaru was sentenced to six years and eight months unconditional. Eugen Darie, who transported the stolen paintings, received the same sentence as Dogaru. Dogaru's mother had claimed she set all the paintings on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence, but she later recanted.  

Ajax Club / Flickr


During the Ajax v. FC Barcelona Champions League football match in late November, a man was seriously injured at the Amsterdam Arena after he fell from the stands onto the concrete ring surrounding the field. The unidentified victim crashed into the ground when Ajax was up by a goal. In early December, the family of the 46-year-old Ajax fan announced that he is out of danger. The police have concluded that the fall was an accident.    

Michell Zappa
Wikimedia commons


The head of the work group of the United Nations researching Zwarte Piet thinks the Netherlands should abolish the Sinterklaas tradition. Verene Shepherd, human rights researcher for the United Nations, raised the hackles of many Dutch people with her letter about the tradition, and a follow up interview saying the tradition has undeniable racist undertones. The work group can’t understand why Dutch cannot see this is a step back to slavery and this festival has no place in the 21st century, states the Jamaican Shepherd.She goes on to say if she, as a black person, would live in The Netherlands, she would object too. Shepherd admits this is her personal opinion. The independent human rights experts who looked into Zwarte Piet called on the Dutch Government to take the lead in the ongoing debate about whether it’s time the tradition undergo a change. In a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Geneva, the experts said that facilitation by Government of the debate would serve to promote understanding, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue.  

Nelson Mandela /Flickr)


Both the Telegraaf daily newspaper and John de Laet, a GroenLinks official in Amsterdam West GroenLinks official, apologized for racial blunder over the South African leader Nelson Mandela’s death. Both made racially insensitive public statements regarding the Mandela’s death by linking his passing with the blackface Zwarte Piet tradition in the Netherlands. Telegraaf’s blunder appeared on its website shortly after Mandela’s death became world news. “Just like in the rest of the world, there have been many reactions to the death of Nelson Mandela who happened to pass away on Sinterklaas night (which included zwarte piet),” an article on the paper’s website stated. The article stayed on the site for 30 minutes and was then removed after a barrage of reactions from disgusted readers.    

Holland's Got Talent


Holland’s Got Talent judge Cornelis Willem Heuckeroth, who goes by the nickname Gordon, was under fire for making racist comments about an Asian contestant months after making remarks perceived as anti-semitic about singer Barbra Streisand. Gordon’s comments drew criticism worldwide from social media users and internet media outlets. Gordon made repeated jokes about Xiao Wang. When Wang took the stage to sing "La donna è mobile" from Verdi’s Rigoletto, Gordon asked with, “Which number are you singing, number 39 with rice?” Responding to Gordon, Xiao Wang, a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen, said “On stage, at first I did not pay attention to the jury’s exact words, but I felt somewhat slighted,” Wang said in a statement to AD.nl ”After watching the show, I have to say that I dislike the ‘jokes.’” However, Wang does not think Gordon’s comments are reflective of all people in the Netherlands. “My Dutch friends I have met here are warm, friendly and caring. I’m crazy about them.”  

Schiphol airport / Wikipedia


At Schiphol Airport, two women from Ecuador were arrested for smuggling €400,000. The two women, aged 38 and 39, were in transit to Spain when Customs officers found the first €8,000 hidden in their luggage. But it’s when they were strip-searched that the impressive extent of their smuggling skills was revealed. Officers discovered that the women had inserted dozens of rolls of cash into their body cavities. Together, they produced multiple rolls of 500-euro bills totaling about €400,000. The Marechaussee, the military's police department, said it took several days for everything to be removed. Recently, a 13-year-old girl was arrested at Schiphol airport for drug smuggling. She is the youngest person ever taken into custody at the airport for the crime.  

Flags flapping in the wind in Amsterdam Centrum, 5 Dec. 2013 (Zack Newmark/NL Times)


A storm in late October that brought winds of over 150 km/h (93 mph) lead to death, injury, and €95 million in damages across the country. Not taking any chances, the KNMI issued a Code Red weather warning for people living in the north of the Netherlands again in early December. Strong gales of up to 88 km/h (54 mph) were reported in IJmuiden and Vlieland. The winds register at force nine on the Beaufort scale. On Dec. 5, the KNMI weather bureau issued an extreme weather warning for coastal areas to code orange.  It was expected that the will hit the Netherlands at about 15:00 local time. Some predicted that the December storm could be stronger than the 1953 storm that caused a dyke to break in the south Netherlands province Zeeland. The Netherlands was worst affected, recording 1,836 deaths and widespread property damage. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern province of Zeeland.    

King Willem-Alexander / Wikipedia


At the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander, the Dutch Royal family welcomed an impressive delegation of the remaining monarchies in the world. The most prominent guests were Britain’s Prince Charles, the Japanese royal couple and Prince Albert II of Monaco. Of the ‘real’ kingdoms, only a few did not send a royal member to Amsterdam: Bhutan, Cambodia, Lesotho, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Tonga and Kuwait. King Willem-Alexander made his first Christmas speech on Dec. 25. In his speech, the king talked about human relationship. Nearly 2.3 million people watched the king's Christmas speech, according to figures from the Audience Research Foundation.  

KLM Cityhopper / Flickr


On Dec. 13, a collision between two planes at Schiphol airport happened when a U.S. Airways Boeing 757 pulling into a gate clipped the wing of a stationary KLM airplane. Nobody was injured in the incident. Early reports suggest the U.S. Airways pilot followed an incorrect line when approaching the gate in Amsterdam, possibly following a path to gate D51A instead of D51B. There were 158 passengers onboard the KLM aircraft, flight 1601, at the time of the accident. The plane is believed to be a Boeing 737, which was scheduled to depart for Rome, Italy.    

Prince Johan Friso / Wikipedia


In August, Prince Johan Friso was laid to rest in a small cemetery in Lage Vuursche, a village in the province of Utrecht. The cemetery is located almost directly opposite to the Drakensteyn Castle, where Friso spent his childhood. Flags around the country were lowered to half-staff in the prince’s honor.Prince Friso is the first deceased member of The Royal Dutch family who is buried. His ancestors were laid in The Royal Vault.