Death at the Dutch protests
A report on Dutch society during the epidemic
November 20, 2021, in downtown Rotterdam, the second largest city in the quaint Netherlands, on the pavement of the most famous street in town, the Coolsingel, a man was shot dead by the police, among a few other victims of an unprecedented use of authority, in face of a small protest of 700 people that turned into an anti-gov't riot, against new, even more restrictive epidemic measures.
Until recently, it was possible in the Netherlands to make use of public institutions & businesses if one was fully injected, or had proof of recovery from the virus, or a negative PCR test (at an officially designated location). This was dubbed 3G (triple health, gezondheid). Then on November 12, a 2G proposal was submitted to the Senate, removing the PCR option. So now showing up for work without a QR code became pretty much impossible. Meanwhile, mandatory use of QR codes has also expanded to “nonessential” branches of commerce.
This measure mostly pushes healthy youngsters into getting a vaccine they don’t need rather than the elderly or otherwise sick, which may help account for the large number of minors among the protesters & even rioters. Another, not unrelated motive for the protest was the fireworks prohibition—sale, transport, & use—announced on November 19, the day before the protest. Fireworks have a long tradition in celebrations in the Netherlands & people love them, but authorities don’t1.
So Friday evening, November 20, Rotterdamers began gathering by the World Trade Centre on the Coolsingel after 7 PM. Protesters are rarely subtle, so they chose to gather by a global stock market building to show their displeasure at elite rule. The Coolsingel itself is a broad street in the heart of Rotterdam, minutes from the central station and just across from the City Hall. According to mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb2 there was no formal permit, but an informal agreement that such a protest ought to be allowed. He didn’t name or otherwise indicate the parties of this agreement in his statement. One may presume the mayor was aware of the anger vented & stoked on social media; he issued no prohibition.
Who was there
But the major part of the riot were Rotterdam soccer cores: The RJK & FIIIR Youth clubs, both attached to Feyenoord, Rotterdam’s prized soccer team, who style themselves Rotterdamese Hooligans. This was reported to be their rallying cry, which marked the start of the riots3.
Soccer is very popular in the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, but affinity with the sport tends to divide the classes: Respectable bourgeois liberals are viscerally put off by the mindless passion the lower classes display in bars & stadiums. They consider Olympic sports more civilized. (I went to a preppy school where there was quite a bit of enthusiasm, as much as is to be expected in young men, for playing soccer professionally, as well as attending games—there's broad appeal in the sport.) Ordinary people watch European & World championships, but bobos & diehard liberals are sick even of the sight of the orange uniform: A hardheaded residue of patriotism for the unenlightened.
By the time the riot started, looters joined in from all over town.
Dutch Protests & Police
The November 20 riot was the most violent in years, but by far the smallest epidemic protest. Such protests often take the form of uneventful marches of several thousands. The only thing that compares for violence is the curfew riots last winter, when a 9 PM-4:30 AM curfew was introduced on January 23, 2021. A testing site was promptly set on fire; by the 24th, rioting & looting had already broken out all over the country. Hundreds had initially gathered for a protest in Museum Square in Amsterdam, which was deemed illicit by municipal authorities. It was water cannons & dogs against firework bombs. Although the riots lasted until January 26, the 24th saw the worst of the violence: Amsterdam central station was badly damaged, a hospital in Twente was attacked.
Then there’s the Dutch national police & its tactics. There are numerous examples over the last two years of professional ‘rioters’, dubbed Romeos (for the great question is, where art thou Romeo?), working undercover & suddenly snatching protesters & arresting them, without any warning, not even a uniform, to say nothing of other legal formalities. The official purpose of Romeos, Dutch police union board-member Koen Simmers says, is to “take the stinger out” of the fray of the crowd in order to prevent riots before they get out of hand. There is an argument to be made for the plausibility of such tactics, but the lack of transparency, in incident after incident, makes it difficult to judge. Such undercover arrests are typically very violent & always cause panic among protesters. The appearance of masked hooded men carrying batons slipping in & out of police vans, at any rate, certainly works, if at all, at the expense of ‘optics’. This footage (on facebook) shows a gang of men dragging a man out of a car to beat him, after which they confer with a squad of riot police. The riot troopers briefly appear to join in the beating, or arrest, & police vans arrive to obscure the men & their victim from civilians.
Whether there is any justice to these kinds of arrests in any given case is a jealously guarded secret. For the general public, as far as they are aware of these practices, trusting the police becomes very difficult, whether one is a protester or not. To begin with, the Dutch police have enforced severe restrictions on the public—shady beatings do not add to good humor. Dutchmen have the right to demonstration per Article 9 of our Constitution, & this has been observed throughout the epidemic. Police violence has been severe, however, even during the most serene of demonstrations4.
The municipal police reportedly was not expecting more than 100 protesters. Officers in so-called peace gear, meaning no armor, but carrying a gun & stunner, had been assigned to supervise the event. The police slowly mobilized around 7:30 PM, officers coming in gradually. Initially, there were only a few dozen officers sent by the municipal force. Later, the police was reinforced from all over the country, eight platoons, some 400 armored riot officers, arriving around 9 PM; the riots started at 20:19 PM.
Riot officers did the shooting. Initially, warning shots were fired, but the officers quickly began aiming, as they were, or claim to have been, being driven back. At least five protesters were shot & reportedly hospitalized: Video shows a 17-year-old being struck in the artery in his left leg, & declared dead by the man filming. Apparently the boy was taken to a hospital by other protesters. Several people could be seen surrounding him & standing on the bleeding leg to stanch the flow.
The violence & the confusion
Another young man, likewise claimed to be deceased, was shot in the back; yet another youth was dragged over the asphalt for 50m under a police van & was thus injured. A reporter named Marco Buis, reporting for OnrechtTV, was shot through the stomach; he was rushed to a hospital, doctors saved his life. This same channel also reports other shootings: One man was shot in the chest & moved behind the police formation, another was collected by an EMT helicopter.
Other than a video of the 17-year old being shot & bleeding profusely from his leg & the reporter’s injury & treatment being punished by his own website, none of the shootings can be traced to any sources, which makes it impossible to determine whether these other people have actually been shot dead (as per twitter) or hospitalized (main stream media). While there is much online discussion about whether these kids have died or not, police & hospitals are unwilling to release personal information, citing privacy concerns, which makes the matter impossible to settle even a week later. A commemorative march has been planned for the two young men, regardless. I would go as far as to say that there will be people on the streets in some capacity regardless of whether or not these youths have been killed: Justified or not, teenagers have been shot. Ethnic tensions come into it as well, as several of them were third generation immigrants. This is a touchy underlying topic in Dutch society (as in the rest of Europe), particularly in Rotterdam, which has a significant Moroccan population. One of Aboutaleb’s important tasks as mayor was to mitigate ethnic tension. The recent riot is a dramatic failure, since it could stir more conflict during the aforementioned commemorations.
There were wounded police officers as well, one of whom broke his leg. Police were being pelted with rocks & those highly explosive cobra fireworks. Vans were lit on fire & bicycles rammed through the windows.
In our mediated age, public opinion is difficult to determine. In public, the event was both decried as a riot & not a true protest, as well as blamed on dissenters to epidemic policy. Online, opinion is divided—some decry the police shootings, others say they had it coming; likewise with the violence on the part of the rioters. This recalls the summer of 2020 in America, a police shooting & the great anger it evoked, the confusion of the terms ‘protesters’ & ‘looters’, not only in America, but in European riots, too—especially because, as it appears in the video, the 17-year-old is standing on a street corner half a block away from his police shooter, seemingly no possible threat. But of course, the pro-police & anti-police partisans have switched sides now, since this is about Covid.
Such a riot appears no less ugly in the context of a demissionary cabinet that has been changing laws to force unprecedented restrictions upon avowedly free citizens. People, especially the unvaccinated, feel humiliated & oppressed. On both sides of this twisted & fiery dispute, fear of & longing for violence has been in the air for a while. As with any subject of great or little importance, Dutch politicians quickly invoked the great & very exciting national humiliation, the German occupation during WWII. The creeping restrictions imposed on parts of the population, the rhetoric, the mistrust; both in the Netherlands & elsewhere, they do recall the war & occupation—I'm thinking especially of the remarkable emergency measures among our Austrian neighbors…
Perhaps the deadly violence is excusable because the eight platoons of riot police were overwhelmed by one-handed hooligans (cobra fireworks pack a punch, but not much of a warning, as shown by the scattered fingers). But the mayor & police chief are accountable for when & how riot police were deployed. In his eleven years in office, which earned him the title of world's best mayor this year, Aboutaleb has had ample experience of rioting hooligans. He has condemned these people consistently, even as he has underestimated them. This has endangered the lives of civilians, naughty or nice, & police officers both. But as with the epidemic debacle, the Dutch gov’t prefers ad hoc crackdowns over setting up policy in a deliberate manner & exercising foresight.
As for the aftermath, a team of 20 detectives has been assembled to do cleanup. It isn't spelled out, but it appears to be a national police case. Rioters appeared from different parts of the country, it is suspected. Arrests will be made—51 arrests were made already during the riots, half of them minors. I almost mention that in passing, but it cannot be stressed enough. Why were there so many teenagers (leaving aside natural proclivity) getting involved in this kind of mayhem? I believe they were there because the youth in particular has been affected by 2G restrictions. The soccer youth clubs particularly are the sort of kids who would stick around in those riots long enough to be arrested. Lastly, the latter are also more likely to enjoy fireworks & possess some potent ones of their own.
The political consequences seem to me to be predictable: Footage of violence against police & destruction of civil property will be another cudgel with which to squelch dissent. The most vocal among the opposition parties on the other hand will decry police violence & demand investigations & trials. The police has already announced that they will look into it, though the track record for these investigations is poor. The Dutch police isn’t as easily pushed into parading guilt as the American police is. BLM, for example, remains an import product here, despite Dutch colonial history. Two public figures openly critical of the gov’t are already being blamed for the riots: Messrs Thierry Baudet (runs the Forum for Democracy party & a whole subject in himself) & Willem Engel (the face of the viruswaarheid activist journalists).
The authorities are likely, of course, to lay blame elsewhere both for failing to stop the riot & for the deadly violence. In his official statement, the Minister of Justice speaks of “radicalized groups” mingling with youth & Hooligans. It is not clear who he is talking about. It’s a blank that can be filled in as people please, with all concomitant journalistic affectations. The statement, at any rate, ended on a similar note as the minister’s previous comments on demonstrations: The right to demonstration is a great good, but this is going rather too far. In the past, this referred to great crowds spurring on 'cases', in this case it was referring to violence.
The consequences are also predictable: The people & gov’t of the Netherlands have less & less patience with each other; the riots not only reveal that growing anger, but make it worse, more bitter; neither authority nor obedience seems honorable now; to say nothing of the unhappiness of the people among themselves. The situation is bad, but people will endure, but there will be more victims.
The epidemic & society
Epidemic policy has affected soccer several times over the last two years, with league games having been played without audiences on several occasions. Even amateur soccer will have to be played in empty stadiums under current regulations. This means a drastic cut in income for small clubs.
Prominent Dutch soccer figures Marianne van Leeuwen of the KNVB (Royal Dutch Soccer Association), Jan de Jong (Premier league), & Marc Boele (Keuken Champions league) have signed a public letter stating that soccer games have never been spreader events, & that professional soccer is suffering from deficient gov’t policy. It is reasonable to assume that anyone fanatical about soccer in the Netherlands shares that opinion, & likely exceeds the frustration at the gov’t the letter conveys.
On top of that, the fireworks prohibition, a liberal dream which has been looming over Dutch political discourse for years, has also been confirmed to go into effect this year. With the memory still fresh of “how delightfully quiet the streets were last year”, the time to strike seemed right to our demissionary cabinet. In one fell swoop, the bread & circuses of the lower classes have been outlawed. For the adults among the poor, that’s difficult enough to tolerate, but for the kids, it’s an outright invitation to start throwing bombs & taking bullets.
Speaking on behalf of my liberal superiors, I have referred to soccer fanaticism as a residue of unenlightened patriotic passion, & fireworks as petty entertainment. To well thinking liberals, these are far more trouble than they’re worth, silly things on account of which people get hurt every year. Liberals were in a sense proven right on November 20: With characteristic zeal & ferocity, hooligans have defended their reputation as rabid brutes, stupid enough to grab fireworks that can blow up their own hands & vicious enough to throw them at other people.
What is less clearly understood about hooligans is what they stand for: Manly spiritedness, a passionate love of danger & competition, as well as a certain kind of honor & love of one’s own. Such things, by & large, are completely alien to contemporary Dutch society. Middle & upper class Dutchmen tend to be mild & pacifistic. Watching their daughters play hockey is more suitable for them than soccer, with its surrounding hoop-la, drinking, & fighting. In the face of their habits & beliefs, such zeal can’t be understood adequately, let alone justified.
To a people living at the unforthcoming mercy of arbitrary rulers, making & changing policy unpredictably & in a cowardly, erratic way, under a regime of safety (meaning, perpetual fear for one’s safety) passion can only appear above us, as a double-edged sword of Damocles that we have whetted by positing false dilemmas, to be served & sacrificed to (or violently revolted against), or below us, as a revolt of passionate beasts, to be neutered & pacified.
What must be recovered in our times is the education of passion, not to passionate fear of evil that motivates us to accept & endeavor for a dispassionate ‘secure’ society, but to desire for the good. Passion, as our classics steadfastly remind us, is to be educated to passion, as oriented to its proper end. Where concern with the human problem cannot be guided by a civilizing Orpheus, educating our passions to a humanity or humane love of the good, our endeavors will take two forms: Tragic, when we are not at all guided by reason & completely inadequate, & comic, when our incomplete knowledge leads us to proudly proclaim absurd solutions. The Dutch government told a joke to the hooligans, & they did not get it.
With the Netherlands as they are now, it is not likely that we well-behaved Dutchmen will have the self-knowledge necessary to educate them. That the Dutch ruling classes have inherited the mercantile liberalism of our more recent forefathers is also becoming doubtful, given their moralistic violence; the question now, increasingly, is the extent to which John Calvin has chosen them as his inheritors.
You might be asking yourself, what gives? Why do these people care about fireworks so much? As evinced from the fierce response to the prohibition, fireworks are considered to be a solid Dutch tradition, a mainstay for families celebrating New Year’s & youth gangs venting frustration alike.
Lighting fireworks on New Year’s Eve goes back to the 70s, but Dutch love for combustion goes back further than that. The Germanic Yule fires apparently went on well into the 18th century, with gunfire also being added to the festivities once gun powder became more widely available. So-called carbide shooting, introduced during the 20th century, is another Dutch classic: This involves crafting a kind of cannon out of milk containers or trash cans using a mixture of calcium and carbon dioxide. Country boys love blasting them off on New Year’s Eve in particular, though they also have some traditional use during weddings…
As good Calvinists, the tradition of poo-pooing such things has coexisted with such practices: The first recorded proposal to put an end to Yule and New Year’s fires dates back to the 16th c., when these were apparently causing the governors of Amsterdam a headache.
Aboutaleb grew up in the Nador province of Morocco, a son of a Berber Sunni imam. His family immigrated to the Netherlands in 1976, where he attained a bachelor of engineering at the Hogere Technische School. He specialized in telecommunications & soon after found work as a journalist for prominent channels (Veronica, RTL, & the NOS, the Dutch national news.) His debut in government was in PR at the health ministry, after which he worked in different civil service positions. In 2002, Aboutaleb made a risky move, he applied for a government position with the LPF party, led by the notorious Pim Fortuyn, a pioneer of European right-wing politics (which can be said to concern itself generally with immigration & Islam). Aboutaleb chose not to pursue the position & switched to Labor on account of unsurprising disagreements (Aboutaleb had become director of the Forum organization for multiculturalism in the Netherlands in 1998). Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002, shortly before the elections, by a left-wing activist who was jailed for twelve years & is now free. Fortuyn’s party placed second in those elections, then soon declined.
Aboutaleb was appointed mayor of Rotterdam in 2009 (mayors are unelected in the Netherlands.) His first year in office, the hooligan riots in the Hoek van Holland occurred. Some 30,000 had gathered on a beach for a music festival, far beyond police expectations. Fighting broke out; stabbing; the police were attacked by soccer hooligans who had been among the crowd. Aboutaleb weighed in on the police violence (many among the hooligans were Rotterdamese supporters of Feyenoord), proposing it was permissible under the circumstances, though only one man was shot dead. But the problem is he himself got no better at dealing with protests and riots without them getting out of hand.
Other participants: Viruswaarheid (truth about the virus), an alternative news platform & activist organization critical of gov’t epidemic policy, was around to report on the demonstration.
Dockers United, a loosely-organized group of port workers protesting epidemic policy, may have been present. They held a yellow vest-style truck roadblock on the day prior to the protest, likewise on account of objections against 2G policy.
Finally, Hari Krishnas were also present, with their characteristic chants.
There is very little tolerance for this subject among the force. There was a bit of an affair with an extra-parliamentary investigative commission which claimed to have testimony on the subject from officers who felt pressured by colleagues to act with prejudice against people protesting epidemic policy, but the commission itself apparently buckled under threats & at any rate cut off contact with two different online news platforms…