Friday 19 December 2014

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Languages & Culture


To hell with ethnic purity

Posted by on 18/12/14

The French, who for so long talked about ‘nos ancêtres, les Gaulois’, may have felt justified in not looking too closely at their antecedence. The Germanic element is in fact more important: according to Luigi Barzini, the Italian author and politician, almost half the inhabitants of present-day France are the descendants of Germanic tribes.

As Graham Robb points out in his book The Discovery of France, “The Celtic and Germanic tribes who invaded ancient Gaul and the Frankish tribes who attacked the ailing Roman province had almost as many different origins as the population of modern France. The only coherent, indigenous group that a historically sound National Front party could claim to represent would be the very first wandering band of pre-human primates that occupied this section of the Western European isthmus” (what Norman Davis calls “the European Peninsula”).

Even 500 years ago, there were few communities in Europe that could reasonably claim, had they wanted to, to be ethnically homogeneous. In fact, they had better things to do with their time. In the intervening half-millennium, those communities that could have made this assertion have seen their claims made even more tenuous by migration and miscegenation. Italy, for example, saw the settlement of the Germanic Langobardi - the ‘long-bearded people’, today’s Lombards – and the short-lived incursions of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths who sacked Rome.

The Iberian peninsula provided the setting for a series of Germanic civilisations: first and fleetingly the Vandals, who gave their name to Andalusia, later the Suevi (the Swabians again) and the Visigoths. Spain was a very cosmopolitan place. Other settlers in that particular piece of God’s Earth, some temporary but most of them permanent, included the Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, English and French.

In fact there is genetic evidence of a population movement through Spain that brought Stone Age man up the Atlantic coast to the British Isles (except that at that time these islands were still land-linked to the Continent, which made matters easier for the migrants). The genetic marker in question is particularly prominent in the Irish county of Connaught (98.3% of all men, according to a recent study by Trinity College scientists) – a phenomenon that may also owe something to the land clearances imposed on the Irish by their English masters later on.

The Celts, because they ended up in the most inaccessible corners of Western Europe – Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Galicia and northern Portugal – have managed to maintain some sort of ethnic identity. Yet even the most idiosyncratic of the Celts, the Irish, cannot evoke their Celtishness much beyond the limits of their cultural traditions. Historian E Esteyn Evans believed that the genes coming from English settlers there exceed those deriving from the Celts, and that “those coming from older stocks would constitute the largest proportion” (a reference to the earlier Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic settlers).

In his book The Language Instinct, Stephen Pinker observes that “race and ethnicity are the most minor differences of all.” The human geniticists Walter Bodmer and Luca Cavalli-Sforza have noted a paradox about race. “Among laypeople, race is lamentably salient, but for biologists it is virtually invisible. Eighty-five percent of human genetic variation consists of the differences between one person and another within the same ethnic group, tribe or nation.”

Many communities arrive at apparent homogeneity through a gradual process of miscegenation combined, in some cases, with their relative isolation. Portugal is a good example, but in its case as in many others the brew is like a minestrone soup, where one spoonful looks just like another, yet each spoonful contains enough ingredients to confound any claims to homogeneity.

Maybe the Swabians again – descendants of the Suevi, one of the Alemanni tribes that crossed the frozen Rhine in AD 406 – have a case for some degree of genetic continuity. Poachers turned gamekeepers, they won the right from an enfeebled Roman Empire to guard its frontiers. The consequence today is a community of common origin that extends along both banks of the Rhine through four countries from France’s Alsace to include Germany, Switzerland and the Austrian Vorarlberg.

Do national hymns matter?

Posted by on 14/12/14

Countries have national hymns which are singed at celebrations, solemn occasions and sport events. Less known is that the Council of Europe and the European Union have the same anthem – “Ode to Joy” with words written in 1785 by the German poet Friedrich Schiller and music composed by Beethoven in 1823 (his 9th symphony).

The anthem isn’t supposed to replace the national anthems of the Member States. But no doubt the lyric of the European Anthem sounds more peaceful than most national anthems. It pays tribute to joy which unites all human beings and celebrates their brotherhood.

National anthems vary greatly in wording and usually pay tribute to the history, nature or government of the country. Countries which have been independent for centuries highlight the glory of their history. Countries which lost their independence express longings to become independent again.

This was illustrated when the Museum of the Polish-Jewish History was recently inaugurated in Warsaw. It stands in what was the heart of Jewish Warsaw before WWII. Its core exhibition is a journey through 1000 years of Polish-Jewish history.

It’s partly a conflict-ridden history where Jews and Poles lived in a kind of symbiosis with intertwined economies for hundreds of years. In many smaller places Jews were in majority. Churches and synagogues were often built close to each-other.

Jews were welcomed by the catholic kings of Poland in the 13th century or even earlier. The first coins in Poland have Hebrew letters. No expulsions took ever place from Poland. Religious tolerance was legislated.

Poland became the center of the Jewish world in Europe with a unique form of self-government during the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In the period between the two world wars the Jews in Poland had developed a multi-facetted civil society with their own schools, media, political parties and cultural organizations.

Journalist and historian Anne Applebaum – well-known for her history of the Gulag in Soviet Union – attended the inauguration of the museum and wrote a moving article. Poles and Jews share a common history that is shown in Warsaw’s new museum.

Both Poles and Jews lost their independence in the past and were dreaming about national liberation. That is also reflected in their national hymns.

”For those who live in larger nations, I’m not sure that this emotion is even comprehensible. But those who live in small nations can perhaps empathize with one another somewhat better,” Applebaum writes.

She quotes the Polish anthem, written during the Napoleon wars, which starts with the words: “Poland has not yet perished, so long as we still live.”

The Ukrainian anthem, with words originally written in 1862, from an era when Ukraine did not figure on any maps of Europe, starts with similar words: “Ukraine has not yet perished, nor her glory, nor her freedom.”

In this context, she could of course also have mentioned the Israeli anthem, Hatikva (= Hope), written in the same period when so many nations yearned for freedom. “Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land.”


Posted by on 09/12/14

Ganz gleich, was der einzelne von den “Pegida”-Demonstrationen in Dresden und andernorts halten mag – eines zeigen sie exemplarisch: Immer mehr Bürger lassen sich offenbar schnell für ganz große Themen und Anliegen mobilisieren, weniger jedoch für die konkrete politische Arbeit vor Ort. Denn es ist ja nicht weniger als die Sorge vor der Islamisierung des Abendlandes, die die selbst ernannten europäischen Patrioten jeden Montag auf die Straße treibt. Das Feindbild Islamismus stiftet Identität. Hinzu kommen bei vielen Demonstranten Ängste, Deutschland könne womöglich die zuletzt stark gestiegene Zahl von Flüchtlingen und Asylsuchenden nicht aufnehmen, ohne dass entweder die einheimische Bevölkerung benachteiligt werde oder aber religiöse Konflikte derart zunähmen, dass der einzelne Bürger um die Sicherheit auf den Straßen fürchten müsse.

Doch simple Sichtweisen und lautstarke Parolen haben selten dabei geholfen, einen nüchternen Blick auf die Realität zu werfen. Gerade einmal 0,4 Prozent Muslime – gemessen an der Gesamtbevölkerung – leben in Sachsen, der Ausländeranteil beträgt etwas mehr als zwei Prozent. Die sächsische Landeshauptstadt ist von einer Islamisierung in etwa so weit entfernt wie Dynamo Dresden vom Gewinn der Fußball-Champions-League. Und auch das angeblich christliche Menschenbild, auf das sich viele Demonstranten im vermeintlichen Kampf gegen die Islamisierung berufen, wäre ein ziemlich krudes. Nein, es liegt nicht daran, dass in Dresden nur jeder Fünfte überhaupt noch einer christlichen Kirche angehört. Das Verhältnis von Mehrheit und Minderheit ist ein schwieriges an der Elbe.

Vielmehr ist es generell ziemlich unchristlich, in dem Fremden erst einmal eine Bedrohung zu sehen, es ist ziemlich unchristlich, mit seinen Positionen vor allem unter sich bleiben zu wollen, und es ist ziemlich unchristlich, statt der Nächstenliebe die Karte der Abgrenzung beziehungsweise der Abschiebung auszuspielen. Und sind wirklich die Muslime schuld, wenn in Deutschland immer mehr Menschen aus der Kirche austreten, wenn Gotteshäuser geschlossen und christliche Glaubenstraditionen verdunsten? Wenn es den “Pegida”-Demonstranten in dieser Hinsicht ernst wäre, böten sich ihnen fantastische Betätigungsfelder.

Das direkte Gespräch, der Streit, das Ringen um die Wahrheit ist aber offenbar nicht die Stärke vieler “Pegida”-Anhänger. Denn wer zum Beispiel die Politik ständig auffordert, die Sorgen der Bevölkerung ernst zu nehmen und zuzuhören, zugleich aber den Diskurs meidet wie der Teufel das Weihwasser, macht sich unglaubwürdig in der politischen Arena. Die “Pegida”-Bewegung mag für einen Montagabend lang das Bedürfnis befriedigen, sich unter Gleichen zu fühlen – auch Ängste können dort artikuliert werden. Eine realistische Auseinandersetzung mit der politischen Situation in Europa ist das aber noch lange nicht.

Die Sorgen der Demonstranten gilt es gleichwohl ernst zu nehmen. Denn wer eine Stimmung politisch zu lange ignoriert, wird erleben, wie sich ein Problem verselbstständigt, schlimmstenfalls in Aktionen, die weder europäisch kultiviert noch christlich zu nennen sind.

Europäische Sprach- und Kulturarbeit auf der Krim

Posted by on 12/11/14

Die Bundesregierung hat ihre Förderung der auf der Krim lebenden deutschen Minderheit eingestellt. Das bestätigte das zuständige Bundesinnenministerium der “Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung” (Donnerstag). Grund sei, dass der Geldfluss über den in Kiew ansässigen “Rat der Deutschen in der Ukraine” mittlerweile “faktisch nicht mehr möglich” sei. “Ein weiteres Problem ist, dass Zahlungen in Rubel als Anerkennung der Legitimität des Anschlusses der Halbinsel an Russland gesehen werden könnten”, erklärte ein Sprecher.

Die Gelder aus Deutschland flossen bis zur Jahresmitte für Sprach- und Kulturarbeit, aber auch für soziale Unterstützung. Zur deutschen Minderheit zählen sich offiziell rund 2500 Bewohner der Krim. Real sind es vermutlich deutlich mehr. Nach dem Anschluss der Halbinsel hatte Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin die deutsche wie auch tartarische Minderheit offiziell rehabilitiert. Russland sicherte beiden Gruppen im Sommer auch Rechte zu wie etwa die Schulbildung in eigener Sprache.

Das Bundesinnenministerium betonte, es prüfe, wie die Förderung der Krim-Deutschen fortgesetzt werden könne. Allerdings werde mit Russland nicht darüber verhandelt, da Deutschland die russischen Behörden dafür nicht als legitimen Ansprechpartner betrachte. Anders als der “Rat der Deutschen in der Ukraine” hatten sich die Krim-Deutschen im Frühjahr klar für einen Anschluss der Halbinsel an Russland ausgesprochen und die neue Regierung in Kiew kritisiert.

Sermons on Jewish holidays

Posted by on 16/10/14

In his article “The community of expulsion” (INYT, 7 Oct), Roger Cohen complains that he did not hear any sermon about Israel and the Palestinians when he visited his reform synagogue in London during the recent Jewish high holidays. Although he understands that these holidays “are days to look inward”, he thinks that the rabbis should have addressed the recent Gaza war in their sermons.

We should be happy that they did not. Most people follow the news from Israel. They are not interested in listening to political sermons in the synagogue – whether pro- or anti-Israeli government – and to be told what to think. During Rosh Hashana and Jom Kippur they want to come closer to their religious sources and listen to sermons on spiritual and moral topics.

Cohen’s quote from Stefan Zweig on how all Jews, irrespective of belief, origin and age, became a “community of expulsion” during the Nazi regime is touching. He could however have added that the Jews became a defenseless community of people condemned to death by the Nazis. Surely Cohen does not claim that the Palestinians, though many of them in exile, face the same situation.

Roma integration: when civil society is active, good things happen

Posted by on 13/10/14

Roma inclusion is of major concern for EU and it represents a great challenge in the area of fundamental rights. The EU has made great efforts in this field and demanded to Member States to tackle the poor living conditions of Roma and social exclusion within their societies. Good results are to be reached only if there is a multi-level cooperation between the EU, Member States, local authorities and civil society. Roma people are also present in the enlargement countries and their living conditions are not better that those experienced in the EU countries, therefore the European Commission decided to award NGOs from Western Balkans and Turkey for their programs which support Roma inclusion.

 The awarding ceremony took place the 1st October in Brussels and the aim of this competition was that of raising visibility over the problems faced by Roma people in the enlargement countries. During the ceremony Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, pointed out how important the work of civil society is and how the inclusion of Roma people is not only a matter of equality, but also represents an “investment to the benefit of society”.

The projects awarded are primarily addressed to women and children and the aim is that of building bridges between Roma and civil society. The means used are different but they all offer training to Roma women and education to children, since the lack of these represent two of the major obstacles for their inclusion in the relative societies and into the job market. Without education and training it is impossible to improve their working conditions and also their access to health care and housing.

But how are structured these projects and what makes them more successful than others? Here there is a short description of the selected projects by the Commission:

- Albania: Roma Active Albania with the project “Empowerment Campaign for Roma Women”. This project is addressed to Roma women and it has the aim to empower them to advocate for their own problems and also to build the capacity of dealing with decision-making authorities, by articulating their concerns in an effective matter.

- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Citizens Association for the Promotion of Education of Roma-Otharian with the project “Enhacing Basic Education for Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. The project promotes education of Roma children by addressing Roma parents and institutions on the importance of education and promoting directly formal and informal education for these children. Their Roma Youth and Culture Centre represents a place where Roma and non-Roma children can meet and interact with the result of developing social skills. They also have a Mobile Intervention Team formed by an outreach officer, a municipal representative, teachers and social workers which makes home visits to Roma children who experience difficulties at school.

-Kossovo: The Ideas Partnership with the project “From Handouts to Hands-up through Handicrafts: the former beggar-women of Fushe Kosove who’ve now got their kids to school and taken their place in the labour market”. In those communities Roma children work as beggars and rubbish-pickers and do not go to school normally. This association offered Roma women training and work opportunities but they were asked to send their children to school. There are also other benefits for those involved in this project, such as: literacy and parenting classes, medical care, including contraception and antenatal care and advice. This association created also asocial enterprise “SaPune” which sells the handicrafts made by these women.

-Macedonia: Centre for Integration Ambrela with the project “A Good Start- Increased Participation in Early Childhood Development In Suto Orizari”. The activities of this project have the aim of informing Romani parents on the importance of health-care check-ups and of education for their children, starting from kindergarten. They also help them to obtain personal documents and have access to these services to preschool services and Early Child Development Services. The project was implemented by a team consisting of community mediators regarding education, healthcare, IDs mediation, special educators and also a speech therapist.

-Montenegro: Center for Roma Initiatives with the project “Action Against Forced and Early Marriages in Roma and Egyptian Community”. Early marriages are still a widespread practice among Roma in Montenegro. This project denounced cases of abuse and also raised awareness in these communities by encouraging women to tell their stories and by using a Travelling Caravan to tell real stories to the several communities. The result was that of other women who reported cases of abuse. In order to raise awareness, they organised street protests, advocacy and lobbying activities. This organization also implemented Forum Theatre shows which allowed the audience to participate and find solutions to the problems presented.

-Serbia: Hands of Friendship with the project “Mother-Child Educational Project”. This project also was focused on improving access to early childhood education for Roma children. They used a multi-level approach to the issue which consists in lobbying local authorities for a higher level of inclusion and by encouraging and supporting Roma parents to enroll their children. They also created an alternative early childhood program in the form of Toy Library and they addressed mothers in order to empower them to decide what is best for them and for their children.

-Turkey: Sulukule Roma Culture Development and Solidarity Association with the project “Sulukule Childrens Art Atelier”. This Atelier is based in a Roma neighbourhood and wants to help children to be proud of their identity and culture, it provides them with education, music and art classes and also organises culture workshops for the communities. They have a Roma Youth Orchestra and a hip hop theatre group. The hip hop band Tahribad-ɪ Ysian, well-known in Turkey, emerged from that Atelier and their children also perform in international concerts and TV series.

These are all projects which could be implemented also elsewhere, with small variations in order to take into consideration different contexts, and they really can make the difference for Roma communities and build a bridge between them and the rest of the society.

(Ana Daniela Sanda)

To know more:

Štefan Füle’s speech at the Conference

Report on the implementation of the EU framework for National Roma Integration Strategies

Classé dans:DROITS FONDAMENTAUX, Non discrimination, Protection des minorités

European Schools (EURSC) Is VP Sefkovic unwilling to answer to the European Parliament?

Posted by on 30/09/14

European Parliament rules allow MEP’s to ask written questions of Commissioners, who ought reply in writing within 6 weeks,

An MEP asked the question below of VP Sefkovic on 24th July 2014, after the repeated problems with the 2014 BAC and particular the Chemistry paper. To date the European Commission have refused to answer.

One has to wonder why?

Do they wish to wait until VP Sefckovic’s Parliamentary hearing is over before admitting his previous answer to Parliament was wrong?…


Subject:  European Schools
The Commission previously informed Parliament (in response to Written Question E‐010390/2013) that a thorough, independent, external expert report had been produced regarding the Baccalaureate 2012 chemistry exam and that it made recommendations which were being closely followed up.

1. Can the Commission confirm that the only report produced was a six-paragraph internal report written by the Inspector, Edouard Ries, which denied the existence of any problem and made no recommendations?

2. Does the Commission accept the existence of problems in the Baccalaureate 2012 chemistry exam, and the subsequent lack of action, both of which must be contributory factors in the latest problems with the 2014 European Baccalaureate? These recent problems included off-syllabus questions and questions that were unclear, ambiguous or flawed.

3. Does the Commission agree that the latest issues with the European Baccalaureate (including the alteration of results by increasing all pupils’ marks by 5%) significantly harm the credibility of the European Baccalaureate and call into question the competence of those entrusted to manage the European Schools system? Does it also agree that there must now be a full, external and transparent public enquiry into the European Schools system (EURSC) and its handling of BAC 2012 chemistry and BAC 2014, as well as the question of providing redress for those impacted?


Roma health conditions in Europe: a worrisome picture emerged from the new report

Posted by on 22/09/14

On the 4th of September 2014 the European Commission published a report on the state of health of Roma populations in Europe which points out that discrimination towards Roma has direct consequences on their accession to housing, health care and education. The outcome of the report is that Roma manifest some worrying characteristics when it comes to health, such as shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and higher risks of infectious diseases than the non-Roma people.

Data were collected in the 28 EU countries plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland by Matrix Knowledge in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, the European Public Health Alliance and individual national researchers on behalf of the Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (Chafea) and DG SANCO. The main obstacles to this huge research, which covers the period 2008-2013, were the non-homogeneity of Roma populations and the insufficient data at the national level on their health situation. Notwithstanding the obstacles, common patterns among Member States and among different Roma groups emerged. Unfortunately they disclose a worrisome picture which asks for a more integrated approach among Member States in order to deal with this problem.

The life expectancy of Roma is 10 to 20 years less than the rest of the population. In Croatia the difference is around 10 years (66,6 years compared to 77), in Hungary is also 10 years less for men but around 18 years less for women. In Belgium, the Brussels municipal Social Services estimate that Roma have a life expectancy of 55 years and their health is even poorer than that of refugees. Roma populations also present higher rates of infant mortality observed in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic. In addition, they are also more vulnerable to outbreaks of measles and hepatitis A, B and C. The 2009 outbreak of measles occurred in Bulgaria concerned primarily Roma, since the 89,3 of the infected people were of Roma origin.

All these problems derive from difficulties they face in accessing health care systems in the Member States. The existing barriers are of several nature and they all need to be addressed in an efficient way.

One problem is administrative in nature and regards the lack of registration of these people in national population registers, which prevents them to have access to primary care services in many States. This is aggravated by social exclusion and lack of health care education of Roma. In many cases they are not aware of the possibilities available or they simply do not understand the information given. Linguistic and literacy barriers play an important role in the reduced use of the available services. Therefore States need to address these issues by providing interprets for appointments and simply written and translated material regarding health problems.

What contributes to the existing situation is also a discriminating attitude of the health care professionals combined with a lack of trust by Roma towards them. There is also a cultural element which plays against prevention. The report discovered a high level of use of acute hospital services, but very little use of preventive care, such as vaccination, adopting of healthy diet or doing physical activity. A first solution to this would be that of using health mediation programmes and providing training for health care professionals and reading material on Roma culture and, in particular, on relations between men and women inside this culture.

A special attention regarding gender issues is necessary since the report pointed out the severe condition of Roma women who are more disadvantaged than Roma men and other women because of traditional gender roles. They receive a more limited education than men, which leads to even less employment opportunities, and experiment physical and social isolation and poorer living conditions if compared to Roma men. All these factors lead to maternal health risks such as early and late pregnancies and poor access to antenatal care. They are also subjected to higher risk of domestic violence and mental health risks due to the subordinate role in Roma communities.

What can be done?

        In the end, the report calls both for a coordination among Member States, and also for tailored responses to the particular needs of each Roma group, or population, present on the territory of every State.

The EU has made considerable efforts to better Roma populations’ conditions. Among those we remember the organization, in 2008, of European Roma Summit on Roma Inclusion with the aim of discussing these issues at the highest decision-making levels, including national and regional authorities and involving civil society. This Summit was followed by the creation of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion. In 2011 the European Commission adopted the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) up to 2020. Member States were asked to prepare NRIS in order to deal with the challenges of Roma integration. Again, in 2013, the Commission made a proposal for a Council Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in Member states with the aim of improving the effectiveness of their measures to achieve Roma integration and to coordinate the NRIS. Also the European Parliament deals with Roma issues, in particular LIBE Commission is responsible for EU strategy on Roma inclusion. In addition there are some EU agencies, such as European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and CHAFEA which are working on the same issues.

The point is that all the instruments adopted at EU level are non-binding, so it is up to Member States to implement these recommendations. The idea is that national governments should make efforts in order to improve the literacy and skills of Roma people and combat the discrimination they are exposed to through campaigns which bring together civil society and Roma populations. The critiques made to the Member States were that of lack of political will for real commitment in this field, manifested by the retards in using the available European funds allocated to Roma inclusion.

(Ana Daniela Sanda)

To know more:

Roma Health Report: Health status of the Roma population. Data collection in the Member States of the European Union:

The situation of Roma women: FRA data analysis:

Report on the implementation of the EU framework for National Roma Integration Strategies:

Nea say files:


Classé dans:NON-DISCRIMINATION, Protection des minorité

Folklore in Europa?

Posted by on 18/09/14

Bis vor wenigen Wochen war alles Folklore. Aber was außerhalb Schottlands wie Folklore aussieht, ist innerhalb Schottlands ein gewissermaßen nur folkloristischer Ausdruck sehr viel tieferer Empfindungen. Man darf das nicht unterschätzen. Aber genau das haben die Engländer getan. Es war wohl ein alter imperialer Reflex; London hat noch nie verstanden, warum sich die abhängigen Gebiete unter seiner Herrschaft unzufrieden zeigen könnten.

Dann kam der Schock, als vor etwa drei Wochen die erste Umfrage eine mögliche Mehrheit für ein Yes signalisierte. Die politische und wirtschaftliche Elite beschloss daraufhin unisono, aus dem Wachkoma zu erwachen und augenblicklich in Panik auszubrechen. Die Schotten wurden seitdem mit Drohungen und Verlockungen überschüttet… Zu den Merkwürdigkeiten des Referendums gehört, dass die Schotten ausgerechnet das Pfund unter allen Umständen behalten wollen – und dass London ihnen das verbieten will.

Das United Kingdom ist kulturell nicht wirklich vereint, und die Größe Großbritanniens ist recht bröckelig. Die Zeiten der verbindenden Erzählungen ist vorbei. Erster und Zweiter Weltkrieg, der Aufbau eines gemeinsamen Gesundheitssystems, die Kämpfe der industriellen Arbeiterschaft – das ist Vergangenheit. Seit Margaret Thatcher werden die Bande brüchig.

Wenn Schottland mit Yes stimmt, werden die Nachbeben in Europa und der Welt zu spüren sein. Der traurige Rest des UK wird seine Atom-U-Boote nicht mehr bezahlen können, seinen ständigen Sitz im UN-Sicherheitsrat wohl verlieren und seinen Einfluss auf die Geschicke der EU. Das Pfund wird billiger und der Urlaub auf der Insel wieder bezahlbar.

Stimmt Schottland heute mit No, wird das Vereinigte Königreich Großbritannien und Nordirland aus Gründen der Gerechtigkeit auch seinen Engländern, Walisern und Iren mehr Rechte und Mächte geben müssen, denn die Schotten werden all die Wahlgeschenke einkassieren, die ihnen London inzwischen versprochen hat.

Der Prozess, das zerrissene Königreich wieder zu einem Ganzen zu verbinden, wird ein Werk für Jahrzehnte. Ein gängiges Wort unter den britischen Kommentatoren lautet: Der Geist ist aus der Flasche.

Le Sport en danger , mais des progrès !

Posted by on 18/09/14

A plusieurs reprises Nea say de Eulogos a titré : « le sport en danger » !Qu’il s’agisse de dopage, de racisme, de violence, de paris et match truqués, de corruption, de discriminations à l’égard des femmes, de lutte contre le dopage… les occasions ne manquaient pas. Aujourd’hui l’actualité est moins sombre et l’on peut signaler une avancée dans la lutte contre le trucage des match.

 Le 18 septembre, c’est le lancement de la Convention sur la manipulation de compétitions sportives. La Convention sera déclarée ouverte à la signature lors de la Conférence du Conseil de l’Europe réunissant les ministres des sports à Macolin, en Suisse. Au cours des deux dernières années, la Commission européenne a joué un rôle clé dans la préparation et la négociation de l’accord.

 S’exprimant avant la conférence, Androulla Vassiliou, commissaire européenne chargée des sports, a déclaré : «Le trucage de matches est un problème transnational et il est essentiel d’agir au niveau européen si nous entendons combattre ce fléau. Nous devons veiller à ce que tous les acteurs associés à la lutte contre les fraudeurs travaillent en équipe. Cette Convention contribuera à renforcer la coopération entre le monde du sport, les opérateurs de paris, les autorités répressives, les pouvoirs publics et les institutions européennes. C’est un combat que nous devons remporter.»

 La Convention, élaborée conjointement par la Commission, les États membres de l’UE et d’autres membres du Conseil de l’Europe, vise à prévenir, à détecter et à combattre le trucage de matches et la manipulation des compétitions sportives. Elle appelle les pouvoirs publics partout en Europe à prendre des mesures pour prévenir les conflits d’intérêts entre les opérateurs de paris sportifs et les associations sportives, ainsi qu’encourager les autorités de régulation des paris sportifs à renforcer la lutte contre la fraude et les paris illégaux.

 La commissaire Vassiliou présentera également de nouvelles initiatives de l’UE financées par le programme Erasmus+ qui visent à promouvoir le sport et l’activité physique, y compris la Semaine européenne du sport. Plus de 50 ministres des sports et représentants de premier plan du mouvement sportif européen ont participé à la conférence.

 Les ministres ont également discuté d’une révision de la Convention sur la violence des spectateurs. Depuis son adoption en 1985, cette convention a joué un rôle important en faisant mieux connaître les bonnes pratiques en matière de lutte contre la violence lors des manifestations sportives. Mais les ministres ont demandé qu’elle soit actualisée et étendue de manière à prendre en compte les évolutions et les améliorations dans des domaines tels que la sécurité, la technologie et l’industrie hôtelière. Ont également figuré à l’ordre du jour des discussions sur les moyens de renforcer encore la coopération entre l’Union européenne et le Conseil de l’Europe, ainsi que sur la représentation européenne au sein des organes de l’Agence mondiale antidopage (AMA).

 L’ouverture à la signature de la Convention du Conseil de l’Europe sur la manipulation de compétitions sportives est la première étape vers son entrée en vigueur. À cette fin, la Convention devra être ratifiée par cinq parties, dont au moins trois doivent être des États membres du Conseil de l’Europe. Toutes les parties associées à la rédaction de la Convention pourront la signer. Compte tenu de la portée mondiale du phénomène du trucage des matches, tous les pays auront en fin de compte la possibilité de signer la Convention.

 Un rappel qu’est-ce qu’Erasmus+, le nouveau programme de l’UE pour l’éducation, la formation, la jeunesse et le sport, prévoit un budget spécifique de 265 millions d’euros en faveur du sport pour la période 2014-2020. Erasmus+ a pour objectif de développer la dimension européenne du sport en soutenant la lutte contre les menaces transfrontières que sont, par exemple, les matchs truqués et le dopage. Il soutiendra également des projets transnationaux faisant intervenir des organisations actives dans le domaine du sport de masse et favorisant, par exemple, la bonne gouvernance, l’inclusion sociale, les doubles carrières et l’activité  physique pour tous.



 Pour en savoir plus:   

     -. Dossier Sport de Nea say


     -. La semaine européenne du sport (FR) (EN)


     -. Convention sur la violence des spectateurs (FR) (EN)


     -. Site de la Commission européenne sur le sport (FR) (EN)


     -. Communiqué de presse du Conseil de l’Europe (EN) (FR)


     -.Factsheets du Conseil de l’Europe (EN)



     -. Convention contre le dopage (EN)






Classé dans:CITOYENNETE EUROPEENNE, Lutte contre la corruption, Lutte contre la criminalité, Lutte contre la violence envers les enfants, Lutte contre le crime organisé, Lutte contre le trafic de drogue

Die fleissigen deutschten Europäer

Posted by on 09/09/14

Diesen Witz kennen wohl die meisten: In anderen Nationen arbeiten die Menschen, um zu leben – in Deutschland leben die Menschen, um zu arbeiten. Die jüngste Studie  über die im Euro-Raum geleisteten Überstunden bedient jenes Klischee jedenfalls auf vortreffliche Weise. Nur, was ist daran eigentlich so schlimm? Sicher, in vielen gut dotierten Jobs werden Überstunden schlicht erwartet. Sie sind in der Vergütung gewissermaßen schon eingepreist. Wenn Maloche allerdings zum Dauerstress ausartet, wenn Unternehmer ohnehin schon dürftig bezahlten Beschäftigten die Mehrarbeit weder vergüten noch in Freizeit ausgleichen, dann läuft tatsächlich eine Menge schief. Trotzdem wäre es falsch, Überstunden prinzipiell zu verdammen. Denn der Missbrauch ist nur ein Teil der Wahrheit. Anders als etwa in Großbritannien, wo das Bruttosozialprodukt vornehmlich über Dienstleistungen und den Finanzsektor erwirtschaftet wird, geht die Wirtschaftskraft in Deutschland zu einem großen Teil auf das produzierende Gewerbe zurück. Aus der Herstellung konkurrenzfähiger Autos oder Werkzeugmaschinen zum Beispiel. Gerade in diesem Bereich müssen aber auch häufig Auftragsspitzen abgearbeitet werden. Eben erst vermeldete das Statistische Bundesamt wieder einen neuen Exportrekord. Ohne Überstunden wäre der sicher nicht möglich gewesen. Doch es geht nicht nur um Rekorde. Die große Finanzkrise in den Jahren 2008 und 2009 hat Deutschland nicht nur deshalb vergleichsweise schnell weggesteckt, weil der Arbeitsmarkt anders als in anderen Staaten weniger gesetzlich zementiert war. Der Erfolg resultierte vor allem aus den flexiblen Arbeitszeitkonten in vielen deutschen Unternehmen. Damit wurden angehäufte Überstunden “abgefeiert” und Entlassungen verhindert. Im Ernstfall können Überstunden also auch eine arbeitsplatzsichernde Maßnahme sein. Und Hand aufs Herz: Es gibt auch nicht wenige Beschäftigte, denen der Mehrverdienst durch Überstunden, oder die gewonnene freie Zeit an anderen Tagen, sehr gelegen kommt. Und die deshalb wenig über Arbeitszeitverkürzungen begeistert wären, wie sie politisch immer wieder gefordert werden.

Sozialmissbrauch aus Osteuropa?

Posted by on 04/09/14
By Günter K.V. Vetter Deutschland einig Vorurteilsland. Keine andere Minderheit wird hier so abgelehnt wie Sinti und Roma… Auch wenn die Studie in vieler Hinsicht uneindeutig bleibt, eine Diagnose drängt sich auf: Im Deutschland des 21. Jahrhunderts ist das alte Zerrbild vom Zigeuner lebendig und fest verankert.

Faut-il préférer les livres papier ou les livres numériques ?

Posted by on 04/09/14

Le débat fait rage entre les pro et les contre livre numérique. Pour les uns, le livre numérique signerait la mort du livre et des écrivains, pour les autres, le livre numérique représenterait l’avenir. Alors, quels sont les avantages et les inconvénients du livre numérique ? Faut-il soutenir son développement ou au contraire, le boycotter ?

Dans les faits, la liseuse est en avance

Si le débat est loin d’être clos, le livre numérique n’en est pas moins en avance. En effet, il semblerait que les liseuses soient plébiscitées, notamment par les jeunes, relayant donc de fait les traditionnels livres de papier dans les placards. Une étude menée au Canada par le professeur à l’université de Montréal Thierry Karsenti avait justement pour objet les habitudes de lecture des jeunes. Le résultat est sans appel, ceux-ci préfèrent largement lire de façon électronique. Le livre électronique marque donc un premier point, grâce à sa faculté d’incitation à la lecture qu’il a auprès des jeunes.

Le livre électronique est plus plébiscité par les jeunes, soit. Mais qu’en retire véritablement le lecteur ? De nouveau, des chercheurs canadiens et norvégiens se sont intéressés à la question, et il semblerait que les livres traditionnels soient bien meilleurs pour la compréhension que les livres numériques. Pour parvenir à ces conclusions, les chercheurs ont fait lire une nouvelle de 28 pages à 50 étudiants, la moitié lisant la nouvelle dans sa version papier pendant que l’autre moitié la lisait sous sa version numérique. Si les personnages et les lieux de l’action sont bien en mémoire chez tous les étudiants, il semblerait que les différences se fassent au niveau de la chronologie. En effet, lorsqu’il a fallu replacer 14 épisodes dans l’ordre chronologique, les étudiants ayant lu la nouvelle sous sa version numérique ont eu beaucoup plus de mal que ceux qui l’avaient lu dans sa version papier. Ce point est donc pour le livre papier, qui facilite la compréhension du texte.

Une nouvelle technique de lecture

Si une telle différence se fait, notamment au niveau de la restitution des évènements, il semblerait que ce soit la conséquence d’une nouvelle méthode de lecture. Professeur à l’Université de San Jose, Ziming Lui a répondu au New Yorker que grâce ou à cause des liseuses électroniques, le lecteur aurait tendance à s’attarder sur les mots clefs plus que sur la cohérence et l’unité générales du texte. Une nouvelle méthode donc, mais également une nouvelle prise en main, puisque la liseuse électronique est tout de même bien pratique à l’heure de lire un pavé dont le seul poids peut suffire à nous en dissuader.

Stoppons cet éternel débat pour nous intéresser aux conséquences du développement à grande échelle du livre numérique. Quels sont les risques du point de vue du piratage ? Ne risque-t-on pas d’en arriver à la situation que connaissent la musique et le cinéma ? Il semblerait que non. Selon une enquête de l’IFOP, le livre numérique serait beaucoup moins propice au téléchargement illégal que la musique ou les films. Pour exemple, le téléchargement licite des livres numériques représente 74% des usages, contre 22% seulement pour une pratique mixte, c’est-à-dire à la fois légale et pirate. Si le livre numérique peut donc effrayer et faire craindre la fin de l’industrie du livre, il n’en demeure pas moins que de nombreux arguments permettent de croire que son développement ne serait pas uniquement néfaste.

Public believes that parents should be able to take their children on holiday in term time

Posted by on 30/07/14

A majority of Britons (55%) believe that parents should be able to take children on holiday for a week if it means a “significant financial saving” for the family, according to a new ComRes poll commissioned by political communications and education policy specialists the Whitehouse Consultancy.

Support for term time holidays is particularly high among parents in the United Kingdom with children under 18 (64%).The poll also showed significant levels of support for parents being able to take children out of school for the final two days of term if it enabled families to make a significant financial saving (73%).

The results of the poll follow a number of recent high profile cases of parents challenging fines imposed on them for term-time absences, after former Education Secretary Michael Gove tightened rules on allowing holidays in term time. Parents are issued with a £120 fixed penalty notice for an unauthorised absence.

Three quarters of Britons (74%) supported the idea of children being allowed time out of school if a trip had “demonstrable educational value”. Taking children out of school for a family bereavement had almost unanimous support (90%), whilst absence for a significant family celebration also had broad support (69%).

Chris Whitehouse, Chairman of the Whitehouse Consultancy, said:

“Despite his success in driving up educational standards in England, fining parents for taking their children out of school during term time was one of former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove’s more controversial policies, and this is reinforced by a poll that shows Britons believe they should have the right to take their children out of school if it saves them money on an annual holiday.

“While some parents working in the likes of the tourist sector will be unable to take their children away during the peak time of school holidays, the principal issue for many families is cost. Recent research shows that families can expect to pay in excess of £1,300 more if they travel during school holidays rather than during term time. Many parents will rightly question why they should face additional costs for following the rules, particularly if those costs make holidaying too expensive. The challenge for policy makers and schools must be to ensure that as many families as possible are able to take a holiday, without incurring astronomical costs or harming children’s education.”

Zingy Zeeland

Posted by on 26/07/14

In the stars

All paths led to Zeeland that weekend. There seemed to be no way around it.

First of all, I had to leave my flat for that weekend. My friend and landlord was hosting other people there for a few days and asked me to spend the time elsewhere. Second, my parents’ friends invited me for lunch and coffee to Zeeland, in the Netherlands, to their summer house on the island of Walcheren to be precise, and that’s how I decided on my destination. Third, the universe seemed to like the idea of Walcheren and conspired to find me a great host there, and that with just a few clicks on my favourite two websites, and

And there’s more. Fourth, it turned out my friend Irina had been on Walcheren just the week before, in Middelburg that is, and left her coat at the train station, and tasked me to pick it up; so I even had a mission. And last but not least, well, there was Susan Miller, the online horoscope lady, who seemed to have talked to my landlord, my parents’ friends, my host-to-be, and my friend Irina, and concluded that I should take a trip to a not too far away place around that same date, Thursday 12 June 2014, even though  Ascension and Pentecoste were behind us, and the timing thus not that obvious.

So, a long weekend was clearly in the stars for me, and well, the location, Zeeland, and Walcheren within Zeeland, a given as well. There was no other one.

And then a memory came back, of something both distant as from another life, and close as it had happened just last year. Or at least, I think it had, if I didn’t only dream it. At times indeed it seemed more like a dream, yet I had photos to prove it really happened. Not many admittedly as my camera had broken down back then, but enough to see that yes, apparently, according to those photos, I had already been there. To Zeeland. To Walcheren. To the towns of Vlissingen and Middelburg. Or somewhere around there. With someone who was no longer around and who therefore couldn’t confirm any of these claims.

Those memories were very vague; at the time I had just sat in a car, in a haze, and let someone drive me around, without ever consulting the map, barely knowing where we were. And indeed, I actually didn’t. Names of towns, villages must have gone by back then, but they didn’t stick; I remembered none. I remembered a few scenes instead, the beach, the place where we bought kibbeling (golden nuggets of fried codfish) for the first time and then sat down among the dunes, the place where we bought kibbeling for the second time, and then rushed off with the car, the place where we had uitsmijter (eggs dish served for breakfast) and watched the cyclists. As if from distant childhood. And I preferred to not think of them now. Pretend I had never been there. Hoping not to recognize any of the places before me, not to be reminded of that distant and yet so very recent and raw moment in my personal history.

And then it was time. Friday morning. I caught the 7:21 train from Brussels to Knokke and arrived at “my” bike rental place just two hours later. Boulevard Bikes, on Knokke’s coastline, proved to be a lucky choice as always. Olivier, the guy in charge, rented me the coolest Dutch-style Gazelle bike ever, gave me a 30% discount, equipped me with one (free) bikebag, two (free) maps of Zeeland, and lots of (free and heartfelt) tips and tricks on where to go. And by 9:45 I was on my way, feeling on top of the world.


It was an easy ride from Knokke to Cadzand, the first little town in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, which this part of Zeeland is called, right across from the Belgian border. A quick stop at the kibbeling shop, and I was all set for a heavenly picnic on the dunes. When I unpacked my kibbeling (and I had vowed to eat as much kibbeling and Hollandse Nieuwe as humanly possibly on this trip), somewhere between Cadzand and Bad Nieuwsfliet, I noticed that my phone had stopped working. And that I wouldn’t be able to get it working again for the next three days until I’d get to a phone shop in Belgium on Monday morning.  Apparently, the pressure of my backpack and the rhytm of my cycling had caused it to „enter“ a wrong pincode four times in a row, prompting it to now ask me for my puk – and I had no idea. Laugh or cry.

Lucky I remembered my address for the night. Oranjestraat 10. In Vlissingen. The Netherlands. And that would have to do. This would be a truly technology-free trip then. Couldn’t remember when I last spent three full days without my phone. A real time-out, almost a Vipasana meditation with no contact with anyone from „my normal life“. Somehow, that made me all the more curious of what was coming. Somehow, as long as we have our phones, we feel somehow „safe“ and able to connect with our „own people“ in case the ones we’re exposed to on this journey turn out to be idiots. But ok, I was going to have to do without that then.

Zeeuws Vlaanderen was as lovely as ever. I had been there before, three years ago, with my friend Joey, doing the same tour, also by bike from Knokke, past Cadzand and Bad Nieuwsfliet, all the way to a small town called Breskens. Back then, Breskens had seemed like a far-away place to us, and we were happy to call it a day there and cycle back. But I still remember the sense of awe I felt at having gotten that far, at having arrived at the end of something, where the land ends, and where the Schelde opens out into the open sea. The Schelde is the river, which separates Zeeuws Vlaanderen from the rest of Zeeland, and therefore from the rest of Holland. That pier in Breskens is where big ships would have passed on their way from Antwerp to far-away countries and continents during the Dutch Golden Ages in the 17th century.

The pier was desolate back then, and I had a distinct sense of finisterrae, of this is where the world ends, and across from it where something new starts. And I spent three full years kindling the idea of going back there, to Breskens, and further, to the other side, but then never got around to it. In the meantime, I travelled to Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon and elsewhere, but that pier in Breskens never lost its appeal to me; it was like a memory from the past, or a call from the future, or a part of myself waiting to be explored.

Now that I was finally back on that bikepath, I was somewhat impatient to make it beyond that pier this time. I swiftly made it to Breskens, didn’t see the pier, didn’t even look for it, but found the ferry, immediately, and before I knew it, I was on it – and in Vlissingen less than half an hour later. On the other side. Almost too easy. The ferry was more like a metro; it cost four euro and went back and forth 2-3 times an hour. I felt like a Canadian soldier who had been here in 1944, and now came back, 70 years later, well into old age, and in supreme awe of how easy the crossing of that stretch of water proved to be this time around. I was in Vlissingen at 13:00, about four hours earlier than expected; I had somehow thought it was going to be a full-day trip.

Déja vu

Vlissingen was lovely. A medieval town, an orange town, orange flags and posters and t-shirts everywhere. A sunny and light-hearted town, with a blue sky, bridges, cobblestones, happy people, ice cream. Awaiting the football world championship Holland-Spain match scheduled for that night. „Vannacht moet het gebeuren“, the newspapers wrote that day. Louis van Gaal, the Dutch team’s coach, would „have to prove himself that night, and make it a historical night“. A lot of pressure, I thought. How could anyone stand straight in the face of that. And then the game was against Spain, the world champions. An unlikely bet. But hey, one never knows. And people were happy anyway. I dipped into a few shops, one sporting bright orange cyclists’ t-shirts, for ladies, the kind I would wear. The salesgirl promptly complimented me on my choice, „t’is leuk“, and we both came out with the same two words at the same instant, with one voice, „voor vanavond!!“, and she burst into laughter. As in: „You’ll/I’ll at least look nice when we loose“. And I would have bought it hadn’t it been for my budget.

I went about visiting Vlissingen with some sort of greed, some sense of this is where I want to be and this is what I want to see, and to absorb and integrate into my life. I first cycled all around it in one larger circle, and then, much like a predating bird, cut through into the centre of it, and then circled around that centre, twice, just to know what I already knew, which was – that I had been there before. And extensively. I knew every streetcorner. We must have spent a lot of time there. The greeting card shop. The 1 euro shop. The icecream shop. My stomach churned somehow, and I listened, and hesitated, but all seemed under control. No crashing yet. Crashing of my soul. I parked my bike. It was sunny, it was beautiful. I was on a high after the cycling, protected by a warm and floaty feeling. And the memory didn’t assault me, which was a bit of a miracle; last time I had gotten close to a location with that same legacy I spent the next two days crying. Here I was, taking it on squarely. I even had the nerve to get an ice cream at that same icecream place. And even remembered the flavours. Zeelandse bolus, the Zeeland specialty yeast cake with cinnamon, and stroopwafels. I had been in two minds between those two last year as well, and then chose stroopwafels. And found myself doing the same thing over again.

Feeling fragile, and yet reasonably in control, I decided to spend the last half hour before my appointment with my hosts by the beach, which was at about eight minutes cycling from the city centre. And which turned out to be our beach from last year. The one we dug a hole in, and laid ourselves down in for that last hour together. Back then, in another era. And the kibbelingstand by that beach was our kibbelingstand, the one on my photo, the one from my memory. It was spooky. And here I was, feeling, listening. Would I escape, would I cry, would I shake or would I stay? I longed for a moment on the beach, in the sand, by the water. And I had time to kill. And there was no other beach around. And again, with a lot of nerve, and maybe a touch of masochism, I locked my bike and walked straight down to the centre of that beach. Sat down among pink-bikinied teenagers and screaming blond children and oversized seagulls circling right above us. Unpacked my kibbeling. Yes, I would eat lots of kibbeling on this trip. If only I could swallow it. I couldn’t swallow it. I got up to do a cartwheel instead. And another one. And another one. The beach was mine. The sky was the limit; the water my element; the horizon a promise of better times to come. I would exorcise the ghosts from the past. Cleanse the place. I felt alive. And deliciously dizzy. And when I noticed that the seagulls were eating my kibbeling, picking through the paperbag, and flying off with big chunks of fish in their beaks, I didn’t even care.


Time to go find my hosts. Easy. Oranjestrat. „Bij de Oranjemolen“ as everyone was able to tell me. Sounded like the right address for this (historical and all-orange) night. Relieved and happy when I got there. And delighted with Froukje and Paul when I met them. Turns out they are hosting almost every day. Via Couchsurfing, Warm Showers or Vrienden van de Fiets. Couchsurfers and warm shower mensen stay for free; vrienden van de fiets would normally pay 19 euro per night, but Froukje in her overwhelming generosity often lets them stay for free, too. Just to give something back to the world, hear a new story, meet a new person, give or get some inspiration. Or at least that’s my take on why they’re doing this. Clearly not for the money as they’re not making any, and it’s not like they „need“ extra company either;  they’re surrounded by good friends and neighbours, a few of which I actually met.

Froukje, Paul and their neighbours Sebastian and Frank have created what they call a cooking club. Several times per week, and often joined by other neighbours, they take turns in cooking dinner, and then eat together around a large table in the garden. On that Friday night, the cook had been Sebastian, late forties, who treated us to artichokes for starters, yummy veg and chicken as a main, and a lucky dip into a big round bowl of strawberries for dessert. Served with whipped cream, coffee and Belgian chocolates. We ate like kings. And we kletsen nooit over geld. Wow. Dutch community and garden life at its best. Gezellig. And belying the cliché of the Dutch being stingy. No zuinig and gierig for that little garden community. And so nice and easy after a long day’s work. Ik schuif maar gewoon aan. Neighbours from heaven. Like from some Italian movie. Extended family dinners on a summery terrace, all generations, and lots of straight talking. And the Dutch are straight talkers, too, but I’ve always known that.

And then there was the game. The game. The historical moment. To be watched in one of the pubs in the centre. We were late. Spain was leading 1-0. No special emotions to be detected anywhere. The Dutch are a sturdy breed. And Spain was world champion after all. And then the miracle happened. Vannacht moet het gebeuren. Just before the break, Holland scored a goal. Tonight’s gonna be a good night. At once, all those people under all that orange facepaint, hairspray and clothing were coming alive. Jumping onto tables, high fives, hugging, whooping, we are the champions. And then it was break time. A well deserved one. Time to catch our breath. And watch the hilarious ads featuring a curvy Brazilian sexbomb on Copacabana beach speaking Dutch and mocking Dutch carnaval. Oranje. Super Dutch. Hup Holland Hup. Parodies of various movies. Voor Oranje begint de strijd nu, met power, respect, teamspirit. Want winnaars verliezen nooit. LOL. I whipped out my camera, people posed for my video, the tide was high.

Then we moved on to bar number two. Around the corner of Bellamy park, still in the centre of town. There the next miracle happened. Holland scored again. And then again. And then things got out of control. Holland scored four more times in that second halftime; five times altogether. After the 3rd Dutch goal, the Spanish gave up. Later that week, a Spanish friend told me that earlier that day, the Spanish state had sold off a major public services company, hoping the people wouldn’t notice in their narcotic football craze. And just days before, the King had abdicated causing the people to demand the abolition of the monarchy. „The country is falling apart; football was all we had left“ he diagnosed.  But one nation’s misery is another nation’s fortune, or at least in football. Later that night, the Dutch commentator told everyone that „there could have been a 6th and a 7th and an 8th goal“. During the game, people behind me were all shouting: „Tien! Tien! Tien! Tien!“ Getting greedy, loosing every sense of proportion. This was beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. You could almost smell the testosterone. „Je had jouw oranje t-shirtje kunnen aandoen“ some half drunk guy lurched when I walked past. Me, who was clearly Dutch with that orange hair of mine, and orange soul beaming through my darkblue sweater. And me who obviously had a whole selection of orange t-shirts and skimpy dresses in my all too Dutch wardrobe in my all Dutch home town somewhere. Maybe I should have bought that t-shirt after all.

Still delightfully immersed in an orange cloud of Dutchness, I woke up to an all orange breakfast the next morning. Boterammen, pindakaas, hagelslag, appelstroop and (orange) plakjes kaas. Only the musjes and vla missing to complete the cliché. And there was coffee. When I was younger, I used to have a postcard featuring two deliciously inviting coffee cups before a starchy white lace curtain saying „De koffie is klaar“, which I kept on my desk for years. The Dutch have a thing for koffie. They even drink it at night, with lots of foamy warm milk, in big comforting mugs, reassuring, lulling you to sleep. Froukje, Paul and I ended up having koffie and breakfast in the garden, with the neighbours greeting us as they walked by. Gezellig.


I eventually braved the road, with a huge delay and only a vague idea of where I wanted to go. Domburg, then Veere I thought, then somehow on to Middelburg. Bike-guru Olivier had said the best ice cream was in Veere.  My parents’ friends had cancelled last minute, but I had made a coffee appointment with Anna, a couchsurfer in Middelburg. Plus there was Irina’s jacket; yes, I had a mission. And off I went. Following the coastline, I cycled northwestwards, and thought I’d hit Domburg within an hour. But things turned out different. What would have normally taken one hour, took me four. The weather had changed, it was much colder than the day before, a stiff little wind was blowing, and I soon found myself pulling out a sweater, and then another one, and tugging my scarf tightly around my face and hitting the pedal without much pleasure. I soldiered on just for the sake of it. I had to get there somehow, there, where, anywhere. The water on my left, the inland on my right, I navigated my way through dunes and dykes and ditches, and past other cyclists, but just didn’t enjoy it that much. Strain and headwind.

Until the way suddenly opened (and yes, there was a distinct sense of opening) when the road led straight into the adorable little village of Zoutelande. Which really lifted my spirits. And I can’t even say why.  The place in itself was not even that special, objectively-speaking, but I was just plain delighted. In a physical sort of way. Almost shivering with it. With a sense of having gotten away with it, or tricked the system. As if I hadn’t been supposed to come here, or come back here, or at least not alive, and yet I had. I had never been there before, or at least not to my knowledge, so maybe it was relief at not recognizing anything, and being allowed to explore something perfectly new. Or, on the contrary, it might have struck a chord with something from the past, long lost and found, broken and mended. The place was so jolly and blue and sunny again, with scores of beachtoys and bikinis dangling in the breeze outside colourful little shops, and people sitting on terraces in the sun and eating „opa’s appeltaart met slagroom and drinking more of that reassuring Dutch coffee. (In Holland, applecake’s being baked by the granddads nowadays; the grandmas are busy writing novels and travelling the world). A summer’s day, despite the changing weather, families, the north sea, my childhood maybe.

Then more cycling again. The weather changing again. Chilly. More headwind. Onwards to Westkapelle. Where the Allies landed in WWII. On 1 November 1944, with heavy amphibious warfare on even heavier ships. The full monty. Mainly Brits and Canadians. It must have been even colder and windier back then.

Turns out Walcheren played an important role in WWII. Little history lesson: On 6 June 1944, the Allies had landed in Normandy, also known as D-Day. Three months later, on 4 September, they captured the port of Antwerp, mainly to shorten the supply lines to their soldiers advancing towards Germany. But when Antwerp was captured, they couldn’t use it, as right above Antwerp there was Walcheren, and Walcheren was still controlled by the Germans. Now, Walcheren was difficult. The Germans were heavily fortified there, and the Allies first tried driving the Germans out of Holland from the other side. But after weeks and weeks of not making much progress, British Field Marshall Montgomery had enough and gave the opening of the Schelde “complete priority without any qualification whatsoever”. All eyes were on Walcheren again.

Next thing you knew was that between 2 and 11 October, a Canadian Lt-General called Guy Simons ordered the Walcheren population by radio and pamphlets to evacuate potential strategic objects, and on 3rd, 7th and 11th October respectively, the RAF Bomber Command dropped between 8000 and 9000 tons of bombs onto the dykes at Westkapelle, near Vlissingen and at Veere. Walcheren was instantly flooded and transformed into a massive lagoon rimmed by broken dykes. A few weeks later, on 1 November, at 05:45 in the morning, Allied commandos landed at Oranjemolen in Vlissingen, right behind Froukje and Paul’s house.

Casualties-wise, „the campaign to free up Antwerp cost the Allies dear”, says the History Learning Site. “They had lost 703 officers and 12,170 other ranks killed, wounded or lost in action, presumed dead. Over half of these casualties were Canadian men.” A few survivors of the campaign still gather, every year (yes, every year, says Paul, and one of them is in a wheelchair) on 1 November to commemorate them (and yes, right behind their house). In Westkapelle, the 3 October bombings are still known as ‘t Bombardement and remembered as the day when 180 Westkapelle residents were killed and the village all but wiped off the face of the earth by the bombs and the incoming sea.

Some footage of the flooded island on youtube -the wonders of youtube- at and voor de nederlandstaaligen among us, at Even one year after the bombings, three quarters of Walcheren were still under water and the devastation breathtaking.

Luctor et Emergo

Talking about floodings, turns out that Walcheren came under water again in January 1953, and so did other parts of Holland, when a heavy storm caused the dykes to break, killing 1,835 people and forcing the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned that day, 37,300 buildings were damaged, and an extra 10,000 completely destroyed. The Dutch coined a special word for the disaster – watersnoodramp- and the Dutch government set out to build an ambitious flood defence system, the so-called Delta Works, designed to protect the estuaries of the Rhine, Maas and Schelde rivers. Zeeland was particularly affected by the disaster. No wonder the province’s slogan (coined long before 1953) reads Luctor et Emergo – I struggle and I emerge – a reference to the interminable battle the province has been waging with the sea if not since time immemorial then at least for many decades. Indeed, the inhabitants of Zeeland’s small towns and villages have spent much of their history either at sea or keeping the sea away from hearth and home.

The Allied landing has left a strong mark on the island. No wonder the street next to Paul and Froukje’s street in Vlissingen is called Landingsstraat. And no wonder the tiny village of Westkapelle has its own war museum, and a monument on the dyke above the museum. When I reached that monument on the dyke that day, and admired the ironcast tank on top of a block of granite, I noticed a small figure all dressed up in a WWII uniform complete with helmet and rifle, climbing all over it. I blinked. An apparition? A wax figure? A guard? An actor enacting a scene from back then? Weird. And some others seemed confused by it, too. I looked again and discerned a little boy of maybe 8 years of age, wearing an original Allied WWII uniform, with a small Dutch flag sown onto its front. A little Dutch boy playing at war. I couldn’t help myself and walked up to the kid and asked in a playful tone where on earth he got that uniform from. In Dutch. No answer. In German. Maybe he was German and got it from the nearby museum as part of some fun historical reenactment exercise. No answer. Spreekt je Nederlands? Ja. Ok. Waar heb je die vandaan? No answer. Is die van jou? Ja. Ok. Of van je papa? Nee. Right. Ok, this is his own uniform and he’s simply – playing at war. Not sure I’m getting these parents. I was raised on „Nie wieder Krieg“ and my brother, born in 1969, kept from playing with anything even resembling a soldier. Even „action man“ was considered too violent. But maybe I’m missing something. After all, I am the granddaughter of those staunch and humourless people who dug trenches on Scheveningen beach, and who stole this little boy’s greatgrandparents bicycles. Hm.

Vlissingen has been of interest to many foreign powers throughout history. Significantly, the 44,500 people town is, despite its relatively small size, one of the few Dutch towns with names in two other languages. The French call it Flessengue and the English Flushing. Long before the Germans in the 1940s, Napoleon had laid hands on Vlissingen in far-away 1795, incorporated it into his French republic, and invested in it by building some heavy fortifications. To his mind, Vlissingen was going to play an important role in his plans to conquer England. Not surprisingly, the English didn’t like the idea and, in 1809, subjected the town to heavy bombardments.

Another 200 years before that, when the Netherlands were still ruled by the Spanish, and Willem van Oranje was slowly gaining ground in his struggle against the Spanish oppressors,  Vlissingen became famous for being one of the two first Dutch towns, which managed to free itself from Spanish rule. Oranje’s rebels rebels first captured the town of Brielle, on 1 April 1572, and then Vlissingen on 6 April 1572. These events marked a turning point in the 80 Years War between the Netherlands and Spain, and the event is still remembered today, with a rhyme for April Fool’s Day: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril, en op april zes verloor Alva zijn fles,” basically meaning that “on 1 April the (Spanish) count Alba lost his glasses (bril meaning glasses and referring to the town of Brielle), and on 6 April he lost his bottle (fles meaning bottle and referring to Vlissingen).” Ok, so Vlissingen has a tradition of freedom-fighting and insurgency.  Or at least it did 400 years ago.
Anyhow, I had neither glasses nor bottles to lose that day, mainly as I hadn’t brought any in the first place, but I missed them all the same as I felt my eyes water from the wind (no glasses) and my mouth go dry from a lack of water (no bottle). And I longed to arrive somewhere now.

Treats and tailwind

Next stop Domburg. So close and yet so far. The headwind didn’t help and neither did the dark clouds which were suddenly forming everywhere. Eventually I did get there, but when I looked at a clock it was 3pm. The 20km from Vlissingen to Domburg had taken me four hours. Granted, I had made a few stops, but still. Bit daunting when I thought of what was yet to come.  If things continued this way, I wouldn’t get back to Vlissingen before midnight. But first things first. I deserved a break. Time for lunch, and coffee, and cake, and a stroll. I parked my bike with a few other bikes. In Zeeland you don’t need to lock your bike to anything; just lock it „to itself“ and no one will touch it. „It’s too heavy to carry around“, says Froukje. Plus, where would they take it to? We’re on an island. And indeed, none of the hundreds of bikes I saw those three days were attached to anything. So very different from Brussels where according to some statistics they steal 75 bikes a night, and even the crappiest about-to-fall-apart bike requires a 60 euro U-lock to protect it from the bike-mob. So Zeeland really felt like a fairy tale world, or a long-lost timezone, where people and bikes still happily coexist and no one fears anyone else and everyone is getting enough.

And I certainly got enough in Domburg, too. „The beach is the main event in Domburg“ writes the Lonely Planet, but I didn’t even see the beach; it was just too chilly. That day, the main events in Domburg were clearly the Hollandse Nieuwe, the kibbeling, and the ice cream. Domburg is a quintessentially little Dutch village with one-storey houses, lace curtains and lacquered blue front doors, which has basically been transformed into an open-air tourist resort, but all that without having lost its soul. You still feel the sweetness of it. There’s a bakery, and two fish shops – one on each side of the village – and a whole array of charming little cafes and bistros in between. But the fish shops are clearly the most popular. Everyone happily munching their kibbeling. To the sound of Zeeuwse folklore music brought to us by a group of men in their 60s, all dressed up in the Zeeuwse traditional costume, standing there and playing just for our amusement. Melodious, jolly, brass. Watched by swarms of retirees and families with children, many Germans. No backpackers, no couchsurfers, few people in their 20s, 30s or 40s, or at least not many without kids. Domburg is the kind of place my grandmother would have loved. But I didn’t mind somehow, and loved being there, too.  Me who’s done Ukraine by bike, on my own, even ten years ago. Me who spent the last two summers couchsurfing and cycling through Morocco, and hitchhiking and wildcamping in France and Italy. Even I loved Domburg. And so did everyone else it seems. Olivier, the bikeguru and surfer thought it’s a „very, very, very niiice place“. And so did Irina.

My lunch consisted of three pieces of deliciously warm and fleshy (and overprized) Hollandse Nieuwe (at 2 euros a piece), met ujtjes, and a chicken piri piri pastry, which I jumped on for the sole reason that I had no idea what it was. It just sounded so quintessentially Dutch, a bit like saté kroket or bami and I just had to try it. I found a little bench in the sun (yes, the sun was back again) and indulged. And rarely has herring tasted so good, not to mention that buttery piri piri pastry. But not enough, I also had to have my appeltaart met slagroom. And two koffies. And, on my way out of town, an icecream on top. Haagse hapjes, vanilla with koffie. Just to get my blood sugar levels up all the way. Yes, I was eating myself into some kind of over-energised frenzy, which I though I’d need to master the rest of the day. Because the ride to Middelburg scared me. Another 25km, which would have been nothing under normal circumstances, but with this headwind, they looked daunting.
But then things turned out all different again. The headwind was suddenly tailwind, the sun back out, my sleeves rolled up, my spirits high – and I flew. Or my bike flew me. I barely had to pedal. And instead of taking what felt like four hours, I was in Middelburg within what felt like 40 minutes.

In between parties

While Vlissingen had been swinging with life and sunlight that previous day, and whilst Domburg had been brimming with happy people munching their all-Dutch junk food that afternoon, Middelburg – that evening – seemed dead. Not a soul on the streets, the wind blowing again, a few isolated jazz musicians rehearsing for the open air concert that night, and hesitantly striking some wailing notes, but to not too much of an audience. I must have gotten there in between parties. The football game was over, and the jazz concert hadn’t started yet.

And yet, it was a beautiful town. With an air of grandeur, or at least much more so than any of the other towns on Walcheren. Middelburg is the provincial capital after all. And an ancient one that is. Built in the 13th century, Middelburg grew into one of the Netherlands’ most important trading centres during the late Middle Ages. No wonder the town was full of beautiful architecture. Fivehundred years later, in 1940, Middelburg was heavily bombed by Germany, but rebuilt after the war, much of it in its original style. The Gothic townhouse, built in 1452, (again) a masterpiece.

The Lonely Planet calls the town pleasant, prosperous and sedate. And indeed, it had a calm, dignified, unhurried quality about it. As if this were where Dutch people go when they want to start anew in life. Like after a divorce, or a midlife crisis, or a burn-out from their hectic lives in Amsterdam, Den Haag or Utrecht. A bit like Spain or the south of France, but – in Holland. And then there’s the climate. Zeeland has a peculiar microclimate, which makes for clear skies and sunshine almost all year around. And, last but not least, there’s the dependable and obliging nature of the Zeelanders, who over the centuries have grown used to accommodating all sorts of guests and invaders. But then those stressed-out city people tend to be of an amenable and indulgent breed themselves. Which might be why they chose Zeeland in the first place. Actually, I have no idea. Purely speculating, trying to be clever. And bigtime deducing this from the handful of „import people“ I met there, who tended to be kind and generous NRC-reading, PvdA-voting social workers, civil servants, journalists and artists. But there may be entire colonies of retired VVD members dwelling on their yachts by het Veerse Meer somewhere; I wouldn’t know.

In any case, Middelburg, as pretty much every Dutch town nowadays, has a strong social conscience, or at least pretends it does, and persuasively so. That day, Middelburg hosted a festival commemorating the end of slavery, and the shadowy role the town had played in upholding slavery for many years before that. In Middelburg, there were shipyards, and those shipyards built the ships, which shipped tens of thousands of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

According to the Lifeline Expedition (, an impressive reconciliation initiative launched in the UK in the 1990s bringing together the descendants of people from the three corners of the slave triangle (Europe-Africa-America), “the Dutch were among the most successful traders in slaves, especially during the 17th century.” Shockingly, and with specific reference to the role of Zeeland in all this, the Lifeline Expedition maintains that “altogether, ships from Zeeland made 672 recorded journeys transporting 278,476 slaves, compared to 173 recorded journeys from Amsterdam carrying 73,476 slaves.”  It goes on to say that “the biggest number of voyages was from Vlissingen”, and that “Middleburg and Vlissingen must have been virtual slaving communities, with a substantial amount of manpower involved in the traffic. In fact a report of 1750 confirms that Vlissingen’s only commercial branch of significance was the slave trade.” Hm. Not very palatable.

An excellent article on The Dutch Slave Trade 1500-1850 puts things into a larger perspective. The author basically suggests that, at the end of the day and compared to other European powers, the Dutch didn’t profit much from the slave trade, which in part explains why the economically disadvantaged province of Zeeland might have been more willing to get involved with it than Holland’s other more prosperous regions.

Past and present

One name I kept coming across on my journey through Walcheren, was that of Admiral Michiel De Ruyter.  Who is this guy, I asked myself, and googled him upon my return to Belgium. And well,  „“ sustains that „this dude is one of the toughest motherfuckers to ever come out of the Low Countries, and one of the most amazing seaborne murder-machines to ever pound his enemies to death with his massive (cannon) balls. In nearly 60 years sailing on the high seas during the Golden Age of Dutch Badassery, this Netherlandian (Netherlanderthal?) aquatic destruction-monger served in seven wars, led warships into combat in over forty engagements, and fought more than fifteen massive full-scale naval battles against the toughest sailors Earth has ever seen.” Right. Woah. But the text is meant to be funny and actually goes on to portray De Ruyter in a very positive light.

According to other and maybe more scientific sources, „badass“ De Ruyter was actually born in Vlissingen, in 1607, has streets named after him in pretty much every town in Holland, and played a significant role in Zeeland’s trading activities in the mid 17th century. Now, whether De Ruyter was a good guy or a bad guy is a tough one to answer. On the face of it, he’s very much a good guy; so at least all of Holland, and beyond, has agreed centuries ago. He heroically fought in the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century, and is basically credited for the continued existence of the Netherlands as a sovereign country. Also, he is said to have been a kind and humble man devoted to the wellbeing of his crew, and, last but not least, to have „regularly freed Christian slaves by redeeming them at his own expense”. It appears that even in Hungary, of all places, there’s a monument commemorating the role he played in negotiating the liberation of 26 Hungarian clergymen who had been forced to work as galley slaves by the Spanish. On the other hand, I ask myself, what about the „non-Christian“ slaves? And, if he was one of the biggest traders in Vlissingen at that time, and if the main trade in Vlissingen was slavery back then – well, you do the maths. Unless, he was working to change the system from within? Or maybe I’m missing something. Other must have researched this before, no? In the meantime, he remains a hero.

And in the meantime, Middelburg concentrates on present-day slavery. That weekend, Middelburg was hosting a large-scale photo exhibition reminding people of the fact that slavery exists even today, mainly in the form of forcing undocumented migrants into 18 hour shifts for loans way below the legal minimum wages. And yes, even in EU countries. All documented on large billboards greeting me from above on my way into the town, and educating me on facts and figures. Nicely done (those Dutch!). But quite gruesome indeed.

And, talking about human rights violations (or genocide), well, just a few moments before reaching those billboards (we’re moving backwards now, rewinding the movie so-to-speak), I passed a large Jewish cemetery. Which featured a commemorative plaque honouring the Jewish citizens of Middelburg who were deported to the Nazi death damps. And surprisingly, the gravestones seemed to be chained to each other, which made me wonder whether there had been acts of vandalism. Apparently, Middelburg had quite a flourishing little Jewish community before the war, counting 131 people, says the Joods Historisch Musem website. Then, in 1940, the Middelburg synagogue was plundered by local members of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party, and in 1942, the Middelburg Jews were deported, and none of them returned alive.

Not an easy legacy for Middelburg. First that slave trade, then the ousting of the Jewish community. Driven by the German occupants of course, but possibly helped by the locals. But then, in 1994, the synagogue was restored and rededicated, and in 2004, the first Jewish wedding took place in Middelburg since before the war.  Eind goed, al goed? Minden jó, ha a vége jó? All’s well that ends well? Let’s just say yes. The town’s just too beautiful to be cross with it. By the way, Middelburg’s Jewish community goes back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when Jewish merchants moved to Middelburg from Spain and Portugal, compounded in the late 17th century by Jewish families fleeing pogroms in central and eastern Europe. So, in theory, the Dutch provinces of the Middle Ages, including Zeeland, were a land of refuge and asylum rather than the opposite.


I swiftly cycled through Middelburg, and straight to the train station, and the stationsrestauratie, and Irina’s blue coat. Which I found immediately. And, still inside the stationsrestauratie, I turned around and – there was Anna. My couchsurfing coffee appointment, and that without having made a real appointment. She just knew I had to pick up that coat at some point, and I was all the more delighted to see her. Sometimes things just work out.

Anna is a writer. And many things on top of that. An ex-business consultant that is. And someone hosting poetry and prose salons in Amsterdam, Den Haag and now also in Middelburg. And a woman who once travelled to Nepal to spend 12 months in Bhutanese refugee camp and then wrote a book about it. That is, about a Bhutanese refugee girl who was then resettled to the Netherlands to be precise. In her book, called Headwind, that girl experiences various difficulties as a child in Nepal and upon her arrival in the Netherlands, but then that headwind turns into tailwind and she gradually grows into a self-assured young woman. And yet, that headwind never leaves her altogether – which is probably true for all of us, refugees or not. Hardships, as facts of life, will always be there in one way or another, and it’s all in the „how we cope with it“.

And indeed, headwind had been the theme of my whole day. And Anna has had her share of headwind as well. In her life I mean. Which she’s gloriously managed to turn into tailwind. We spoke about all sorts of things, and it was refreshing to be able to go straight to the point, and talk about „what is really going on“ in our lives, in the way one sometimes finds it easier to talk to perfect strangers than to people one knows one will meet again at work the next morning. I loved Anna’s sunny take on life. I’ve made choices and changes, I’ve re-invented myself, and I’ve made it all work, could have been her line. And yes, she really has. No nonsense, down to earth, getting things done. She amused me with her tales about her upcoming novel set in the Victorian times, which has prompted her to „dress and live like a Victorian“ one day a week to get into her main character. I glanced down at her. „No, today’s the 50s“. Right. She was wearing a stiff blue dotted dress, tights and assorted shoes. The 50s, indeed. The Victorian day must be another day. Can’t wait to get my hands on that book.

After a chat in the station restaurant and a scenic bikeride through the old town, we ended up at Anna’s favourite kroeg, as in bar, or pub, and had another chat session there. That place was my kind of place, like an old sailor’s inn, on a street corner, jolly, open, and flooded with a golden afternoon light which warmed my heart and illuminated the ancient wooden beams framing the doors and windows. Anna ordered a glass of nutwine for me, a deliciously sweet beverage served with ice. A  group of young guys, just random guys from the town it seemed, in their 30s and 40s, entertained everyone and themselves with a roaring interpretation of We are the world, followed by The rivers of Babylon. One of them played the piano. Karaoke, but without the whole (silly) technology. Like in the old days. And they all knew the texts anyways. And all that over Anna’s stories.
I floated. A high. I had clearly arrived at my destination.

Eventually I said goodbye and set out to cycle back. As in, to Vlissingen. Bit tipsy, from the sun as much as from the nutwine. Not sure about my whereabouts. Somewhere in Holland, right. I asked an elderly couple cycling behind me. The road to Vlissingen? No answer; I figured they had to be German tourists. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Ja. Die Strasse nach Vlissingen? Their reply: Immer nach rechts. With a Dutch accent though. Right. Not Germans after all then. I was a bit sceptical. Immer nach rechts sounded a bit like immer geradeaus. But this was not 1940 in Scheveningen, and I didn’t look like a German soldier who had just stolen a bike, did I. I chuckled and came out with U spreekt toch wel Nederlands. Ja, they replied, en u bent Nederlands. As in, me. A compliment, half question, half statement. Nee, niet echt, I confessed. And they liked me all the same. We smiled, she was kind, and the direction was right. And the ride by the canal from Middelburg to Vlissingen memorable. A real treat. They should prescribe this against depression. Or sleeplessness. Or ADHD.
I came home to Froukje’s and Paul’s place 20 minutes later feeling all zen and grounded and blessed. And yes, home was the right word by now. I had missed out on the cooking club that evening, but there were still some of leftovers in the fridge. Mexican tonight, all beans and veg and cheese and salad. Delicious and therapeutic after all that sugar earlier in the day.


Two new guests had arrived that night, Vrienden van de Fiets, a father and his 16-year old daughter, a most touchingly sweet little pair. Him involved in a squatting project in Maastricht. I loved the colourful array of people I met in Froukje’s garden, and I had barely scraped the surface of it. Froukje volunteers for 1001 organisations it seems; it was hard to find anything she isn’t involved with in some way. From the cultural centre inside her building to the Refugee University Fund, helping refugees to complete their education in the Netherlands.

And then our conversations. Like in the old days, before email and facebook. When people actually still talked to each other and without keeping the TV on while doing so. But, with perfect strangers. Which maybe wouldn’t have happened back then. Before the internet gave us insight into the fact that we’re basically all the same; striving for the same stuff, struggling with the same stuff. So, I was getting the best of both worlds. Modern day internet connectivity which had allowed me to hook up with them in the first place. And old school appreciation for real togetherness and communication. And it was so easy to talk to them. I’m always curious and one word gave way to another.

About the ties we have on this planet. Family and other ties. About who our friends are. Are facebook friends friends?  The kind we do know personally of course, but communicate with only to let them know that we’ve just gotten up to a wonderful new day, purchased a new pair of glittery pink sandals, or booked a holiday to Spain? And how about couchsurfing friends? Or vrienden op de fiets friends? Are new networks replacing vanishing old structures? Are fast-paced, short-lived friendships supplanting long-lasting ones? Friendship almost as a consumer good, something we can order and book online these days? We talked about giving and taking, and loyalty and betrayal. Verbijsterend teleursgestelt are two words that I learned that day. And that I won’t forget so quickly. They really struck a chord with me. And this whole last year. As the ultimate expression of a sense of total abandon by those one had cared about, relied on and trusted most. But is anyone of us really immune to that? And what happens when that stuff happens? How do we cope? Do we cope?

Froukje had a nice book about that. Called Borderline Times and written by Leuven-based Belgian psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter who maintains that many of us no longer do. And drift off into self-diagnosed mental illness instead. „I’m unhappy so something must be wrong with me“. And then fall into the pharmaceutical industry trap. „Let me purchase a pill to sort me out“. Helped by the growing hype around „trendy“ mental disorders like ADHD in adults, bipolar disorder and borderline syndrom. And yet, de Wachter says, it’s not so much those more vulnerable individuals who feel like there’s something wrong with them and who come seek help in his psychiatric praxis that are the sick ones. Instead, he says, it’s society as a whole, which makes them feel that way, that needs to be looked at. He calls it de geluksmaatschappij, the happiness society, where we’ve all made it our personal aim in life to show the rest of the world how happy and exciting our lives are. In colour, with pictures, on facebook, or elsewhere, and every day. It’s us, the mainstream, those creating and cultivating this climate and keeping up the pressure, and increasingly hiding ourselves behind shields and layers of – well, basically hypocrisy – who are the sick ones. Or sickly ones. Suffering from borderline syndrome. Often characterised by a sense of emptiness and fear of abandon. And yes, I could see that. Again, that family and other ties question.

Froukje and Paul seem to have resolved that question for themselves by opening their house and lives to all those who can appreciate it. And by taking action, serving, advancing and not looking back much. And by trying to keep in touch. „Why don’t you come to Zeeland in a year from now, when you have a stressful job, and treat yourself to little weekends in Zeeland and in Maastricht, chilling?“ she asked me, followed by her trademark line: „Doen!“ As in: „Just do it! And not just talk about it!“ In the same way she encouraged others to try camping, to borrow her bikes, and to organise a trip around the world.“ And I concluded that Froukje’s the kind of person who should have five children and ten grandchildren and who’d be a role model to each one of them.

On Sunday morning, Vaderdag, I said goodbye to my hosts, their guests and the neighbours from heaven, and started my retreat. Suddenly it was all over. My way back was uneventful. Within ten minutes I was at the ferry, within 30 minutes I was in Zeeuws Vlaanderen again, on the other side of the Schelde,  and within three hours I was back in Knokke.

And yet, I felt I’ve had it all. Headwind and tailwind, pain and pleasure, some fear and anxiety, much good fortune and lovely surprises, a sense of disconnect, and then again heart-to-heart connections, out of the blue, „boddhisatvas from the earth“, crowds and one-to-ones, past and present, history and mystery, insights into my life and the lives of the others, intertwining and parting again, like the waves of the ocean behind Froukje and Paul’s house.

Zingy Zeeland.