A small fairytale in times of economic malaise

Just check this out. The Dutch baseball team beat The Dominican Republic in the WBBC. Not once, but twice! This is like the football team of Luxemburg beating the Brazil squad twice in a row. I like the comment of Dutch coach Delmonico:

“I don’t have big names, but I’ve got some long names,” Netherlands coach Rod Delmonico joked.

And what about this:

Even with all the controversy swirling, the loss to the Netherlands was improbable. The Dutch team has just one major league player on its roster (Marlins pitcher Rick VandenHurk), and he didn’t even play Saturday. Its most celebrated player, five-time Hoofdklasse (Dutch major league) pitcher Cordemans, has never pitched professionally in the United States. As the Hoofdklasse’s highest-paid pitcher, Cordemans earns just $40,000 a year, less than half of what Rodriguez earns each day.

Reminds me of the US basketball Dream Team at the Olympics…

Well, I suppose the WBBC fun will be over soon enough for the Dutch. But, hey, this rocks!

New cartoon mayhem in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands cartoon artist Gregorius Nekschot has been arrested following complaints by imam Abdul-Jabbar van de Ven that his work discriminates against, notably, Muslims and dark-skinned people. I really do not have the time right now to write a decent post about this and I am also waiting for more information, but Dutch weblog Polderpundit has dedicated a long post on this subject. Here is one quote to give you an idea about the gist of the controversy:

Personally we think most of Nekschot’s drawings (which we only discovered today) are rather tasteless, although some made us smile (wryly). In other words, we will not buy the book and we won’t subscribe to his newsletter. Period, that’s it. We certainly do not feel more negative or less positive about certain ethnic or religious minorities. Seeing a cartoon where Mohammed sodomizes Anne Frank makes us wish we hadn’t, but it doesn’t change our feelings about either. The only thing it incites us to do is, again, to abstain from buying Nekschot’s books. Maybe it makes others incite to buy it, good for them.

As for the “insulting” part, well, it’s hard to pretend Nekschot’s drawings are uncontroversial innocent works of art. It is imaginable that some people feel indeed insulted by some of the cartoons. In which case they would be wise not to look at them. Just as reactionary (or simply long-toed) christians did not watch “Life of Brian” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. All these artworks can be considered insulting. But criminally insulting? The Western battle for freedom of expression is also the battle for the freedom of expression of ideas we do not like, including ideas we feel insulted by.

Subsidiary question: Are the imams who call non-muslim children “dogs”, who wish a tongue cancer onto Ayaan Hirsi Ali and all other kind of documented niceties, are these people insulting and inciting hatred? We cannot measure with two standards. The cases of both Nekschot and islamic extremists should be examined with the same zeal and integrity, and depending on the findings, they should be prosecuted or not, and then tried (or not) with identical impartiality.

The really worrying part comes next:

It is always tempting to think of hidden political agendas, and before you know it you are talking about conspiracy theories. As long as there is no more detailed information available, it would seem wise to stay prudent.

At the same time it is true that some high-profile members and cabinet ministers of Holland’s biggest political party, the CDA (christian centre), have been advocating censorship of the Fitna, a movie critical of islam, launched by Geert Wilders (founder of one of those populist parties). Has this antidemocratic attitude seeped down to lower levels? Were the police and the DA trying to please their political masters?

The latter quote I find particularly interesting because it goes way beyond freedom of speech. There is a strong sense of “Why are they allowed to do these things and we are not?” I have seen this cropping up several times before in internet discussions. Personally, I doubt if there is a political conspiracy behind the arrest, but Dutch politicians and society would do well to address what Polderpundit describes as “this antidemocratic attitude” and, more importantly, the perception, wrong or right, that some people get condemned for the very same things others seem to get away with.

Update: The link to Nekschot’s site went 404 following an official request from the Dutch Public Prosecutor. From the dozens of cartoons that were examined by the judiciary eight have been subjected to charges of discrimination and possibly even incitement to violence and hatred. All the other cartoons were deemed to be within the legal limits of freedom of speech and artistic expression.

Dreams of empire (plus bleg for our Turkish readers)

Via Dutch weblog Sargasso. Somebody in Turkey posted the following video to YouTube:

This was picked up by Sargasso and one of their Dutch readers posted the following response:

Totally inane, of course, but I think it is rather amusing.

And now my bleg for our Turkish readers. Is the YouTube video Great Türkic State a spoof or is there something more serious, as in juvenile fantasies, behind it? Unfortunately, I cannot read the comments to the vid, hence the question. I know of Turkish nationalism, but I cannot believe this would extend to… China.

By the way, please do not forget to scroll down on our main page and read the latest episode of Douglas Muir’s excellent Frozen Conflicts series.

Update: Huib Riethof has an interesting background article that explains the Dutch video response.

The author of the video doesn’t explain him(her)self. I presume, that he/she followed the same fantasy as the young princess Wilhelmina (born 1880) did during the nineties of the 19th century, when she drew a Dutch imperium over most of Northern Europe, and adding all (former) Dutch possessions in the world (see above).

Dutch to veto Serbia’s SAA?

Apparently the Dutch have said they won’t approve Serbia’s Stability and Association agreement unless Serbia comes up with suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic.

This comes from the excellent B92 site:

Holland will not let Serbia sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) until Ratko Mladić is transferred to the Hague [said] Dutch European Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans… in an interview published by Belgium daily Le Soir today.

“We have been saying, and I repeated this clearly, that Serbia has to cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal. This means that Mladić has to be transferred to the Hague Tribunal prison,” said Timmermans.

By the way, I went to the Le Soir site to find the interview. You know what? Everything but the front page is pay-per-view. Cripes. What is this, 2004? That just seems so very Belgian somehow…

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Belgium holds the line

Brief recap: about six months ago, the EU suspended candidacy negotiations with Serbia because Belgrade was refusing to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.

In particular, the Serbian government had stopped even pretending to look for accused war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. As chief Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte put it, “I’m telling those who still wish to receive me – and fewer and fewer prime ministers and foreign ministers now find the time or interest to do so – that since last October, Belgrade has not been cooperating with the Tribunal at all. Not only has it failed to provide full cooperation – there has been no cooperation whatsoever.”

So the EU shut down candidacy negotiations. Kudos all around, right? Cooperation with the Hague was always a clear prerequisite for negotiations. The EU had made that clear, and the Serbs had agreed. No cooperation, no candidacy.

Then some EU members started getting cold feet.
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Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
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Dutch troops tortured prisoners in Iraq

In November 2003 Dutch Military Intelligence tortured dozens of prisoners in the Iraq province of Al Muthanna. Al Muthanna was under British command at the time. The Dutch did not have an official mandate to interrogate prisoners. Torture consisted of keeping prisoners awake by throwing cold water on them and the use of high-frequency noise and bright light. The venue was a complex of the Coalition Provisional Authority in As Samawah.

Later more. For the time being there is still a lot of denial and obfuscation. Dutch newspaper article here.

Hirsi Ali’s shadow brings down Dutch cabinet

The Dutch government has handed in its resignation after coalition partner D66 withdrew its support. Lousewies van der Laan, chairwoman of D66, had asked for the resignation of VVD minister Rita Verdonk because of her handling of the Hirsi Ali naturalisation case. The initial vote of censure* by Femke Halsema (GroenLinks-GreenLeft) that inspired Van der Laan’s resignation plea received no majority in the Dutch Lower Chamber and Rita Verdonk refused to quit on her own. D66 cabinet members Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Alexander Pechtold and Medy van der Laan consequently resigned and, by doing so, pulled the plug on the whole cabinet.
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Dutch (in)tolerance

Dutch shocklog Retecool has posted an entry containing a link to an episode of the BBC’s Hard Talk in which Stephen Sackur is grilling Dutch right-wing MP Geert Wilders, founder of Group Wilders and the new Party of Freedom.

You can watch the episode by clicking here (RealPlayer, 23 minutes). Before you click, please read what’s below the fold first.
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The Dutch are going to Afghanistan

Most of you will have read the news by now, but I need to mention this to complete my earlier post The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Dutch Parliament voted yesterday, with a substantial majority, to send some 1,200 more troops to Afghanistan. More precisely to the dangerous province of Uruzgan. Only D66, the SP (Socialist Party) and GroenLinks (Green leftist party) voted against, but D66 has already declared it will back the troops regardless. Good on them.

Some 7,500 soldiers will be prepared for reconstruction and stabilisation activities under the umbrella of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). The first extra troops will be sent in August and the whole operation is slated to be in effect for two years. In the foreign press, on the BBC News site for instance, the extra number of Dutch soldiers to be stationed in Afghanistan is often estimated at 1,400 troops. So far the Dutch press have only mentioned 1,200. To recapitulate: the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan will be enlarged by 1,200 soldiers coming from a rotating pool of 7,500 (source: the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf). To be continued, for sure.

UPDATE: Salient detail: fraction leader for Democrats 66, Boris Dittrich, just resigned over the Afghanistan debate. Lousewies van der Laan will replace him. Dittrich took responsibility for, and I quote, “political-tactical mistakes”. One of those mistakes was a, later recanted, threat by D66 to let the Dutch Cabinet “fall” if troops were sent to Afghanistan. The reason behind all this manoeuvring? To persuade coalition partner PvdA (Dutch labour party) to vote against. As we know now, that tactic did not work.