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Opposition and coalition parties urge action to prop up spending power

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – MPs will hold a second day of debate on the new government’s plans on Wednesday, following Tuesday’s call for measures to restore spending power levels.

Coalition parties joined forces with the opposition on the first day of the debate in urging the government to make sure people are not left worse off by soaring inflation and to honour its coalition deal pledge to ensure ‘balanced and positive’ spending power developments.

Various reports have indicated spending power is set to fall this year, with the family budget institute Nibud indicating the decline would range between €10 and over €100 a month, depending on individual family circumstances.

Rutte opened Tuesday’s session saying his fourth cabinet wished to work with ‘all positive forces’ inside and outside national politics. This was seen by commentators as a gesture to the opposition, because he will need the support of non-coalition parties in the senate to ensure controversial legislation becomes law.

A compromise on spending power, measures to ensure the state pension stays ahead of inflation and a rethink on savings on youth social services in particular, would all be instruments he could use to win influence, commentators say.

Prime minister Mark Rutte is expected to outline what the cabinet will do about spending power during Wednesday’s debate.

(DutchNews)

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‘Food for the soul’: museums and theatres stage tongue-in-cheek protest

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Standing onstage, ready to perform at the world-renowned Concertgebouw, Lysandro Cicilia was a little nervous. ‘Better not lop off my finger!’ he quipped, before the first stirring bars of Charles Ives’ Symphony No 2 began.

Cicilia is actually a hairdresser, performing his first haircut live on stage as part of a national protest that ‘contact professions’ like hair and nail stylists are open – but the cultural sector is not.

To make this point, some 70 institutions across the Netherlands have opened in a tongue-in-cheek protest as temporary hairdressers, gyms and nail salons. After months of quietly following the rules, organisations including the Concertgebouw say they feel they have put up with enough.

‘I really don’t understand why, if they all follow the rules properly, they can’t open too,’ said Cicilia, getting his hairdressing kit ready on stage. ‘We make people look good and feel happy, and so does culture.’

Despite contact from Amsterdam authorities saying that the action was illegal and would be shut down, the Concertgebouw went ahead bullishly with a 45-minute rehearsal of its orchestra and hairdressing salon in front of an audience of 50.

Although some organisations backed out of their protest plans on Wednesday, others became a temporary Kapsalon Theater or Museum Gym – exercising a constitutional right to protest used by bars and restaurants last weekend.

Protest right ‘We wanted to make a statement: we will no longer put up with the fact that the cultural sector is so left behind compared to other sectors,’ said Concertgebouw managing director Simon Reinink.

‘We have shown that it is safe, there have been scarcely any outbreaks linked with such events, concerts and theatres and we don’t see any reason to keep our sector closed.

We are more specialised than anyone in crowd management and channelling visitor streams, we have followed all of the rules to the letter, and this means that things went well.

‘We understood the closures in December but now things seem to be manageable in terms of pressure on healthcare, which is the most important reason to lock down the Netherlands.’

He added that there is a perception that while the Dutch government explicitly talks about keeping people physically healthy, the population’s mental state is shockingly neglected.

‘You see that the Netherlands is mentally exhausted with the pandemic and all of the restrictions – young people but also a lot of others,’ he said. ‘The one thing that can give meaning to life is the cultural sector.

There has been a chronic underestimation of the importance of culture for people’s psychological health and wellbeing – and this is a huge problem.’ Audience member Henk Raakers, normally a skipper on a tour boat in Amsterdam and a frequent visitor to the Concertgebouw, said: ‘I hope that this is a signal.

Why are sex workers open and museums closed? We think museums and culture are food for the soul but they are being neglected. You can shop anywhere in the world but I think that the human motor, the spiritual motor, is more important.’

Shopping

At De Kleine Komedie, the theatre where actor Diekerik Ebbinge and comedian Sanne Wallis de Vries first came up with the idea, comedian Dolf Jansen was getting ready to perform to the hairdresser’s waiting room-cum-theatre.

‘Culture, quite apart from its economic value and the fact that it employs a lot of people, is an important factor in being able to deal with very difficult times,’ Jansen told DutchNews.

‘Culture helps us understand difficult questions and makes them into theatre, comedy or dance. It is a far more important sector in terms of its content and mental health value than going out shopping – with all respect.

‘I am convinced that a blooming cultural sector is very important for civilisation – which, at the end of the day, means a group of people who are trying not to kill each other, but get on and have a good time.’

Van Gogh

Meanwhile, at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, the self-portrait gallery had been turned into a beauty salon with barber Ferry Seksie – Mischa Rath – cutting locks and nail stylist Loes Appels painting Vincent-inspired nails.

In a 24-hour period, 500 members of the public signed up and 20 actually got appointments during the day, with strict enforcement of distancing, facemasks and QR-code checks.

‘I was called by the mayor, and she said, “we’re not permitting this”, so I expect a warning, after which we will be given a period of time to clean this up,’ said director Emilie Gordenker.

‘The idea is very simply this: we have a problem with the fact that hairdressers, nail bars and commercial activities can be open, and we can’t. A lot of museums are doing temporary gyms.’

She said that the museum doesn’t just offer art and culture to the local and international population, but also important educational opportunities for children and outreach work.

Persistence

‘Our mental health is as important as physical health and we think it’s important to let that be known,’ she said. ‘We support everything we need to do in order to keep people safe – health is paramount.

But this policy just seems contradictory, and it seems to favour the commercial sector over the cultural one.’ ‘We are big part of what makes this city special, why people come and want to live here.

Especially in the case of Van Gogh, people come not just for the marvellous works of art but for his life story – one of struggle and persistence. That is a theme I think really resonates at this time.’

Back at the Concertgebouw, Reinink was philosophical about possible enforcement action – a warning letter, fine, or even the police. ‘If we have to shut,’ he added, ‘What’s the difference?!’

(DutchNews)

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Households will have average of €40 a month less to spend in 2022

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Households will have an average of €40 less to spend a month this year, national budget institute Nibud has calculated. ‘This will affect everyone,’ Nibud director Arjan Vliegenthartd told broadcaster NOS.

‘It will be noticeable not so much on people’s payslips but at the supermarket, the petrol pump and on their energy bill.’ Household bills could increase by between €10 and over €100 a month, the agency’s calculations show, depending on their make-up, living situation and work.

The prediction is worse now than in September because the sudden hike in energy prices had not been factored in until now. The government compensation for the spiralling energy bills will help households but will not match the expected rate of inflation, Nibud said.

The consequences for low-income households are ‘worrying’, Nibud said and will hit people on welfare, the elderly with just a state pension and people who pay high rents hardest.

Local councils can give low-income households an extra €200 in compensation and Vliegenthart urged them to make claiming simple, without ‘a jungle of complicated benefit rules’.

‘Local councils must hurry up and get the money to people struggling with energy bills and as a society we must decide how to help people who are suffering financially,’ Vliegenthart said.

(DutchNews)

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Police find body of missing Belgian boy in Zeeland, Belgian man arrested

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police in Zeeland have found the body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes who was reported missing from his home in Sint-Niklaas in Belgium on January 12.

The child was last seen in the company of a 34-year-old man, Dave de Kock, who was arrested in Meerkerk in the province of Utrecht earlier on the same day. De Kock regularly acted as babysitter for the child’s mother.

He was supposed to take the child to his grandparents last week but never arrived. The man, who had left his car in Gorinchem, near Meerkerk, did not clarify where the boy was, prompting police to issue an Amber alert.

The boy’s body was found at 10pm near the Neeltje Jans island between Noord-Beveland and Schouwen-Duiveland. According to Belgian media, Dave de Kock had spent ten years in prison for beating a two-year-old to death in 2008.

(DutchNews)

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Threats against local councillors triple but most will stand again: survey

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Threats and violence against local councillors by members of the public have tripled since 2015, a survey by broadcaster NOS and the Dutch association for councillors has shown.

Just 1,626 of all 8,000 councillors participated in the survey. Some 15% of the respondents said they had been faced with threats and violence during their last term as councillor, three times as many as in 2015.

That means around 1,200 councillors country wide are affected. ‘I was threatened in front of my kids on the school run because of an issue about moving a pig farm,’ one Noord Brabant councillor said, while a councillor from Eindhoven was attacked in his home and has his windows thrown in.

A councillor from a town in Drenthe had been cornered in a supermarket and told he would be killed. More women than men were the object of threats and intimidation, the survey found.

Issues around wind farms, asylum seeker centres, Black Pete or plans for new houses were mentioned as triggers for the threats.

Corona

A majority of councillors (82%) said virtual meetings had made their job less enjoyable during the coronavirus crisis because it meant fewer informal contacts with both fellow councillors and the public.

Despite the increase in threats and coronavirus, three quarters of the councillers said they find the job ‘satisfying’ and would not be deterred from standing again. However, more training, support and pay would be appreciated.

‘The Dutch association for councillors said the survey showed that more needs to be done to make the job attractive to people of all ages and backgrounds. ‘That is extra important when democracy is under pressure’, chair Behreddine Belhaj said.

The next local elections will take place on Wednesday March 16.

(DutchNews)

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Three arrested after boy, 16, dies in shooting in house in Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police have arrested three teenagers after a 16-year-old boy died in a shooting in a house in Amsterdam. Emergency services were called to Sinderenstraat, in the Zuidoost district, where they found the teenager seriously wounded at 7.10pm on Sunday.

Paramedics were unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Two teenage boys were arrested in the house, while a third handed himself in on Monday.

Het Parool named the vicim as Armando Petalo, known to his friends as ‘Ali’, a member of a local Roma family.

Police are investigating a number of theories, including the possibility that the boys were playing with guns when the shooting happened.

Two more shootings

In a separate incident, a 22-year-old man was shot in a doorway in Mastbos, in Amsterdam’s Noord district, at around 11.30pm. Police said the victim was conscious and being treated in hospital for his injuries.

A 19-year-old man was arrested at around midnight after allegedly fleeing the scene by car. Police have appealed for witnesses.

Earlier on Sunday officers were called to reports of a shooting on Rijgersborgh, in Noord-West, at around midday. Nobody was injured but police said they had recovered a gun from the scene.

‘Initially we had reports of a fight which later turned into a shooting,’ a spokesman for Amsterdam police told AT5. He added that the incident was believed to be related to a family dispute.

(DutchNews)

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Police break up illegal party in Dalfsen, crowds gather in Alkmaar

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Riot police were drafted in on Saturday night to end an illegal party in front of the town hall in the Overijssel village of Dalfsen, which included live performances.

The party was scheduled to take place in a large barn close to the village of 15,000 people, but the council threatened the organisers with fines if it went ahead, local broadcaster RTV Oost reported.

Several hundred people and several performers headed for the town hall instead, leading mayor Erica van Lente to invoke her emergency powers and call in the riot squad.

They closed off the roads to the village and broke up the party, which the mayor said had threatened to get out of hand.

Police have not yet said if anyone was arrested. In Alkmaar too, the police broke up crowds which had gathered in the town centre following the protest action by some eight café and bar owners.

As the cafes closed, a large group gathered by the Platte Steenbrug, singing and dancing. No-one was fined, local broadcaster NH Nieuws said.

(DutchNews)

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Cafes and bars open their doors in defiance of closure orders

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Saturday’s protests by dozens of bar and cafe owners, who opened in defiance of the government’s closure orders, passed off without problems Dirk Beljaarts, director of hospitality industry lobby group KHN, told television talk show Nieuwsuur that there will be ‘more protests in the days to come’.

Beljaarts described the public support for Saturday’s protests as ‘heartwarming’, adding that if opening cafes was ‘so life-threatening’, mayors would have acted to close them down.

On Friday, the government said shops, universities and fitness centres could reopen, but that bars, cafes and the cultural sector must remain shut because of the surge in coronavirus cases.

On Saturday, however, cafes and restaurants all over the country opened their doors for a time in protest, in several places with the tacit approval of local officials. In Valkenburg and Venlo in Limburg, cafés opened, and council officials did not intervene, local broadcaster1Limburg reported.

Hylke van der Werf, from café Thús in Drachten, told Omrop Fryslan he only got the keys to his premises two years ago. ‘We’ve been closed more than we have been open,’ he said.

‘We’re opening now for a little bit. We don’t want to ask for financial help, we want to earn it ourselves.’

Utrecht

In Utrecht, café owner Gijs Werschkull said he was opening his cafes for the day because the sector had been extremely hard hit by the closures. ‘I hope the mayor sees this as a protest,’ he told RTV Utrecht.

‘We have had a lot of support from our customers.’ Mayor Sharon Dijksma reportedly turned down his invitation to lunch but said she would be pressing the government to rethink its decision and to be generous in its compensation to the sector.

Council wardens in Utrecht handed out four verbal and two written warnings to owners who opened their cafes and bars despite the closure orders.

(DutchNews)

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‘Ikea can open, museums not’: cultural sector finds closures incomprehensible

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Leaked news that some of the current coronavirus rules in the Netherlands will be relaxed at Friday night’s press conference have hit the Dutch cultural sector hard.

The government is set to announce that shops can reopen by appointment, but that museums, cinemas and theatres must remain shut. Museums, which will now be entering into their fifth enforced closure since 2020, have maintained throughout the crisis that their protocols provided an adequate safeguard against infection among visitors.

‘Now that shops can open their doors, we take it that cultural venues can too. Our members are looking forward to receiving visitors again,’ a spokesman from museum umbrella organisation Museumvereniging told news agency ANP.

The comment, he said, was an appeal to politicians rather than a call to museum directors to open their doors at will, as various owners of cafes and restaurants have announced. Former director of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum Wim Pijbes said he supported the statement.

‘It cannot be that Ikea can open and museums not,’ he said. Ann de Meester of the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem called for ‘a secular prayer’ to be sent up for ‘the freshly baked government to have the wisdom to declare the cultural sector a safe zone’.

Not all museums are waiting for the government to officially announce the continued closures but have found ways of circumventing the lockdown by offering exhibitions, workshops and lectures online.

Theatres

Theatre organisation VSCD said in a statement on its website that ‘no matter what the government decides on Friday the time has come for a long-term strategy instead of ‘a yo yo policy’.

The organisation wants a clear connection between the level of risk of infection and the measures that would go with it. ‘Only then can theatre makers and producers anticipate on the actions they to need to take.’

The blow is doubly felt, a spokesman for the organisation said, because eager theatre goers have become wary and ticket sales have been plummeting. He said the sector would be asking for compensation for loss of venue during the lockdown and for as long as the coronavirus crisis lasts.

Cinemas

Cinemas, which ended ‘a historically bad year’ in which just 14 million people saw a film at a film theatre, are ‘proven safe places’ said Boris van der Ham, who chairs the sector’s umbrella organisation.

He has urged new junior culture minister Gunay Uslu to strike a blow for the sector. ‘Come on Gunay Uslu, don’t put the culture sector at the back of the queue again,’ Van der Ham said.

(DutchNews)

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More young suicides in lockdown months: new figures

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Suicides rose significantly amongst Dutch people up to the age of 30 last year, particularly during the lockdown months of January, February, and December.

Figures published by a new body, the Commissie Actuele Nederlandse Suïcideregistratie, showed that an average of more than 20 young adults took their own lives each month last year, reports the Parool. But in January, February and December, the totals were more than 30 every month.

According to a Cans breakdown provided to DutchNews.nl, suicides amongst people up to the age of 30 were classed statistically as ‘worrying’ in these three months, compared with the baseline rates measured between 2013 and 2019.

Renske Gilissen, chair of Cans and head researcher at the helpline 113 Suicide prevention, which was asked to compile the figures, said that the statistics were ‘sad and worrying’ and an indication of even more extensive social suffering.

For some people the hard lockdowns, including a curfew, could have been the last straw, she said. ‘There is rarely just one cause, and often people are dealing with several factors piled on top of one another,’ she told the Parool.

‘But the strict corona rules in January, February and December could certainly have played a role. Normally the number of suicides each month is relatively constant, although we often see a peak in January.

But in those months, the numbers were markedly higher than in the same months in the years before.’ She added that young adults could be particularly vulnerable if deprived of social contact.

‘Social contact with their peers, going out, discovering the world are so important for young people,’ she reportedly added. ‘If all that is impossible, or hardly possible, it can lead to loneliness and depressive thoughts.’

Problems

Elnathan Prinsen, chair of the Dutch psychiatrist’s association NVvP, who has repeatedly drawn attention to the damage to young people and adolescents when education is shut, told the Parool that while adults can recover mentally from the effects of lockdown, it is harder for young people at an important stage of their development.

‘During the first lockdown, they reported twice as many mental complaints as before,’ he reportedly said. ‘A few months later it was still one and a half times as high, while in older groups you saw complaints return again to a normal level.

If young people go into the next lockdown with more problems, they will all pile up.’ Although figures last August suggested that there was no overall increase in suicides up to July, the new breakdown looks at different group’s month by month since the pandemic started in March 2020.

If a rate is higher than 95% of the other months from 2013 to 2019, it is red-lighted, and this is case for young people in the lockdown periods last year.

‘Reconsider’

In the overall population, there were relatively more suicides than in the previous years in June 2021 – orange lighted – and at ‘yellow’ concern levels in several other months.

Health minister Ernst Kuipers said the increase of suicides in young people was partly related to the closure of educational institutions to stop the spread of coronavirus, and called it ‘truly awful’.

The head of Cans made an appeal to the government to reconsider the current lockdown rules, with the mental effects on young people in mind.

(DutchNews)

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