Begging or entertainment - ban the buskers?

Begging or entertainment - ban the buskers?

13th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Sitting in the sunshine at a pavement café with a beer or other refreshing drink of your choice: for many people it's one of the simple joys of summer. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to simply enjoy as more and more "gypsy orchestras" wander from one café to another here in the Netherlands.

The music is not the kind that is likely to improve your mood; in fact the obvious tactic of the accordion and clarinet-wielding beggars is that they know you will pay just to get rid of them.

For a small fee peace is restored... until the next lot comes along.
There are more of them here in the Netherlands - and probably in many other European countries - every year. Particularly since Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union two years ago.
That Man is Crazy

But now café owners in Haarlem, a town to the west of Amsterdam (yes, Harlem in New York is named after it), are taking the law into their own hands.

Paul Zonneveld, who owns a café on the Grote Markt (Main Market) square in the town centre, has put up a homemade sign showing an accordion with a red bar through it and a message in Romanian - "because the police tell me 90 percent of the street musicians come from Romania".
Photo RNW
The musicians

"That man is crazy," says trumpet player Marius, who is playing with two other street musicians further along, outside the local McDonald's.

He comes from Bacau in Romania. "Yes, really crazy. Here in Holland everything is possible. Drugs is possible, homos is possible. Girls possible, sex here.

Everything is possible here. Only music is not possible."

Paul Zonneveld has made a name for himself and has already been the subject of one complaint about discrimination.

He doesn't see it that way. He wouldn't mind, he says, if it was proper music performed by people who can actually play.

"It just the same 1-2-3 tune over and over and they send round a little girl to collect money. If you don't pay they swear and spit on the table."
Organised gangs

The Haarlem police say organised gangs are involved. Zonneveld agrees: "The musicians are rounded up and ordered to beg, it's a sad story."

He says his sign is a success and other café owners have asked him to make one for them.

"The sign works because they respect authority in their own country. A sign means authority. You only have to point at it and they leave."
 Cafe owner Paul Zonneveld poses in front of the homemade sign - Photo RNW
Critical ear

But street musicians Constantin and Petro don't believe the sign applies to them.

Violinist Constantin explains: "I make music for 40 years in Romania. In a restaurant, with a contract.

And in a professional orchestra. Then these beggars come along and destroy everything for us musicians."
Paul Zonneveld still doesn't want them playing outside his café: "I have a critical ear, you know."

Martijn van Tol
Radio Netherlands

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