Dutch news in brief, Friday 29 May 2009
Read the roundup of today's Dutch press from Radio Netherlands.VVD leader's controversial Holocaust remark
Political controversy is rife in today's Dutch dailies. First, conservative VVD party's beleaguered leader Mark Rutte commented that Holocaust denial should no longer be a criminal offence, unleashing a storm of criticism. ‘Rutte ignites the fury of his party’ blasts de Volkskrant, while on Trouw’s front page, Jewish groups warn the comment "has hurt many people".
Rutte made his blunder while attempting to relaunch the VVD as the champion of free speech. But as AD comments "The party's bid to become the party of free thinkers has gone up in smoke", while Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen slams the VVD leader for "having lost the plot completely".
NRC Handelsblad points out that, within the context of his argument on freedom of speech, Rutte's comment "is consistent in its logic" but notes "to prevent consistent logic from going too far, you need sensitivity. And that's a gift that Rutte lacks."
Rutte's leadership skills have already been called into question. Perhaps the most telling comment on his latest gaffe comes from the cartoonist in today's Trouw: a dazed Rutte lies flat on his back in the middle of an empty playground with a banana skin at his side; one commentator watching from the sidelines says to another "It takes a special talent..."
Wilders rape victim comments unleash MPs' fury
No stranger to controversy, the right-wing Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has prompted furious reactions from his fellow MPs by criticising journalist Joanie de Rijke, who wrote an account of how she was kidnapped and raped by a Taliban commander. De Volkskrant quotes Wilders, who refers to the journalist's attempts to understand her rapist as proof that "the entire Dutch elite is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. The only moral reference point we have is 'don't offend the Muslims'."
His most vocal critic was Green Left leader Femke Halsema, who fumed "You have no ethical boundaries whatsoever. This woman is not here to defend herself and you are using her for your own stupid, fatuous political tale. You should be ashamed of yourself." Wilders responded with a defiant "Not in the slightest”.
AD talks to the journalist herself, who says "If Geert Wilders had read my book, he wouldn't have said what he did. I'm still recovering from my trauma. Wilders is using me for his own political gain. Of course I'm not tolerant towards rapists and kidnappers. How could I be after what I've been through?"
The government's day of reckoning
Geert Wilders' comments were made at the great ‘day of reckoning’ debate in which parliament calls the government to account for its performance to date. Wilders' headline-grabbing tactics are usually criticised for distracting everyone from the real issues. But today's papers have wider doubts about the importance of yesterday's big debate.
Trouw complains "The debate is about everything except the government's results" and criticises the party leaders for "trotting out their own pet issues" ahead of the European elections. De Volkskrant pities the opposition for having to "chew its way through 2822 pages" of a report in which the government endeavours to present its achievements to date.
Predictably, the government claims to be on course for 82 percent of its objectives while the opposition has its doubts. "Let's take a look at Objective Three" suggested D66 leader Alexander Pechtold. "Bringing a solution to the Middle East conflict closer. That's been marked green. Which means it's all going according to plan? Don't make me laugh!"
Some party leaders are even calling for an end to the accountability debate, after 10 years of mixed reviews. Socialist Agnes Kant argues "We can call the government to account every day, and we do." But Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is not prepared to abandon it just yet: "It's a relatively young tradition...We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Tarting up the palace: money well spent?
NRC Handelsblad turns the spotlight on the ongoing renovation of the Royal Palace on Amsterdam's Dam Square. The interior work now finished, there are plans to sandblast, laser and colour the exterior to rid it of that "dark, dingy, weather-beaten" look.
The EUR 40 million plan to spruce the place up has its opponents. "It's pointless and aggressive" grumbles Gerrit Vermeer of the University of Amsterdam. "You're stripping off a layer of the building. And for what? The differences in colour have always been there. That's the charm of natural stone: it's alive."
A spokesman for an association to protect the country's monuments is equally miffed, dismissing the plans as a "whim of fashion". "There are so many monumental buildings on the point of collapse and there's never enough money to do anything about it. So why tons of money is being pumped into unnecessary work on the Palace is a mystery to everyone. It must be at Her Majesty's request."
Young Dutch mountaineer talks about Everest ordeal
The Dutch media were jubilant last week: youngest Dutchman ever conquers Everest! But today's AD brings home the harsh realities of this triumph in an interview with 25-year-old student mountaineer Erik Ravenstijn. "When I actually stood on the summit, all I could think was 'Shit, this is a dangerous place. Let's get out of here.' Mainly because of the lack of oxygen, I felt a complete lack of emotion."
At the start of the expedition he constantly felt sick and could hardly keep food down, losing 20 kilos as a result. "There's very little flesh left on my bones...On the mountain you can't eat much even though you have to make a massive effort. You're basically eating up your own muscle power." He predicts it may take his body up to six months to recover.
One moment of magic made it all worthwhile. Eric made the summit at 5 am last Wednesday, just as the sun was rising. "I could see for hundreds of kilometres. The desert planes of Tibet in one direction. Nothing but snow-capped peaks in the other. It was amazing."
Radio Netherlands / David Doherty / Expatica