New Year Celebrations in the Netherlands quieter than last year
“Jaarwisseling rustig verlopen” is a common leader in the Dutch press, but the truth is New Year’s Eve in many places in the Netherlands is far from peaceful.
Incidents and accidents
From 10am New Year’s Eve until 2am on New Year’s Day, the Dutch streets could be mistaken for a military zone. This is the only time of the year that Dutch law allows the public to use fireworks.
According to figures from the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK), reported in Elsevier Nieuws on 2 January 2009, there were 7,641 reported firework related ‘incidents’ across the Netherlands over New Year.
The celebrations to see 2009 in resulted in:
• 2,753 reported crimes relating to violence, mishandling, arson and vandalism
• 1,370 cases of arson,
• 800 arrests,
• more than 325 people admitted to hospitals with firework injuries,
• 216 vehicles set alight,
• 97 incidences of violent behaviour against emergency services personnel,
• four schools burning,
• two people losing an eye,
• one fatality.
Fireworks at New Year are a long-standing Dutch tradition, and signify chasing the spirits of the old year away.
Similarly, the custom of the vreugdevuur, (usually fuelled by burning Christmas trees) is a symbol of purging the old for the new.
However, many Dutch are considering the evolution of New Year’s Eve activities and questioning whether the fires and fireworks now have any real ties to the traditions of old.
According to an investigation undertaken by the Police Academy in 2007, it has become ingrained into Dutch culture that at New Year, anything goes. The report concluded that the Netherlands has a fundamental problem with violence and vandalism at this time of year.
Government departments, councils, emergency services and local groups co-operated during 2008 to implement measures to minimise the damage following the widespread rioting and destruction at the end of 2007.
Local councils, as a matter of course, take action to protect or remove public property; rubbish bins disappear from the streets around Christmas and post box openings are narrowed to stop vandals throwing fireworks in.
In addition, this time around, the police set up an anonymous tip line for citizens to report troublemakers for anything from handling illegal fireworks to arson and vandalism.
The BZK launched a national campaign to combat violence against emergency services personnel after 14 percent of those arrested the previous year committed violent acts against ambulance, police and fire service staff.
The four big cities of the Randstad introduced supersnelrecht to ensure swift prosecutions for those arrested over the New Year with courts already open on 2 January to hear cases.
Six times as many reinforcements were available from the national police service, Korps landelijke politiediensten (KLPD), than last year to support regional forces, and police made home visits to talk to known troublemakers.
In the Haaglanden region, special ‘car fire’ teams were set up as a preventive measure as more than 100 cars were set alight a year ago in the Hague area.
The consensus seems to be that the celebrations this time around were quieter than last.
Arsonists set fire to ‘only’ four schools this year, compared to 23 last year. In Zuid-Holland, there were ten percent fewer calls to the emergency services this year than last, and in The Hague vandals set fire to 50 cars, half of the damage done in 2007/8.
However, whilst the damage is less, there is still justified consternation from different parts of Dutch society following incidents across the country.
It was necessary to deploy riot police (ME) in Haarlem to protect fire officers, 150 people threw bottles and stones at police in Rotterdam and in Nijmegen a group bombarded police and fire officers with Molotov cocktails.
In Wijchen, a police station was the target of a firebomb and in Uddel emergency service crews had bottles thrown at them. Police made 52 arrests in Friesland for obstructing the emergency services.
More fun with fewer fireworks
Groen-Links councillors, Arno Bonte (Rotterdam) and David Rietveld (The Hague), have called for a ban on the public sale of fireworks through the petition “Meer Plezier met Minder Vuurwerk”. As an alternative, they want local authorities to organise professional displays like the annual event in Rotterdam.
“The Netherlands is one of the few countries where fireworks can be lit by non-professionals,” explains the petition.
The petition highlights the air pollution and smog caused by the sheer mass of fireworks, the risks for those with respiratory problems, the stress felt by older people, children and animals, as well as the financial costs.
A survey revealed that 30 percent of people do not leave home on New Year’s Eve because of the perceived danger of fireworks. David Rietveld sees this as a serious problem, adding, “The streets are for everyone, not just the 15 percent of the population who like to set off fireworks”.
The cost associated with damage to property during the “celebrations” a year ago was 36 million Euros. The social cost, according to the two councillors, reached between 300 and 500 million Euros. This includes the costs incurred by the health care system, the clean up, loss of working hours due to firework related injuries, damage to cars, houses and public property, environmental costs and expenses related to the emergency services.
Following the introduction of the Burgerinitiatief in May 2006, members of parliament must consider a proposal if signed by 40,000 citizens. Nearly half of the required signatures had been collected within a few days of launching the petition.
Oud en nieuw in the future?
The trouble around New Year has been a hot topic for Dutch politicians, emergency services and the media for the last few years, but pressure is now mounting from Dutch society for authorities to tackle the culture of violence that has emerged at the time of year when celebration and not fear should be on the agenda.
5 January 2009
Amanda van Mulligan, British born, moved to The Netherlands in 2000 and is an expat writer. She runs The Writing Well, a company providing English language writing services. She is married to a Dutchman and the mother to one son. Amanda writes about life as an expatriate in the Netherlands, as well as about career issues.
For more information visit her website at www.TheWritingWell.eu or read her blog at http://letterfromthenetherlands.blogspot.com/