Press Review Friday 23 July 2010
Today’s Dutch papers look at the ruling on Kosovo’s independence, the ex-PM drafted in to kick start coalition talks, age and HIV, the plight of road workers and problems with piggy portraits.
Kosovo ruling: a blessing and a blow All of today’s papers cover the ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that Kosovo’s unilateral decision to declare independence from Serbia was a legal one. De Volkskrant goes with “Court gives blessing to Kosovo”, while Trouw flips the coin with “Court deals blow to Serbia”.
De Volkskrant describes the result as “surprising” and observes that the court “opted for a limited playing field” in arriving at its verdict: “In answer to the question ‘Was the declaration of independence in line with international law?’ the UN judges’ response was not a resounding ‘yes it was legal’ but at most a ‘well, it wasn’t illegal’.” Nevertheless, nrc.next calls it “an unambiguous verdict” and sums up the mood as “Kosovo cheers. Serbia howls in disappointment.”
De Telegraaf comments that the ruling brings “hope for separatists” and is “bad news for countries with separatist regions, such as Spain, Georgia, Russia and China”. The paper goes on to note that the ruling “by one of the United Nations’ most important bodies, is not binding or enforceable, but it does carry considerable political weight”.
Dutch coalition talks: Lubbers to the rescue? All of the papers try to make sense of the latest development in the Dutch coalition saga: the Queen’s appointment of former Christian Democrat PM Ruud Lubbers as the latest in an increasingly long line of mediators. De Telegraaf reckons “by appointing Lubbers the Queen has taken everyone by surprise” and “has taken a bold step in sweeping the wishes of many politicians aside”. Bold it may be, but it doesn’t stop the paper from asking “this is our fifth mediator in six weeks … are we heading for political chaos?”
Many political pundits reckoned the time had come for election-winner Mark Rutte of the conservative VVD to take charge of the coalition process himself. But it would appear Her Majesty is having none of it. According to NRC Handelsblad Queen Beatrix views this as “too risky an enterprise”. Sister paper nrc.next quotes a political expert as saying “this is not a modest gesture … the Queen has made a powerful intervention and sent out a very clear signal”. The paper even goes so far as to wonder “is this a royal coup”? If so, to what end? Trouw reckons that “stability is the magic word at the palace” and that “a strong centrist government appears to be the objective”.
So is former PM Ruud Lubbers the right man for the job? AD informs us that “he has been a confidant of Queen Beatrix for years”. De Volkskrant describes him as “a survivor” and “the master of compromise”, while nrc.next portrays him as “fiercely intelligent, fiercely energetic and often difficult to follow”. The dictionary lists his name as synonymous with “vague and convoluted” or “woolly” use of language. It remains to be seen whether these qualities will help him be – as de Volkskrant puts it – “the listening ear that lifts the coalition talks out of their current deadlock”.
HIV prevention: start when they’re young … and over 50 Trouw provides some unexpected news about HIV infection in the Netherlands. It turns out that the over-50s are more at risk than other age groups. The number of new cases in this category has doubled over ten years. The trend appears to be across the board – men, women, straight and gay – and is also reflected in figures from the UK. A partial explanation might be that today’s over 50s are more amorous: “baby boomers are far more sexually active than the generation before them”. Factor in the revelation that older lovers are notoriously reluctant to use condoms, and it all begins to add up. “I saw this coming ten years ago,” complains sex therapist and psychologist Albert Neeleman “yet still all the anti-HIV campaigns are directed at youngsters. It’s time to warn the older folks as well.”
At the other end of the spectrum, AD reports on the successful efforts of two Dutch women to combat HIV infection “not with expensive campaigns but with a simple memory game for kids”. The idea behind the game is that it makes it easier to talk about AIDS and HIV. “We’re absolutely convinced that knowing all about the issues by the time you become sexually active is what works,” assert the duo behind the initiative, Marleen Engebersen and Karin van Paassen. Different versions have been developed for each country. “In some African countries, sexual initiation rites are an issue … while in Thailand, for instance, peer pressure is a major influence. If you address these issues, it makes more of an impression.” The paper notes another strong selling point for the game: “Kids usually win at memory, which makes it all the more fun.” The pros and cons of the road worker Ahhh … summer in the Netherlands: season of sun, fun and road works. De Volkskrant takes a look at the plight of road workers for whom “hazardous situations are a daily occurrence”. It’s not just the proximity to traffic that’s the problem. As the paper reports they get “bottles and death threats” hurled at them. Conditions have improved in recent years, but the tension between workers’ safety and business interests remains. As one worker puts it “if we did everything according to the rules, we’d never get anything done … and if you complain about an unsafe situation, the customer will find another contractor just like that”.
Trouw highlights another aspect of the life of the road workers. In order to minimise disruption to traffic they often have to work at night. Research suggests that this not only leads to “stress and social problems” but the “working hours also discourage new recruits”. Trouw decides to investigate, stepping into a world where “the smell of fresh asphalt mixes with the smell of coffee”.
Surprisingly the workers they encounter seem reasonably happy with their fate, especially in the middle of a heat wave. “Night shift is fine, especially in this weather. During the day, we’d only be puffing and panting.” Getting to work is also easier: “on day shift I’d have to spend hours in a tailback just to get here, but at night it’s quiet on the roads”. Even the shortage of new workers has its plus side: “It means the man in charge makes sure he treats us well” says one satisfied worker, pointing to a coolbox full of sandwiches and cola, courtesy of the boss.
Pig picture palaver AD reports on a story that illustrates what a hot potato multicultural relations can be in the Netherlands. An artist whose work was being exhibited at a health centre in the town of Leerdam was asked to remove three pictures of pigs after a complaint that Muslims might take offence at being confronted with images of “unclean animals”. The move led to a storm of protest and even hate mail for painter Sylvia Bosch, who has been left “shocked by the overwhelming commotion”.
Ironically, the original complaint was lodged by a non-Muslim patient at the centre who took no umbrage at the paintings but was worried that Muslims might. The paper talks to a spokesperson for Muslim group SMN who says that despite the good intentions, it wasn’t a smart thing to do. “It isn’t wise to think and feel on behalf of other people. And certainly not for the health centre to take action on this basis.” In its editorial, the paper concludes that “the flood of negative coverage about Islam has left us with a distorted image of the religion” and that “in the resulting state of confusion, we tend to take bizarre decisions”.
© Radio Netherlands Worldwide