Why the Dutch fear calamity at state occasions
It didn’t take much to prompt people to start running for their lives on this year’s Dutch Remembrance Day.
A man sparked a brief hysterical reaction among the crowds on Amterdam's Dam square, when he held his arms above his head and begun mumbling and then screaming during the two-minutes silence for the nation' war dead.
Several people were trampled underfoot as others tried to get away. Sixty-three people were injured, and the screaming man was arrested. But the wreath-laying ritual led by Queen Beatrix continued within minutes.
“The Dutch were almost waiting for a disaster to happen,” says Professor Hans van de Sande, psychologist at the University of Groningen. According to Van de Sande, people are generally scared in the first place. He partly blames the press for generating the irrational fear.
“There was a lot of speculation about the possibility of violence around public appearances by the queen, because last year eight people were killed in Apeldoorn when a man drove his car into a crowd watching the royal parade. Why do we expect such an event to repeat itself?”
A Dutch girl sings in a park in Amsterdam during the celebration of Queen's Day in Amsterdam, one of the biggest and most popular national holidays in Holland
There are several factors behind the Dutch public’s urge to brace themselves for trouble at events that draw large crowds, according to Professor Van de Sande. Terrorist attacks like 9/11, the Bali bombings and the London subway explosions have made people more fearful. “We see these events on the news over and over again and that creates fear in a society like ours.”
But there is another, much deeper reason for us to worry about possible disaster, he adds.
“In the West we tend to think that we live in a ‘riskless’ society. We live twice as long as we did a hundred years ago. Crime was much worse in the distant past, we don’t have major natural disasters and we can cure many diseases. We’re just not used to threats anymore. That’s why Westerners will call anything out of the ordinary ‘a disaster’.”
May 5 - when the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day – has also suffered from concerns about public safety. The city of Rotterdam toned down music events held all over the city, imposing a controversial ban on dance music. The council hopes the move will prevent riots like the one that happened last summer, in which one person died and several others were badly injured.
Prof Van de Sande says the decision is likely to work because people at dance events tend to take large quantities of drugs. “The combination of Dance Music and these drugs tends to make people aggressive,” he says.
But it’s impossible to have festivities without any aggression at all, he concludes: “When you look back in history, you see that events that draw large crowds are bound to turn violent every now and then. It’s just human nature.”