Sunday, January 2, 2011

Deaths, Injuries, Vandalism - Just A Peaceful New Year's Eve in Holland

Photo: L van Mulligen
Growing up in England, New Year's Eve was about seeing the new year in with friends and family. We would spend the evening in a pub somewhere talking and drinking and maybe dancing. In England, you can even post a letter on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day if you want. Here in the Netherlands, pre-empting the destruction, TNT blocks up all the postboxes across the two days so no fireworks can be put in the postboxes. In some high risk areas, they remove the postboxes altogether. Parking meters are covered up, letterboxes for apartment blocks are covered over in plywood and public transport shuts down before the night even gets going. But that isn't enough to stop some.

Despite ten years here, the activities on Dutch streets on New Year's Eve never cease to amaze me. Children as young as five and six carry around rucksacks full of fireworks, letting them off as they walk around their neighbourhood. Grown men demonstrate to their toddlers how fireworks can blow up a snow mound or a drain. Children still in junior school set fires in the streets, burning anything they can find around them on the paths and when that runs out going door to door to ask for paper. In some areas,  residents feel trapped in their houses as fireworks are thrown at their houses and cars.  40 cars were set fire to in The Hague, just like last year. Bus shelters, shop windows, post boxes and bins are blown up as a matter of course. Fires burn in streets - anything from Christmas trees to mattresses thrown on as fuel. The fire services were busy across the country - they put out 200 fires in undergrounds bins in Amsterdam alone.

And that is to say nothing of the human cost of New Year's Eve in the Netherlands. This year two families lost a child to the culture around fireworks on New Year's Eve in the Netherlands, both as a result of homemade fireworks. Others spent New Year's Day in the hospital with loved ones. Police officers were injured in some of the big cities and in other areas the police seemed to keep a low profile to avoid confrontation, meaning gangs of youths ruled the streets for the night. Other emergency service workers risked being attacked whilst trying to do their jobs.

642 people were arrested in total across the country on New Year's Eve for attacking others (including public service workers such as firemen, ambulance personnel and police), vandalism and other offences.

The thing that really amazes me every year is the media quoting high ranking police officers and mayors saying "New Year's Eve was relatively peaceful". Try telling that to the car owners who have nothing but a burnt out wreck left over, or the family of the police officer with a serious head injury caused by yobs with fireworks, or the families in Ypenburg who are busy replacing their windows after yobs went on the rampage there.

For some reason, New Year's Eve is about disorder and destruction to many in big cities across the Netherlands. It is an opportunity to attack, destroy and be violent and each year it gets no better, despite steps taken by the police. And to call New Year's Eve 'relatively peaceful' seems to me to be accepting the violence and destruction as the norm. Violence and damage aside, I can't even get my head around children spending New Year's Eve letting off fireworks.

Naturally, the majority of the population see the New Year in in a sensible and gezellig manner - with champagne, oliebollen and appelflappen shared with family and friends. And unfortunately, it is usually these people that spend New Year's Day cleaning up the streets they live in and sweeping up the damage caused by others. What a way to start the year.......

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