International solidarity

Read in Historisch Nieuwsblad nr.9 2007:

On an excursion last week, my students visited the Spaarndammerbuurt, Amsterdam. There, in museum Het Schip, they listened to the story of the Great War. The neighborhood, our young guide explained, was built in 1914-1920. In 1914 one million Belgian refugees had fled to the Netherlands in only a few days time. The Great War had started, with the Germans occupying Belgium. The city of Antwerp was evacuated. What did the Dutch government do? Not much. Mr. Cort van der Linden, the Dutch conservative prime minister, kept quiet for more than six weeks. It was Queen Wilhelmina who asked the population to help their neighbours and welcome them with open arms. In Amsterdam, a national committee – the ‘Amsterdam Committee’ – was installed by citizens. At last the government decided to build concentration camps all over the country, but mostly in the southern provinces. The refugees, it decided, should be imprisoned and leave the country as soon as possible. From then on, the Belgians had to live behind barbed wire, waiting for the moment to be sent back. To make things worse, the Dutch government started negotiations with the Germans in the hope to get rid of the Belgians as soon as possible. The Germans decided to build a fence of electric wire on the northern border of Belgium to stop the Dutch implementing their evictions.

The guide – a master student Social History at the University of Amsterdam – was telling his story with passion. The architects of the Amsterdam School, he told my students, were ordered by socialist deputy mayor Mr. Floor Wibaut personally to keep on building, thus creating new dwellings for the Belgian comrades. The magic architecture of Michel de Klerk was a political statement: socialist Amsterdam voting against conservative The Hague. The beautiful tower in the building of ‘Het schip’ – now a museum – is a symbol of international solidarity. Afterwards I asked the young guide why he told us all this. He said, “Well, because the same is happening in our country right now.” Mr. Rutte doing nothing. Even the king is holding his tongue. The refugees from Syria, Iraq and northern Africa have to stay in asylumseekers camps on the countryside. We should build dwellings in Amsterdam for them now. With beautiful architecture. And towers! We need Wibaut again!






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