See the attached mpeg video file. Download maagdenhuis.mpg This shows Dutch police beating students with their batons. Two of my daughters are somewhere in there. This took place on the night of 28 February / 1 March 2005 at the Maagdenhuis in Amsterdam, the head office of the University of Amsterdam. There is an honourable tradition of students occupying the Maagdenhuis in protest. On this occasion the students were protesting about government policy on education.
The main part of the plan about which they are protesting is a voucher scheme that is intended to create a market in education with the idea that students can easily switch from one institution to another. In this way it is expected that quality of education will improve because the universities will be competing for students.
The Minister of Education, Mr Rutte, claims that expenditure on education is being maintained, whereas over the last twenty years there has been a steady rise in the number of students going into higher education without a comparable increase in funding.
The week before this took place Mr Rutte, in a television broadcast, challenged the students to protest about his plans by, for example, occupying a building. The student organizations are now making a legal case against the minister for provocation of public violence. He challenged the students to occupy a building. When they did, he refused to appear for negotiations. The Governors of the university requested the police to break the protest which lead the violence you see on the film. The people inside the building, where there were no cameras, were being treated more violently than you see here.
I find it ironic that this took place around the same time that the EU authorities were publishing self-righteous indignation at the treatment of a women's protest by police in Turkey.
Not so long ago Dutch law was passed which makes it illegal for me to beat my children. But apparently it is ok for the police to beat them.
What do things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mean? At what point does the rule of law in a democratic society flip over into the beginnings of the slippery slope to oppression?
NL prides itself in being at the leading edge of civilisation. Nevertheless, it seems that when issues get hot between the people and their government, ritual application of the government monopoly in the exercise of violence still has to be part of the communication and negotiation process. Democracy and dialogue are not yet fully functional means of running a civilised country.
The Minister of Education is trying to introduce more market forces in the education system. I wonder if the Minister of Justice has similar plans that would, for example, enable the students to choose which police unit applies the ritual beatings.