Words by Oliver Mizzi
Riots erupted in the Netherlands last week after the government announced the introduction of further lockdown measures to curb the Covid-19 infection rate. A new curfew lasting from 9pm till 4:30am has been brought in to help stop the spread of Covid, which has taken the lives of over 13,000 people.
Nearly 500 people across the country were detained after protests and subsequent riots broke out across the country, including in both major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, and The Hague and smaller cities like Amersfoort and Helmond.
In areas where rioting was taking place, shops were boarded up as a reaction to the looting that had taken place in previous nights of rioting. Some of the worst instances of violence occurred in Eindhoven, where protestors threw golf balls and rocks at the police. In Rotterdam, bins and cars were set ablaze, and in The Hague, fires were lit on the street.
Most notably, in the village of Urk, protestors set alight the local Covid testing centre. Rioters also attempted to attack hospitals across the country, with a hospital in Rotterdam warning that patients should stay away whilst the riots were ongoing.
The anti-curfew riots also prompted football ultras from the cities of Maastricht and Breda to come out and defend their cities against potential riots.
The Prime Minister Mark Rutte has condemned the violence calling it “unacceptable” and “criminal”, whilst the Mayor of Eindhoven said, “I am afraid that if we continue down this path, we’re on our way to civil war.”
The new measures are unprecedented, with curfews being absent in the Netherlands since the Second World War. It comes after restrictions were tightened in December, when schools and non-essential shops were closed, after a rise in the Covid infection rates.
Although cases in the Netherlands have declined since the December measures, worries about the spread of the UK variant of Covid, with it’s 30-70% increase in infectivity, prompted the introduction of the curfew. This prompted the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to say that the situation in the Netherlands is still serious. A vote for the introduction of the curfew had been approved by parliament, but only by a narrow margin.
The violence has come at a time of political turmoil in the Netherlands. Last month the government resigned en mass after a child benefits scandal. The scandal saw thousands of families unduly paying back benefits on claims of fraud, which were actually paperwork mistakes. This saw some families go into debt, having to pay tens of thousands of Euros back to the government.
Moreover, political parties in the Netherlands are gearing up for an election on 17 March, and both the curfew backlash and benefit scandal have been used by parties to gain the upper hand in the election.
Most political parties have condemned the violence, including the Pvda, ChristenUnie, and VVD. However, other political parties have been late to condemn the violence. This includes the FvD which insinuated opposition to the government, stating on Sunday that “This is the second night that Rutte has locked up the Netherlands. More and more people are turning against the curfew. Only together can we regain our freedom.” However, they later stated “FvD naturally condemns the violence used in the protests.”
Political scuffles also broke out online due to the incident. Jesse klaver, Leader of GroenLinks, and Geert Wilders, the leader of the PVV, clashed on twitter, with the former blaming the PVV of stoking the riots, and blaming them for inciting the incident at Urk which saw the burning of a Covid centre. This was after a local PVV group in Urk issued a statement against the curfew saying it will “do everything it can to ensure that it is not enforced in Urk.”
Other politicians such as Leonie Vestering who is part of the Party for the Animals, criticised the police for its use of horses during the riots.
Although there has been criticism of the curfew, with riots being the most prominent manifestation of that, the government has stuck to the policy and continued to implement the curfew.
Picture Credit: GAIMARD