Thursday, April 25, 2013

Speak English in Holland

If there is a country which can boast of having the most avant-garde social legislation in the world, it is Holland. Even though there are bouts of racism, homophobia or hooliganism, it is common knowledge that The Netherlands are at the cutting edge as a welfare state: multiracial integration, same-sex marriages, the right to euthanasia, a multilingual education system, an extended bike culture, regulation of stimulant consumption, etc. On top of that, the absence of nationalistic tensions within Dutch society has made it one of the places where the European spirit is better felt. To put it bluntly, this scenario is a far cry from that found in countries where Latin machismo has devastating consequences.
The Dutch are a hospitable people by nature and they seem to have managed to blend Northern European efficiency with Mediterranean joie de vivre and friendliness. After travelling in Holland, I have realised that cities like Amsterdam are a paradise for every student of English for two very simple reasons: a) most nationals speak fluent English (and they are rightly proud of this), thereby giving foreign visitors an excellent chance to practise it; and b) the euro has made travelling and living in Holland much easier because we now use the same currency.
As I said, I don’t mean to offer a rose-tinted picture of this little big country. However, we Europeans might do well to learn one or two things from our Dutch partners. Let’s turn the EU a bit more orange, shall we?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Amsterdam's Homomonument

There are those that evoke heroic battles; others, capable of immortalising illustrious figures; many dedicated to saints and even one in honour of Lucifer. They exist in stone, in gold, in glass. Over a lake, levitating mid-air or prostrate in a garden. Some of them are mysterious and no one knows who placed them there or why. They are monuments, pauses in the passing of time that serve as a reminder of something.
In Amsterdam, there is one that's both unique and brimming with meaning: the Homomonument. It was the first in the world dedicated to the memory of homosexuals persecuted throughout history. People who were identified, marginalised and often even killed for such an inconsequential, deeply personal question such as one's sexual orientation. Homosexuals were persecuted and oppressed under the Nazi regime. Gay men who were arrested and deported to concentration camps were issued a branding mark in the form of a pink triangle.
The idea of a permanent memorial arose as a reaction to the repression suffered in the 70s by gay activists banned from placing a wreath at the National War Museum in Damm Square, Amsterdam. The monument is in the beautiful Jordaan district, on the bank of the Kaizersgracht canal, very close to the historic Westerkerk church. It was designed by the artist Karin Daan in 1987 and is made of three pink granite triangles set in the ground which, in turn, form the points of a larger triangle. Pink triangles symbolise the struggle for equality and recognition among the gay and lesbian community, as homosexuals were forced to wear them sewn on their jackets in Nazi concentration camps.
It is no coincidence that this silent cry for respect and freedom of expression is to be found in Amsterdam, a city which decriminalised homosexuality in 1811 and in the year 2001 became the first place in the world to legalise gay marriage.
The Homomonument makes a strong statement that history must not be repeated, never again! This monument earnestly calls for vigilance. The Homomonument does not, however, only commemorate the victims of the Second World War; it commemorates all homosexual men and women who have been, or are still being, persecuted and murdered by government regimes who denounce their very existence, and honours the brave gay men and women who have struggled for freedom and the human rights of people who have a different sexual orientation.
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Greetings from AMS!