Turn Harmful Into Useful – Success Stories: The Netherlands

Turn Harmful Into Useful – Success Stories: The Netherlands

The Netherlands is located on the seaside, below sea level (hence the name), that is why they are prone to the rising levels of the sea. Therefore, swimming is very important to them. Because they have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario when the sea floods the country. This country has proven to be successful in fulfilling many SDGs, especially in innovation and remaining sustainable at all costs. Why is it so? They are a small country, even though they have an abundance of history. They started to develop quickly when discoveries began around the globe. We know Spanish and Portuguese sailors had started to navigate the seas. Before the 16th century, these areas were under the control of multiple countries. They were called Low Countries and were under French (later on, Habsburg), Spanish and the Holy Roman Empire control. They were unified by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Spain, under the name Seventeen Provinces. In 1568, a ferocious Eighty Year War began between the Provinces and the Spanish king. These provinces were mostly Protestant, while Spaniards were Catholic. The Duke of Alba struggled a lot to suppress the Protestants and he killed many of them with extreme ruthlessness. He managed to capture Haarlem, but after a long battle with them, which cut Holland in half. The Duke promised that if they surrender, the city could remain on the earth. In 1576, Spanish soldiers attacked Antwerp and executed a ruthless massacre there, and the city was torched. After that, delegates of Brabant, Holland and Zeeland agreed to join Utrecht and William the Silent. The Dutch sought help from the English Queen at that time, but she committed to the Spanish fleet. In 1578, a Battle of Gembloux killed many rebels and therefore, the southern states seceded the Seventeen Provinces and formed the Union of Arras and expressed loyalty to the Spanish throne. Opposing them, the north formed the Union of Utrecht in 1579, they swore to defend against the Spanish army. The Spanish troops captured Maastricht and it forced the north to rebel further. In 1581, the North deposed the Spanish monarch with the Act of Abjuration and since then, Elisabeth I stood at the side of the Protestants. Following their independence, the northern provinces formed a confederation. Their capital was The Hague. These provinces were autonomous and their generals were sent to the capital for the assembly. Yes, it was a parliamentary democracy. In the Dutch Golden Age, spanning much over the 17th century, this country became a seafaring powerhouse. Besides that, they invested heavily in trading and arts. We all know the baroque painters of the Netherlands, like Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer van Delft. At this time, they started to colonize some parts of the world and opened trading posts. They had no purpose to subjugate their colonies, they were for trading purposes. Their most significant colonies were Suriname (Guyana had proven to be very fertile), Cape Colony and Dutch East Indies (which is now called Indonesia). Let us not forget that New York was founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam. As I have mentioned earlier, they had a post in Dejima, in Japan to maintain trade. Their ambitions paid off: they had one of the largest empires in the world. They imported a variety of new products to Europe: tulips, silk and textiles. The latter two were from India. Amsterdam was the richest port in the world and the first stock exchange was placed into operation. Therefore it is said that Holland was the first capitalist country in the world. Unfortunately, the glory only lasted till 1688, when the price of tulips significantly dropped. They were at war with the French and the German bishoprics, which exhausted their treasury. However, they could maintain their position on the sea, and they could build defence lines on the water by constructing artificial islands and trapping attacking ships. These water lines were a challenge for engineers: they had to know what was the ideal depth so that only a man could swim through them, but boats could not pass through them. Swimming in the 18th century was a privilege. Yes, the Dutch have a long tradition of swimming. It is not by accident why they are excellent in water sports. Just think of Femke Heemskerk, Inge Dekker and Pieter van den Hoogenband. Needless to say, they are excellent in water polo, especially women. Why is it so? Because originally players used to be swimmers. In water polo, you cannot be a good player if you cannot move in the water well enough. In the Netherlands, all children must get a certificate before going to a primary school that they can swim in difficult conditions.

Let’s turn back to their discoveries and their colonies. As I said earlier, they were establishing colonies to enhance trade. They played a prominent role in innovation as well, since they introduced drinking beer at their colonies and eating chocolate around the world. The Dutch taught the inhabitants of Bali to drink beer. They started to export beer roughly at this time and they become one of the largest beer-exporters in the world. Everyone knows Heineken. They own many brands around the world. Going on with discoveries, let me mention Abel Tasman, who was employed by the Dutch East-India Company and he was relocated to Batavia (now Jakarta). In 1642, he reached the southern coast of Australia, and the western coast of Van Diemen’s Land after Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. In 1856, it was renamed Tasmania, in honour of the first European discoverer. Originally, Abel intended to sail northwards, but the currents were unfavourable, so he steered east. One month after reaching Tasmania, he arrived at the South Island of New Zealand. It was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland, three years after Tasman arrived there. The Netherlands was responsible for discovering the southern parts of the Pacific. Besides that, to enhance trade they invested a lot in development and built the main roads of the Dutch East Indies. Their most significant infrastructural development was the Great Post Road, or De Groote Postweg to enhance transportation and the postal service. Besides that, they built many European-style buildings, most of which preserved their original purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Netherlands is a success story in quality education, but their success does not end with the ship traps they installed to defend themselves. At a Dutch school, students are not stressed. Some schools cooperate with the children, listening to what they really want at school. For example, what children want in the playground. They go there, so they decide what they want to use. They introduced various new methods to teaching, for example, teachers are required to act as students at times to enhance compliance. In Hungary, people would be really confused—how does it happen that a child is not disrespectful to the teachers? For sure, if such things take place, teachers have the right to bring children back to reality. Their success does not end here in quality education. They built their industry near their ports (like Rotterdam) to save time and costs of transportation because they lack in raw materials. Furthermore, their education is open to the world. The country is open to the world. There are no fences in front of the houses, no dark curtains are draping their windows. Because they have to be so if they want to become a trading superpower. Besides that, they are a success story of Gender Equality. In the 20th century, all of their rulers were females (Queen Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix). Because a woman will require you to comply, whether you like it or not. While they were on the throne, the Kingdom of the Netherlands loosened colonial policies and opened the gates for the locals as well.

How did they manage to sustain themselves, even though they are below sea-level? They are prone to the effects of climate change and global warming. The Netherlands has an abundance of plains, so the terrain is perfect for cycling. They built safe cycle paths and they have the right of way if they cross the road. You can exceed the speed limit, but there is no use to do that. Many people go to work by bike. Therefore in the countryside, they can reach zero emissions. Therefore the air is clean. They can produce clean and renewable energy by using windmills and wind power. Therefore, recycling is also an important thing to learn from the Netherlands. Turn harmful into useful by reusing them for the community. Just recently, they opened a cycle path made of the plastic collected from the countryside. We all know how dangerous plastic waste is and why it enhances flood risk. They say that it can be three times as durable as the asphalt. Besides that, it is easy to transport and install, and it is very easy to fit in sensors and pipes. The Netherlands has quite a wet climate, and this road is designed to drain off rainwater. Further developments include installing the same in Giethoorn and in the cycling capital, Rotterdam. They turned harmful into useful.

Furthermore, they know that a potential source of plastic waste is the supermarkets. They opened a plastic-free aisle in Amsterdam, in an Ekoplaza, which is a supermarket chain. They opened more than 70 similar aisles in the same year in their branches. What does it mean? We can live without plastic if we really want to. Moreover, these aisles are a testbed for compostable bio-materials (glass, metal, cardboard). This idea had proven to be popular and now Great Britain is thinking about introducing one. What does it mean? If you are so prone to climate change and the rising sea levels, turn them on your side and stop flooding by eliminating the root causes of them.

The Netherlands is a success story itself, including building peace and partnerships as well. They are founding members of the EU (1957) and most importantly, AIESEC. Yes, the organization used to be headquartered in Rotterdam. The one which I am a proud alumnus of, and a proud member of for three years. Without the Netherlands, there would not be peace in Europe and the European Union would not function at all.

– Gergely Lázár

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.

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