Lockdown in Brussels and Security in the Netherlands

Posted on 24. Nov, 2015 by in Dutch Vocabulary, News, Politics

After last week’s attacks in Beirut and Paris, Brussels is on lockdown. Brussels is the capital of Belgium, the European Union, and NATO, and is only a two hour train ride from Rotterdam, bringing this international conflict close to home in het nederlandse taalgebied in the Netherlands and Flanders.

Many of the Dutch words used to describe security situations and terror prevention are samenstellingen, or large, agglutinative words made up of several smaller words. See if you can break up some of the samenstellingen in this article into parts to better understand their meanings.

Brussels dreigingsniveau

“Grand place Brussels” by Vase Petrovski – originally posted to Flickr as grand place Brussels. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, Brussels officially declared its highest dreigingsniveau or security alert throughout the city. Reports from the Belgian inlichtingendienst, cooperating with similar intelligence services like the CIA and M16, suggested that there was an impending attack on the city. This has provoked the Belgian government to take the maximum veiligheidsmaatregelen, such as shutting down public transit and closing schools, to prevent an attack like the ones that occurred to its south the week before.

While no official noodtoestand has been declared in Belgium (unlike in France, where a nation-wide state of emergency has been declared and extended), authorities in Brussels are taking measures to prevent a terreuraanslag from occurring in their city. This week many huiszoekingen have been carried out in and around the capital city, searching citizens’ houses in areas including the Molenbeek neighborhood that has a history of producing violent jihadists.

This video from a Belgian news source describes the results of some of the recent huiszoekingen. Learners of a Hollands dialect of Dutch may have a little difficulty understanding the Vlaams dialect used in Belgium, in which case you can turn on the subtitles.

In the Netherlands, authorities remain on alert for potential threats. The current terror threat level is set to substantieel, where it has remained since the increase in jihadgangers in March 2013.

The Dutch government qualifies its dreigingsniveaus in four levels:

  1. Minimaal: minimal or no national or international terrorist threat
  2. Beperkt: limited threat; the Netherlands is either hardly mentioned or not mentioned at all in threats from serious terror organizations
  3. Substantieel: substantial realistic threat; attacks are taking place in lands comparable to the Netherlands, and the Netherlands is regularly named in threats from terror networks
  4. Kritiek: critical threat, the highest level of alarm; strong signs that a direct attack inside the Netherlands will take place

For the government to raise the alert to the fourth and highest level, there must be solid evidence of an “op handen zijnde aanslag“, or an attack clearly being prepared or carried out.

Whereas Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union and NATO, the Netherlands is perhaps a less opportune target for ISIS attacks. However, the Netherlands is the third most active participant in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, and is frequently the object of negative press for its problems with islamophobia.

As learners of Dutch or any other language, we’re all investing in another culture and striving to be better world citizens in some way, and it affects us when the homes of the languages and cultures we’re devoting so much of ourselves to learning about is faced with such a tragedy. So far we can all be glad the home of the language and culture we love so much — both the Netherlands and Belgium — is safe and sound.

To stay up to date on what’s going on in the Netherlands and Belgium, you can read any of the news sources linked to in this article, including the NOS or de Volkskrant in the Netherlands, or HLN or Brusselnieuws for a Belgian perspective.

Some helpful Dutch samenstellingen for discussing security situations:

  • samenstelling: a compound word, made up of multiple other words. The term itself is a samenstelling of samen (‘together’) and stelling (in this case ‘placement’).
  • taalgebied: language area; het nederlandse taalgebied is the area where Dutch is predominantly spoken
  • dreigingsniveau: threat level, or in more idiomatic English, ‘security alert’
  • inlichtingendienst: intelligence service
  • veiligheidsmaatregelen: measures taken to promote or ensure safety
  • noodtoestand: state of emergency
  • terreuraanslag: terror attack
  • huiszoeking: the searching of a private house
  • jihadgangers: generally Western youths who leave their home countries to join ISIS or similar groups

“Een nieuw jasje” for speed skating!

Posted on 16. Nov, 2015 by in Culture, News, sports

Thialf blijft Thialf. Voor de rest wordt alles nieuw. With this slogan, the re-make of the most famous schaatsbaan (speed skating rink) of the Netherlands has begun. Before we go more into this slogan more deeply, you probably want to know what Thialf is!

The old Thialf

Thialf is an speed skating rink in Heerenveen in Friesland. It was opened by princess Christina (the youngest daughter of prins Bernhard and Queen Juliana) on October 14, 1967. Around 10,000 spectators can find place around the ice rink. There are a 400m and a 333m ice rinks, and three smaller ones for ice field sports, like ice hockey and curling.

Essent World Championship at Thialf (Image by Paul Perreijn at Flickr.com under license CC BY 2.0)

Is it fast?

You bet! It was long considered the fastest rink in the world. However, as technology advanced, and the sport became more sophisticated, air resistance got a role. Thus today, it is the third fastest rink in the world, after the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City, USA and number 1, the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada. The latter two are built at a higher altitude, which is an advantage in speed skating since air resistance is lower. However, since Thialf is built at only 0.4 m (1.5 ft) above sea level,Experts keep up a list also for speed skating records set at or around sea level altitudes. In that list, Thialf (denoted as Heerenveen) is doing very good, with our own Michel Mulder and Sven Kramer holding records on 500m and 5000m. Goed gedaan, jongens!

We are also a language blog – is “Thialf” a Dutch word?

The simple answer is no. Thialf is derived from the name of the speedy helper of the Germanic God of Thunder, Thor. So, the origin is in Nordic mythology. Actually, already in 1892 there was an ice rink in Heerenveen, though without a roof, that was called Thialf!


New Thialf – Thialf blijft Thialf. Voor de rest wordt alles nieuw.

First, there were thoughts to build an entirely new Thialf. This has, however, been changed into a vernieuwbouw (“renovuilding” – I made that neologism myself from “renovation” and “building”, as that is essentially what vernieuwbouw means [from vernieuwen and bouwen]).

A new “ice skating Mekka” of the Netherlands (Image by Sk@te at commons.wikipedia.org under license CC BY 3.0)

What will change?

The ice rink will be completely renewed, and is promised to be better than it ever was. So maybe it will become #1 in the world again? Who knows?

Furthermore, there will be new facilities for food and fitness and even a laboratory. All these spaces will be smartly cooled and heated, for optimal energy use.

The paneling of the building has already been completely renewed.

Phase 1 is ready now – you can see the result here. Quite beautiful, isn’t it? The work will be interrupted now, so in the winter skating season Thialf can be open. Because Friesland cannot go without skating! And the first skaters could already test the ice! In March 2016, the workers will return!

I cannot wait to see it myself!

Have you ever been to Thialf?

Do you like ice skating yourself?

Let me know in the comments below!

Tragedy in Paris

Posted on 15. Nov, 2015 by in News

Friday became to be one of the saddest and most tragic in modern history. As I arrived in Mexico City after a long flight to visit family, I was greeted with terrible news: Paris was under attack.

When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke. How could Paris, such a beautiful and important city, be under attack from anyone? After seeing videos, photos and reading on different news websites from different countries, I couldn’t quite grasp it all.

Like I am sure all our readers know by now, there were 7 coordinated attacks to restaurants, theaters, the football stadium and at least 129 are said to be dead because of these attacks. The casualties were the average Parisian residents enjoying a Friday evening eating out or at some entertainment. France’s response to the attacks was to ask everyone to stay inside their homes, close the metro and other public transportation, close museums and other tourist attractions, close the borders and begin a very thorough investigation.

The attacks in Paris are very close in heart and distance to the Netherlands. Paris is only a 4-hour drive away from the Dutch border. The Dutch people were moved and hurt by the attacks on Paris. Here are a few highlights of what is being said in Dutch news:

  • Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, gave a press conference about the safety measures the Netherlands will follow. He asked the Dutch people to continue the Dutch way of life and to remain strong and united. He also stated the following after the attacks in Paris:

Nederland staat pal naast Frankrijk in nog grotere verbondenheid. Het gaat om onze manier van leven. Het gewone leven moet doorgaan.’ De ‘idiote barbaren’, ‘de griezels’ die de aanslagen hebben gepleegd, verklaarde de premier, hebben louter tot doel ‘onze westerse samenleving te destabiliseren en haat en angst te zaaien…Daarmee zijn we in oorlog. We zijn niet in oorlog met een geloof of de islam. YouTube Preview Image

  • Rotterdam’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has stated that IS is doing an ethnic cleansing of other religions and cultures much like the Nazi’s did during the Holocaust. Mayor Aboutaleb, who migrated to the Netherlands from Morocco when he was young, has spoken against radical Islam time and time again.
  • Our neighbor to the South, Belgium, has been working together with French police to identify the people responsible for the attacks in Paris. A woman in Paris who lived near one of the restaurants was able to see that the car the gunmen used to escape had Belgium license plates. A couple of arrests have already been made in Brussels.
  • A flight from Schipol to Paris was grounded after messages in social media stated that the next attack would be in the Air France flight that connects both cities. The message also contained information about a flight from Brussels. These threats have not been confirmed by the authorities and could very well have been a hoax. What is true is that several security measures have been taken at airports and train stations around the country.
  • Sinterklaas’s arrival to the Netherlands on Saturday went ahead as planned, however, security was increased to make sure that the celebration was a fun and safe one for everyone. There were no incidents reported during the day long festivities in the Netherlands.

There are many questions that remain unanswered about the attacks in Paris. We must wait for an investigation and trust that our authorities are doing their best to bring the perpetrators to justice as well as to keep us safe. It is important to remain calm and united, and like Prime Minister Rutte said, we must continue our lives.

Photograph by beatriceurruspil found in Flickr.com