Dutch Language Blog

Lockdown in Brussels and Security in the Netherlands Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Dutch Vocabulary, News

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
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About the Author: Jakob Gibbons

I write about language and travel on my blog . I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.