Netherlands: What is behind the violent anti-lockdown riots? | News on the coronavirus pandemic

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* Names marked with an asterisk have been changed to protect identities

Amsterdam, Netherlands – “Fireworks, dynamite, gasoline, bricks,” an invitation to the riot that broke out in Amsterdam on Molukkenstraat said Monday. “Get everything.”

The invitations were shared on social media, Snapchat posts, Instagram stories, Telegram and WhatsApp groups.

Monday was the third day of violence to rock the Netherlands, where hundreds of rioters in several cities clashed with police. In some of the ugliest scenes, a COVID testing center was attacked and knives were thrown at police officers.

Protesters are angry at the strict social distancing measures to curb the coronavirus, but authorities say the new rules – which include a nighttime curfew – are key to reducing infections and deaths.

Fiona Hoogveld, a charity worker who lives in an apartment on the third floor of the Molukkenstraat with her husband, heard about the riot from her neighbor, who warned her to stay safe.

“The invitations were alarming and so aggressive. I spent the afternoon nervous, ”she told Al Jazeera.

At around 7 p.m. local time, from their window, Hoogveld and her husband watched riot police prepare for the arrival of protesters.

Soon, around 150 police officers wearing reflective yellow jackets clashed with a mass of people wearing hoodies and black coats.

The rioters were mostly young and set off fireworks in the streets.

They tried to block the avenue, shouting “Jews, Jews!”, According to a report by Het Parool, an Amsterdam daily.

Police attempted to contain the rioters by throwing stones at neighboring windows and a police van.

A boulder hit a photographer, who quickly fled the scene in fear.

But the Molukkenstraat riot, compared to other protests, was not among the worst. Only nine were arrested.

At the same time, riots broke out in other cities like Eindhoven, Urk, Roermond, Apeldoorn.

The riots began in response to recent curfew measures adopted by the Dutch government, which began on January 23.

The nighttime curfew is the first in the country since World War II. The restriction prohibits residents from being outside from 9:00 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., with a few exceptions.

It was imposed after the so-called ‘British variant’ of COVID-19 arrived in the Netherlands which saw an increase in hospitalizations, as the National Institute for Health (RIVM) warned of a new wave of infections.

The Netherlands was already under severe lockdown measures, with bars and restaurants closed since October. Since December, schools and non-essential stores have been closed.

The decision to further restrict people came in the midst of a political crisis following the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte following a corruption scandal involving child tax benefits. His cabinet will continue to rule until the next elections on March 17, which have now taken on a new sense of importance following the violence.

‘They limit our freedom’

Luke *, who has deep mistrust of the government, has started to actively engage with the riot movement on social media.

Al Jazeera contacted him after finding an Instagram page he runs, on which he shared videos of the riots.

“The police target young people to line their pockets [with money],” he said.

Luke believes the latest lockdown measures are part of the ‘Big Reset’ – a conspiracy theory based on the assumption that political elites will use the pandemic to reorganize global societies and economies to their advantage, at the expense of ordinary people .

“They are closing restaurants, but cafes and supermarkets, where people stay so close to each other, remain open. It’s all part of their agenda, ”he told Al Jazeera. “They limit our freedom, so we have to fight.”

Hundreds of people arrested as frustration boils over

Nearly 500 people have been arrested across the country during three days of riots.

“I think it’s a combination of [frustration over the] curfews and their way of having fun, ”said Hoogveld, who saw rioters revel in the chaos, from his window.

She believes the young people were both expressing their anger at the lockdown, but also deriving emotional pleasure from it.

Bertjan Doosje, professor of radicalization at the University of Amsterdam, said the extended lockdown, combined with the curfew, was a direct trigger for the unrest.

“In general, everyone has three needs: the need to belong, the need for structure [in their lives, and in the world] and the need to control their lives. When this need for control is undermined, people can take steps to regain [a sense of] control, ”he told Al Jazeera.

Doosje added that it was not easy to determine whether the rioters had taken to the streets in groups in search of a sense of belonging.

“It appeared that on the first night a group of people gathered to directly protest the new curfew measure. But the following evenings, [the movement] attracted other people, such as thrill-seekers and thrill seekers.

“I guess it helps them think that most other people in their social environment agree that the curfew is too much and in their opinion affects young people in particular.

The situation led policeman Lieke Hester, from the Burgwallen district in Amsterdam, to write an open letter to the rioters.

“I actually grant you the harsh reality of a lockout, a lock-up. In a cell, ”she wrote on her blog.

Doosje also suggested ways to deal with the riots, for example by not treating all protesters as criminals.

“This can only lead to further escalation,” he said.

“People are frustrated. It is important to try to take their point of view and try to understand why they feel inclined to use violence, even if you do not agree with their actions, ”he said, but admitted that this approach was “easier said than done”.



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