Saturday, 2 January 2021

2021: between hope and fear

The year 2021 is upon us. Will it bring us a fresh start? I experienced the disaster year of 2020 with mixed feelings. Personally I have little to complain about unlike many others, but I am seriously worried about the angle society is taking.

When I looked out the rain-spattered window recently, during the dark days of December leading to Christmas, the desolation, the one-sided onslaught of the press and the lack of a prospect made me think of Communist East Germany, the GDR that used to be, where only one opinion was allowed and all fun had been drummed out of life. December 2020 in my home town of Leiden was as drab and grey as East German Leipzig in February 1979. I remember Leipzig well.
The corona virus turned life upside down – but so have the authorities. I know of the unsung heroes in the nursing homes, who work themselves to pieces or even catch the virus themselves. They were recently subjected to a shameless insult by our Cabinet’s chief medical adviser claiming they didn’t have the expertise to prevent infecting their patients! I remember the aged and infirm who died in solitude without being allowed to hold hands with their children. I do understand the risks, but the human dimension is completely lost.

But equally I think of all the damage inflicted worldwide by hard lockdowns, the effect of which isn’t clear except of possibly slowing the infection rate. We will eradicate corona no more than we eradicated influenza. In that light it is astonishing how many authorities have long disregarded newly emerging scientific evidence, such as ventilation protocols, holding on to absurd measures that may in the end prove as damaging to society as the virus itself.

It has become a governance crisis rather than a medical one - almost a year has passed and no lessons have been learned. All hope is being put on hastily developed vaccines, the effectiveness of which is yet to be seen.

Could it have been done any different? We do not know, because for some reason honest questions aren’t answered. A famous Dutch author, Godfried Bomans, once said ‘you can interrupt doing something sensible any time you like, but absurdities need to be carried through to the end, because that is their only legitimation.’

Public opinion is under pressure from a sensation-greedy press and publicity-hungry virologists, all instilling fear. Mattias Desmet, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ghent University in Belgium, tells of a vicious circle in which fear enforces absurd countermeasures, which in turn serve to increase the level of fear. There is an almost Orwellian level of thought control, every honest question about the wavering corona policy being dismissed as virus denial or outright madness. Just try and discuss it with your friends - your friendship may face a challenge.

Democracy is almost absent, except perhaps for the praiseworthy efforts of a few Dutch MPs who managed to uncover a scandal involving merciless and unlawful fraud hunting by our Treasury, heaping misery on thousands of families. A Parliamentary inquiry publicly shamed leading politicians and officials, who then just carried on as they were - the capacity to listen of those in power is zero. Our coalition closes ranks as soon as critical questions arise. The opposition mutters, but remains toothless. MPs do not vote independently as they once had to, but always follow Party discipline.

I don’t look forward to the general elections in March - as if there is something to choose from, in view of the lack of dualism and an electorate numb with fear.

Will I write a book on the corona crisis? Absolutely not - enough is being written about the subject already. The drama is enacted before our eyes in real time and the last thing needed is a novelist writing fiction about it. I do have a very different book waiting for publication however (Two Fathoms Down) as soon as I am allowed to give lectures once more.

My hopes for 2021? That the so-called ‘new normal’ of our PM Mr Rutte will soon become the new absurd, and once things are safe, Government will be as eager to release us from our bonds as they were to lock us up. That we’ll be allowed to hug our parents and children once more and meet our friends without fear of official sanction.

I hope that dualism and unbiased journalism will return, enabling inconvenient truths to be revealed. But I have grave doubts about that in view of the Dutch history of unrelenting officialdom. If the world comes to an end, I’ll go to Holland, where everything happens fifty years later, the German author Heinrich Heine said a century and half ago.

Despite all doubts, I secretly hope for a turn for the better at some moment in future. So I wish you all a healthy, prosperous and especially a free and untroubled 2021.


Sunday, 4 October 2020

THE CARGO published in Dutch

HET TRANSPORT (The Cargo) is my latest novel, set on the Wadden Sea and elsewhere in the Netherlands, and in Kaliningrad (Russia). It is actually my first manuscript, which was put on hold last year in favour of my successful novel DE BATAVIER (The Batavian).

Het Transport is a very different book from De Batavier, a crime novel rather than an adventure story. The core theme is women trafficking by ship from Kaliningrad to the Wadden Sea. Sinister figures in Russia play a background role.

and then there were two!

Similar to what I noticed with De Batavier, I now regularly find pieces of news in the media that bear on the theme of my book. For example, on Saturday, October 2, a review appeared in the Dutch paper NRC of the book Putin's People, in which investigative journalist Catherine Belton tells about the dark dealings of Russian President Putin and his former KGB friends, who apparently have funneled large sums of money to Western bank accounts for years.

Het Transport tells of another a sinister plot involving former KGB operatives. I won't tell you too much about it (I’d rather see you read the book, which I'd love to publish in English!), but once more it appears that reality surpasses even my wildest fantasy. I will certainly order Putin's People.

To give you an idea, here is the English video trailer I made:

The core theme in Het Transport however, is the personal drama of ordinary people, who not just become entangled in a criminal network, but also become the victim of a heartless government that will not reach out to right a wrong. 

This is not a fabrication - official arbitrariness in combating human trafficking has been under fire from humanitarian organizations for years, as is also evidenced by the reports of a Dutch Governmental agency reporting on human trafficking. Politicians remain deaf and thus unwittingly contribute to maintaining a despicable earning model.

cover of the new book

The Dutch language version of HET TRANSPORT (ISBN 978 94 930 5941 2) can be ordered through bookshops or from Palmslag publishers.

An English translation of the manuscript is available for eventual publication in the English language domain.

Monday, 14 September 2020

THE CARGO to appear in Dutch on October 5th

Last week I wrote about the fire at Camp Moria and the shameful handling by Dutch and other European politicians of the Greek refugee camp crisis, the constant shadowy deals by governments to allow as few displaced people as possible a safe refuge in Europe, in spite of the UN refugee treaty concluded in 1951 (updated in 1967).

A few days have now passed and we now see the Greeks having set up a so-called "humanitarian" camp to receive the homeless people on Lesvos. They follow a military tactic, besieging and starving the homeless masses until they give in and voluntarily go to their new prison. Isn’t it remarkable that the people don't trust it, expecting to be locked for more interminable months and years? They have a bellyful of Greek asylum policy. A humanitarian camp - why couldn't that have been created sooner? Let’s ask the Greek authorities - I'd say to them: πρέπει να ντρέπεσαι για τη Μόρια - shame on you for Moria.

One of the driving forces behind the current refugee flow, regardless of the underlying causes (poverty and war), is human trafficking. We must not confuse this with the actions of humanitarian organizations rescuing refugees at sea, who as a result are being depicted by some European authorities as human traffickers. That’s just a political game. Those organizations have a humanitarian objective and, according to maritime law, are obliged to save lives, regardless of the question whether that fuels migration.

source: Sputnik

In my new book HET TRANSPORT (translates as The Cargo) I introduce a different face of human trafficking: dealing in women. Human trafficking is difficult to combat, but the means used by our Justice Department to collect evidence against human traffickers (a temporary residence arrangement for victims inducing them to testify) often presents the victims with an impossible choice. That dilemma runs like a red thread through the book.

My new book is not just a thriller. It also shows the harshness of governments mainly concerned with devising and implementing rules and procedures, thus disregarding the human dimension. As an author, when I researched the background to my story, I was shocked to see how often the approach to human trafficking is subject to official arbitrariness and political interference. Read the book and draw your own conclusions ...

As it is impossible at present to hold lectures and book presentations due to the limitations imposed by the corona crisis (my last presentation took place in March, before the lockdown), I made a promotional video, which, like a movie trailer, has the role of a digital presentation. I have used my own film footage of the Waddenzee and the IJsselmeer, where part of the story takes place.


HET TRANSPORT is available from booksellers, in Dutch, from October 5th. I have THE CARGO, an English translation, waiting for eventual publication in the English language domain.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Moria - a shameful dance

(Edit: new photos by MSF added) 

I actually planned to write the final announcement of my second book (Het Transport) today, but that can wait another week. I am furious, and it seems I am not the only one, having read the reactions of refugee support organisations and the papers this morning.

Some of you who read the English version may remember what I wrote in The Batavian, about a Greek refugee camp being set on fire. Well, the inevitable has happened: Camp Moria on Lesbos burned down. In a another way from what I described in my book, but still.

source: Médecins Sans Frontières

This is what happens when you put thousands of people in a filthy concentration camp and then subject them to a Covid-19 lockdown, making life even more difficult. The camp was torched - apparently a few people have thrown in the towel and set it on fire. Predictably, the Greek authorities' initial reaction is that the "culprits" will be punished.

Culprits? The real culprits are the indecisive, heartless rulers of the EU, who for five years failed to find a humane solution to a problem that will never go away. You can ignore it, you can put a fence around it, let yourself be blackmailed by a bunch of Eastern European autocrats who are holding the entire EU hostage. You can make a bad refugee deal with Erdogan, who has successfully turned it into a game of harassing the EU, but it won't go away.

source: Médecins Sans Frontières

Finally, Dutch politicians seemed to have seen the light. But only after a huge fire broke out in a refugee camp, resulting in thousands of people now sleeping out in the open. The last hurdle our right-wing Coalition had to overcome was the harsh stance of one coalition party, the VVD Liberals (Conservatives in UK parlance), who try with all their might to lock the gates on every refugee. Something had to be done, not out of charity, but in order not to endanger the right-wing coalition.

Let me be clear: I don't believe those people will be very happy here. They’d probably prefer a normal life in their own country instead of running away from war and poverty. But if more than a hundred Dutch town mayors back in April petitioned the Government, saying they want to do everything possible to accommodate young and vulnerable refugees, what is the problem? Yes, it will raise questions and no doubt it will cause adjustment problems. But we can handle that.

source: Médecins Sans Frontières

So what is the coalition doing now? They will allow one hundred of the thirteen thousand homeless people from Moria into the country. You have read correctly. ONE HUNDRED. I suppose that will solve the problem. 

Yet another shameful development in the refugee debate, and a compromise to be truly proud of. As always: too little, too late. "We take our responsibility," said Rob Jetten, one coalition party foreman. It’s what I call conscience money

By the way, these one hundred will be taken from the UNHCR ‘quotum’ of 500 fixed for next year. Refugee support groups are furious, but the creases in the coalition have been smoothed once more, and Parliament rests.