Saturday, 4 June 2022

Good news about my books

Last week was a busy time for me as an author.  First of all, I heard that Drie Meter Zand (Two Fathoms Deep) received an excellent review in the Vrij Nederland Detective and Thriller guide, published by a national newspaper. The book actually received four out of five stars, an improvement over Het Transport, which got three. Regrettably the review is in Dutch, so you'll have to translate it. Google is your friend (sometimes...).

The reviewer rightly concludes that I have little praise for the Dutch police, but perhaps that should be broadened, because for many, government and officialdom aren't an ally anymore, but have become an enemy. Popular distrust has grown over the years due to a multitude of scandals. Probably it has become more visible as a result of social media, magnifying every embarrassment to impossible proportions. There is little you can do right in present-day government. It is high time to restore trust, but up to now I do not see much improvement.

Anyway, Drie Meter Zand came out well and I hope my readership feels emboldened to purchase and read the book (note that the English translation is about to be published - see below!). For those who want a foretaste, check out my website or watch the video trailer: 


I have now presented the book for the first time at the 52-year anniversary of a sailing club of which I have been a member for about 40 years. I have sailed a certain type of lightweight plywood boat for years, even at sea and as far as England. They held a race in which my current boat was appointed start/finish boat, which saw yours truly armed with a large air horn!

my old 23 foot marine ply boat

my current boat serving as a finish ship

yours truly (in sunglasses) watching the finish line

the race in progress

the presentation - I'm holding a copy of The Cargo

The presentation was a great success, all the more because I have a good advocate in the club who reads and reviews my books for their newsletter. For years our boats were side by side as we worked on them in winter storage, and I still help him with some odd jobs.

My next book presentation is scheduled for June 25 in the harbour shop of the marina in Andijk, where our boat is berthed.

Finally, as I mentioned above, there is news about the English translation (TWO FATHOMS DEEP), which is about to be published as a paperback on Amazon, where the digital version has been available for some time. I received the proof print today, and apart from a few minor details, it looks good. Some small improvements and I can finally publish it! I will report as soon as that is the case.

the proof print (marked Not For Resale) to the left of the Dutch original

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Peace in our time

A month ago, the Russian destruction machine started up in Ukraine. Putin hopes to go down in history as Tsar Vladimir the Great, but I think he will be remembered as Volodya the Terrible. Outside Russia, that is, because the words "invasion" or "war" are banned in Putin's new Greater Russian Empire, where a repression has begun that has not been seen since the years under Stalin or Brezhnev. Last month I wrote 'poor Ukraine', but it could just as well have been 'poor Russia': the people feel the pain of the repression and the sanctions, not the dictator in the Kremlin.


There is another parallel with the 1930s. The West did
frantic business with Putin in his role as an oil salesman and turned a blind eye to Grozny, Aleppo and Georgia. Pleasing this despicable man for his cheap oil and natural gas reminds me of the period when Europe turned a blind eye to the horrors of Nazism and did its best to appease Adolf Hitler. Neville Chamberlain, who stood elated in the doorway of his plane in 1938, waving a signed treaty authorizing the German invasion of the Sudetenland. Peace in our time: we know where that led to.

Peace in our time

The refugee flow from Ukraine is comparable to the Syrian diaspora created by Putin's friend Assad.  A Syrian refugee I spoke to years ago told me that at the time, in Aleppo the Russians were in charge.  Aleppo, which
was razed to the ground by Russian air raids. If you will not listen and surrender to my aggression, we will destroy you.  Women, children, hospitals, schools, residential areas. Mariupol is Aleppo version 2.0. Remember Putin's remark about a fly in your mouth which you spit out. That is how he sees the women and children of Ukraine. 

Edit 3 April: details have just come to light of the horrors of Bucha. Civilians arbitrarily shot in the streets by Russian soldiers - when will this senseless killing stop? What happens here is similar to the Nazi atrocities of Oradour-sur-Glane, Putten, Khatyn or Babi Yar. Who will bring these butchers to justice? 



Refugees, the EU and the Netherlands

A remarkable difference between refugees from the Middle East and Ukrainian refugees is that men, women and children from Syria and Afghanistan are not welcome within the EU.  Preferably they are held in detention camps in Greece or stopped by Polish border guards at the Belarus border, where they had to camp out for months in the winter cold. Ukrainians may enter unmolested, even without documents. Why not the Syrians? Our constitution says that all people in similar circumstances are equal - apparently only if they come from Europe. In the Netherlands, Syrians and Afghans have to go through a lengthy and humiliating asylum process, as a result of which many will be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives.

Camp Moria, Greece

It seems that equality of refugees in the Netherlands is mainly
found in the degrading conditions in reception camps such as Ter Apel, where the Council is now threatening to close the place, because it is overcrowded, and at the same time they - believe it or not - won’t allow extra barracks on the site. There is now talk of dusting off an emergency law forcing municipalities to take in people and requisitioning any vacant real estate (good for you, real estate speculators!) so that refugees are offered decent housing.  But it always takes an agonizing amount of time in this country.Government always hides behind due diligence on politically difficult issues - the same diligence that is unimportant when it suits the political leadership. 

A new book coming soon

Due to the terrible state the world is in, I almost forgot mentioning that my new book Drie Meter Zand (Two Fathoms Deep) will be published soon. I lately invested a great deal of work in this together with the publisher. I will write more about that soon, but not in this same post. It might spoil your and my appetite.

Saturday, 26 February 2022



Writing is fun, but the world about which I write is becoming less fun by the day. 

Nekulturny, the title of this post, is the Russian word for antisocial, ‘uncultured’ behaviour. The word is appropriate for those in power in the Kremlin itself, who have placed their country outside the international order. Vladimir Putin has unchained war in Europe, possibly because finding an external enemy is the best answer to the internal unrest that has gripped Russia for years: the unrelenting protests against Putin by dissidents in the country, a courageous minority who aren’t fooled by the lies of a crook.

Vladimir Putin

Whatever we say of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, he is an admirable chess player, who prepared the invasion of his Slavic brother state step by step: propaganda, the gas pipeline war and hacker attacks, disinformation, a so-called military exercise, sending a so-called peacekeeping force, followed by an invasion with a force of over a hundred thousand men. Ukraine isn’t the first former Soviet republic this man invades with the object of adding it to his dream of Greater Russia. Others such as Georgia went before.

In essence, Putin follows in the footsteps of past dictators such as Napoleon, Stalin, Mao and Hitler. Putin can be added to the ranks of those whose names will be remembered in world history as a diabolic hissing in the dark. The greatest fear of any dictator is that of being overthrown. History learns that they all come to a sticky end - either they are murdered, or they have to run for their lives to avoid being strung up by their countrymen. They die in solitude, despised by all, and if they are brought to justice they invariably plead being ‘too feeble’ to attend court. Perhaps that is their last lie.

By now I have read a sizeable portion of Catherine Belton’s book Putin’s People, telling how Russia became a rogue state. An interesting book, if the endless series of dirty tricks, murder and manipulation by this man and his cronies doesn’t make you sick to your stomach during reading. Belton worked as a journalist in Moscow for several years and she did her homework.

Molotov and Von Ribbentrop, 1939


The attack on Ukraine makes me think of the attack by Nazi Germany on Poland in 1939. We should remember that the Germans were so smart to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Russians beforehand: the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which ensured the Russians wouldn’t interfere. Actually, the Soviets attacked the Poles from behind to speed their defeat. A year and a half on, the Soviets were invaded themselves and only threw the Germans out at the cost of millions of casualties, with the help of their great ally, General Winter, and of course, Allied logistics.

Europe and NATO now stand off and let Ukraine take the Russian onslaught. The risk of escalation is great if NATO should interfere, but it should be mentioned that both the EU and NATO have cornered Russia by pushing on their sphere of influence towards Russia for decades. Over 20 years ago this was warned against by Dutch politicians such as Frits Bolkestein and former NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Not my best friends, but they were right in this respect.

The short-term effect of economic sanctions is limited and may mainly hit the Russian people themselves, but not the Kremlin, which is said to have a well-filled treasury. It is a tough measure, but perhaps it will add to discontent in Russia. The tardiness of Western powers to impose sanctions also has a dark side: there is too much Western money tied up in Russia, and sanctions will backfire to Western economies. And finally, there is the gas pipeline matter, threatening to cut off the Russian gas. 

Putin has too many friends elsewhere in the world to make sanctions work properly. China is the most powerful of them, and ominously, Putin and Xi signed a non-aggression pact a few weeks ago. A present-day Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?

Poor Ukraine: the country has grown away from its Soviet legacy for decades, and the fierce  resistance of Ukrainian forces against the Russian invasion says enough. As I write this, the battle for Kyiv and Kharkiv is raging, and soldiers and civilians die in the streets. Ukraine is a large as France, and it is doubtful whether the Russians have the logistic resources to keep it occupied if they manage to defeat the Ukrainian army. Some incidents stand out, such as the reply of thirteen men on Snake Island to the commander of the Russian warship who demanded their surrender: ‘go f*ck yourself!’ Or the reaction of President Zelensky, who replied to the American offer of evacuation that he 'needed ammunition, not a ride to safety'. I hope Ukraine can keep up and give the Russian army a bloody nose. But at the cost of what? By now there are signs that Putin attacks civilian targets using cluster munition. There was one video of Kharkiv showing multiple small explosions spread across a building in the centre of the city. See this news page.

EDIT 3 March: Here is more proof of war crimes committed by the Russian forces: an attack on a residential area and a hospital with what looks like cluster ammunition in Chernihiv.

If Ukraine succumbs, the crisis may move to the Baltic and especially the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This city and its ex-KGB thugs play a part in one of my books: The Cargo. Once this was called Königsberg, and part of East Prussia, which during the Russian counter-attack on the Germans in 1944-1945 was ethnically cleansed end completely ‘russified’. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad became isolated, so the Russian wish of creating a corridor to the enclave is evident. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), all NATO members, are in the way, but naturally on the Kremlin’s wish list.

Russia and Kaliningrad enclave marked red

NATO is already anticipating the move, and has involved Finland and Sweden. Putin has warned that NATO involvement will result in something the world has never experienced before. The implicit nuclear threat rhetoric isn’t new - in the past the world has escaped only by a narrow margin, for instance, during the Cuba crisis. However, for years speculation has been made about the feasibility of the use of tactical nukes - a limited nuclear war, in other words. The decades-long reduction in conventional armament now puts NATO in a fix: the nuclear threshold is lowered. Up to now no one has dared use this ultimate weapon, as the risk of retaliation in kind is too great.

The world has been rudely shaken out of a complacent dream. As to the future? I can only echo the words in the 1985 song by Sting: I hope the Russians love their children too.

Friday, 21 January 2022

The Dutch slave trade

For a while I haven't posted much, having to attend to other priorities. One notable piece of news is that I recently submitted the Dutch text of my book Two Fathoms Deep to my publisher. It will be published this summer. The English version is available from Kindle Direct Publishing, in digital format. The paperback version which is ready in concept, needs to be revised before I do a trial publication. Meanwhile, I have been working on a fourth book, which will have the slave trade as its subject. 

the former Dutch slave fort at Elmina, Ghana

The slave trade, a painful truth

The Dutch slave trade is still poorly understood and officially hardly acknowledged. In my local Leidsch Dagblad newspaper, recently someone responded to an article published in that same newspaper on January 13, which called for research into the role of the town of Leiden in the 17th and 18th Century slave trade, and for a slavery monument to be established.

The scope of that reaction was surprising, because the author first stresses the centuries of enslavement of many thousands of (white) Europeans in North Africa, which draws far less attention than black slavery. In itself a valid point, but I fail to see what that has to do with the Dutch slave trade. Especially when the author argues that ‘our ancestors actually abolished slavery and you should obviously be a white person to find anything wrong with slavery.’ He says that Western colonialism actually helped abolish slavery.

The letter in my newspaper that started this post

Not a word on the endless delays in abolishing slavery in the former Dutch colony of Suriname by the State of the Netherlands in the 19th century, where for 10 years after the official abolition in 1863, former slaves had to continue working for their previous owners under what was euphemistically called 'State Supervision’.

Next, the respondent criticizes historians and chairmen of various pressure groups as being (I quote) ‘modern, politically correct and “woke” people’. According to him, the only slaves who are generally remembered are black, because white slaves lack the ‘compassion factor’ of black slaves!

All right, perhaps you are as puzzled as I was! Today my reply was published in the same paper, and I decided to describe the issue here in a broader context, in the hope that it will be read, if only by a few more.

Yes, over the centuries many thousands of Westerners found themselves sold into slavery in North African regions - hijacked sailors and residents of coastal villages, men, women and children. That was bad enough, and indeed more attention should be paid to their memory. I suggest a monument in Tangier, Algiers and Tunis, where these people were trapped and exploited, so that out there awareness should grow of what has been done to them. Not that I have much hope for awareness, because in neighbouring Libya, a failed state, the trans-Saharan slave trade is still the order of the day. And let’s not speak of contemporary slavery in the Gulf region.

contemporary slave market in Libya

source: EW

The North African issue does not diminish the matter of the transatlantic slave trade started around 1630 by unscrupulous Dutch traders and plantation owners, who tried to whitewash their actions with Biblical scriptures. You only have to study historic sources to know. The slave trade by the way wasn’t a Dutch invention, but all European countries had a hand in that – I believe the Portuguese started it, and the others just took over. But that is beside the point.

crowded hold of a slave ship


The main difference between slavery under Arab rulers and our own ruthless human trafficking and enslaving is that a good number of our ancestors were involved directly or indirectly, even when they should have known better. They were no victims or casual bystanders, but perpetrators, who earned piles of money. Go and look at the slave forts in present-day Ghana. I've been there, the dungeons still stink of the unfortunates once kept there like trapped animals, awaiting a mode of transportation that was unworthy even of cattle.

slave dungeon in Elmina castle, Ghana

Regarding the relationship between colonialism and slavery the only conclusion can be that the two went hand in hand. Africa (which also applies to South East Asia) was for centuries considered a region only fit for pillage, where you could get raw materials, tropical products and human beings, in a market protected by military means. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the West India Company (WIC), as well as the equally infamous Society of Suriname, for this purpose had their own army and navy. During the late 1700s, the Scottish-Dutch officer John Gabriel Stedman was in the colony of Suriname to help suppress a slave rising. Apparently he was genuinely horrified by his experiences and wrote a book that later served the Abolitionist cause.

the horrible image of a punished slave in John Stedham's book of 1791

Following the dissolution of the VOC, the WIC and the Society of Suriname during the French occupation, the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815) continued condoning slavery in Suriname until, under international pressure, it was abolished in 1863. To compensate for the resulting shortage of labour on the plantations in Suriname, indentured labourers were brought in from British India, China, the Dutch East Indies (Chinese and Javanese) and the Middle East. The injustice involved in this has for long been ignored.

So it is not due to colonial rule that slavery was abolished, but rather in spite of it. After centuries of exploitation, Africa is still a largely undeveloped continent where the majority of the population has little security. Meanwhile, a new form of colonialism (by Western multinationals and Chinese interference) continues without respite. That neglect is one of the reasons for the mass migration from Africa to Europe and the resulting human trafficking.

The consequences are still rife in our contemporary culture and society. Don’t white people sometimes look differently at someone with a dark skin colour than at a white passer-by? Just because that person looks different, or perhaps because the centuries of undisputed superiority are ingrained in white genes?

The slave trade may not have been in our name, but we can give it a monument and make amends, including my home town. That has nothing to do with a ‘woke’ attitude or the ‘compassion factor’ towards black victims as that respondent in my newspaper said.

Rather with historical awareness and especially, with normal human decency.