Crypto Currency and Market Capitalisation

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Over the past months I became interested in the possibilities that crypto currencies have to offer. At first I became interested in the idea that crypto currency could play an important role in (international) money transfers, replacing traditional currency like dollar, euro and pound and replace traditional bank-to-bank transferring methods. At the same time I realised that  there still are causes that will prevent crypto currencies to become intensively used in money transferring.

The crypto currency market, especially the one for Bitcoin has known many up and down swings over the years since its introduction in 2009. Although there were some near-meltdowns along its path over the years, 2017 proved to be a kind of ‘break through’ year where the price half way 2017 soared from $ 1.000  to $ 3.000. The potential prospect of soon to be realised gains for simply holding on to ones crypto currencies will create an effect where the owners of their crypto currencies rather not want to use them in transferring scenarios. Yet if the owner of a crypto currency would want to use his digital cash for transferring purposes he or she will be faced with many complications. There are still relatively few people (ask the ones around you)  owning an ewallet which would allow them to receive or send digital cash. There is no way that different types of crypto currencies are interchangeable. And last but not least there are few (web) shops that accept crypto currencies for paying goods or services.

When diving in the technology behind the crypto currency you will find the block chain technology that can be considered as a transparant, autonomous and highly secure way of storing  data. The comparison to a world wide operating virtual ledger or spreadsheet is often made. The blockchain technology is what drives and enables crypto currency but blockchain technology can actually be applied for many other purposes.

We are witnessing a revolutionary way in which administrative (economical) processes will be changing over the coming years and decades. The concept can even be applied to concepts beyond administrative processes (for example to identity management and asset registration). Without going into detail too deep in the underlying technology we will witness the emerge of an autonomous, transparant, de-centralized infrastructure that offer possibilities in which we currently are using banks, clearing institutes, accountancy and administrative firms to perform most of these activities. With blockchain technology all these activities come under one roof, but without the boundaries and middle men that are usually associated with those activities.

If you look at the developments from this perspective than investing in Bitcoin, Ethereum or one the hundreds of alternative altcoins becomes like investing in a company -like investing in stock-, although lacking the traditional centralized management that we usually associate with the ‘traditional’ companies. It then becomes obvious that the market capitalization of (for example) Ethereum does signal something about its economic relevance and may be compared to those traditional companies. That is why 2017 also saw the break through of ICO’s (Initial Coin Offerings) which somewhat can be compared to the virtual launch of an IPO (Initial Public Offering), the most usual way for a company that is going public by issuing stock and entering the stock market.

Let’s take for example a ‘traditional’ company, Apple, which had in June a market capitalisation of app. $ 675 billion, making it the company with the largest market capitalisation in the world. Ethereum had at the same time a market capitalisation of approximality $ 30 billion. So Apple as a 40 year old company producing computer related products and services is at the moment 20x the size of Ethereum, a highly advanced initiative that takes the Bitcoin blockchain technology to the next level with its abilities of incorporating development tools in its own block chain technology.

From such a perspective  it is justified to believe that Ethereum one day will become bigger than Apple, measured by its market capitalisation because its added economical value will become at least as significant as Apple’s (and probably much more important). It may be tempting to make calculations about what the pricing of one Ether (Ethereum’s crypto currency) could be like in such a scenario, but one can assume that the current price of ca. $300 is just a fragment of its pricing potential. Others have been less witholding about their predictions about what the the pricing for crypto currencies could become like.

All in all investing in crypto currencies is at the moment more like earning a stake in a promising new technology enabled by an initiative that could be typed as a ‘virtual’ company. The traditional lines between stock and currency are blurring as you might one day use that stake (your Ethers, Bitcoins or other altcoins) for actually using it as digital cash. And that would be something that would be impossible to do with regular stock from the ‘traditional’ companies.

On the other hand take in consideration that this whole blockchain industry is still in its very early stages. The pricing of the crypto currencies are extremely volatile, because nobody really knows where things are heading. There is always the probability that reading this article in three years time the content seems to be completely out of date because the playing field has completely changed.

If you want to have a good introduction to crypto currencies and blockchain technology I advise you to read and see the following links:

6 interesting introduction videos:

Watch all six episodes of the series Trust Disrupted: Bitcoin and the Blockchain

Vilarik Buterin (the inventor of Ethereum) explaining Ethereum:

https://coincenter.org/entry/what-is-ethereum

After the Dutch 2017 Election

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When reading through the international comments on the Dutch parliament elections there is an international and general sense of relief and even happiness. The movement of “extreme right populism” as it recently gained victories in the UK (Brexit referendum) and the USA (President Trump’s election) seems to have be put to a halt in The Netherlands. The main reason for this optimism was the small rise in seats for Geert Wilder’s PVV (Party for Freedom, from 15 to 20) where until recently explosive growth was expected. Wilders’ PVV is now the second party in the Netherlands after Mark Rutte’s VVD (Popular Democratic Party). Rutte’s VVD lost a small number of seats (8) yet remains the biggest party in the Netherlands.

So Wilders gained a few seats but his role in the political arena is over after yesterday’s election results. Rutte already indicated that a collaboration between his VVD and Wilders’ PVV  would not be in question. In the Netherlands political parties have to seek collaborations to hold a majority (minimal 76 of the 150 seats) in the “Tweede Kamer” (the House of Parliament).

Wilders was remarkably absent in the recent campaign: a few TV shows, a few public appearances and not even a joint gathering of his PVV party members to watch the election results come in which is a common procedure for Dutch political parties. It is to guess why Wilders followed this strategy: did he think that social media would do for him what it had done for Trump? Where there issues surrounding his security? Or did he deliberately seek to fight his political arguments from the opposition ranks and was he scared his movement would become too big to handle? Although only Wilders himself could answer these questions, it becomes clear that Wilders will never lead a Dutch government administration. He is unfit to propose proper solutions for his sharp criticism of developments within Dutch society. He failed to bind influential figures of Dutch society to support his party and its policies.

The biggest loser yesterday was PvdA (The Labour Party). The party was decimated (from 38 to 9 seats) although it does not necessarily mean that its strong tentacles within the government, NGO’s and media now suddenly have disappeared. The seats that PvdA lost went to other left-wing and center parties like GroenLinks (Green Party), D66 (Democratic Party) and CDA (Christian Party). This means that PvdA lost its attractiveness to the voters, but it does not mean that their defeat will lead to radical changes in the political landscape.

So the conclusion is that the result of the election will be foremost a continuation of the status quo of Dutch “kartel parties” so called by new comer Forum voor Democratie (from 0 to 2 seats). ‘Kartel parties’  is the conglomerate of institutionalised parties that already reign over the Dutch politics in different combinations for many decades.

The large majority of the Dutch voters still seem to approve the current political situation. There is little interest in controversial subjects like abolishing the Euro or leaving the EU (Nexit). For now they seem to comfortably close their eyes for the big issues that sooner or later will be knocking at their doors: the high amounts of immigrants, the stability of the EU and Euro and last but not least, the internal stability of a segregated society where different populations hold their own ideas about their loyalty to the Netherlands. Last week events in the Netherlands surrounding the visit of Turkey’s ministers and the commotion it caused afterwards are strong indicators  about the current state of things and what is likely to be expected to happen more intensively and more often in the near future.

Other election events in 2017 (Germany, France) will give further indicators if citizens of those EU countries wish to continue the current direction of their political leaders or whether they are already prepared for more dramatic measures.

Den Haag, 16 maart 2017

A happy and healthy 2017!

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As the final hours of 2016 here in the Netherlands are ticking away I wish all the readers of our blog a very happy and healthy 2017!

2017 will be a very important year for the people of the Netherlands and Indonesia.

In the Netherlands people feel more and more the (financial) stress of the situation from the unstable economic situation within the European Union and with the Euro. There are many uncertainties around the influx of immigrants from Syria and other Arabic and African countries that could lead to tensions with the Dutch citizens when it comes to social matters (like housing) and cultural differences. In March we will have elections in The Netherlands and I have recently become involved with a new and fresh political party so this promises to be a new and busy experience for me!

In Indonesia I feel worried about what I read in the press about the events concerning the Jakarte governor Mr. Ahok. It would be a very sad situation if religious circumstances would challenge the stability of Indonesia. Religion should not be a reason to silence opinions from individuals or groups in a society. I hope for 2017 that the situation in Indonesia stabilizes and the different religious groups can return to live peacefully and practice their religion with respect to the each other.

Nootdorp, 31 december 2016

The significance of music

Music

Why does music play such a significant role in our lives? Do we know anyone who does not like music to some extent?

As humans we are blessed with the gift of creating, performing and passively enjoying music and are the only creatures on this planet who have all these capacities. As long as man inhabits this world he creates music. Through scientific research we know that music is a powerful tool in the development of a child’s brain and the brain in general. Music is an important means to identify you as a human, especially when you are in adolescent age. Music can play an important role to determine the social group you want to belong to or to be part of.

Music can give us consolation remembering experiences from the past, our beloved ones or special occasions in our lives. Music can make us relax or arouses us and lift up our spirits. Music brings us together and music makes us dance. Mathematicians have dealt with music because music and sound are bound to the laws of nature and therefor is a grateful subject for mathematicians since the days of the Greek and Roman physicians in Antiquity.

For musicians music can be a means to seek popularity. Or even look for a larger than life perspective, especially since mankind discovered ways to annotate and record music. So music could be reproduced for future performances which could take place long after its creator had deceased. Yet music is -like all forms of art- vulnerable and each generation creates its own music hoping it will stay relevant. Those chances are unfortunately minimal: we only have to look back at our own history to know that music recorded in the 1930s through 1980s is probably relatively unknown to most of the audience that nowadays listen to music. If we travel back further in time we find that only a handful of the compositions of composers from the Middle Ages and Modern Age are still being performed and listened to in our time (think Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and the likes). Music created before that time is practically lost to us, although there are a few exceptions.

When the industrial and scientific revolution in Europe boomed at the end of the 18th century it also had a profound impact on composers, musicians and the way the listener experience music. Composers of music no longer needed to make their income from physical performances but could arrange their compositions for sheet music. Musicians could buy this sheet music and perform the music without ever having heard the original from the composer. Early on in the 20th century new possibilities became available that even would take the reproduction music to a new level. Music could now be recorded and reproduced. First through the use of mechanical reproduction, then vinyl and finally through digital media like the CD and in our current era through the use of streaming media.

On a personal level I always had a great interest in sound and music, an interest that went beyond that of the average interested musician or listener. As a young person I mastered different instruments like flute, piano and guitar. Meanwhile I discovered I found it more interesting to record the results of music making than to play music together with other musicians or to perform live. Over the years I always felt intrigued and inspired by how instruments sound, from the most simple percussion instruments to complex electronic instrumenujts (and everything in between). Some of my favorite sounding instruments are: gamelan, dulcimerpipe organcelestaMoog synthesizer.

So I developed an interest in creating and recording music. Composing and recording music is a strange process. It is difficult to express how and why ideas emerge and why some ideas grow into a composition and other ideas land on a shelf or are forgotten over time. I save most ideas like making a notation that come to mind. Those ideas come from playing some piano chords or noodling on a guitar, but also riding on my bike is good for inspiration. At a certain point I decide that an idea is interesting enough to invest more time into it. When the time comes to record the music it is also a bit strange process. Sometimes things fall easily into place, sometimes you can struggle for weeks to ‘get it right’. What this ‘get it right’ exactly means is difficult to express but it has something to do with reaching a point where you find your composition and recording is ‘like it should be’ and can be considered finished.

Recently I finished a new album ‘Piano and Guitar, Vol. I’. Its title meaning that I return to these instruments and rely less on electronic instruments. You can listen to my new album on Spotify.

-The Hague, 20 november 2016-

Movie Review : Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is the movie we watched last weekend in The Hague’s Pathe Theatre. For a moment we were doubting between this movie and Inferno. Watching the Inferno trailer it looked to us like a (expensive) rehash of the DaVinci Code, so we decided to head for Deepwater Horizon.

I was not familiar with the original story of the mobile oil platform and the horrific accident in 2010. Under time pressure for rigging results, the platform would ultimately completely destroyed after some human failures with safety and testing procedures. From the trailer it looked to us like a detailed documentary style movie about how events developed until the final shocking disaster. Although the movie did try its best to put some detail in the events and circumstances, above all it remained a simple disaster movie. People make wrong decisions in the first part of the movie, things spiral out of control in the middle part and the hero (Mark Wahlberg) sacrifices his life to save what is left of the crew on the platform.

The movie starts a bit awkwardly with a family scene where the daughter of the hero-to-be explains the working of the mobile platform because she has an upcoming presentation. Of course it was meant for the movie audience to gain some understanding to the background about what will happen in the next two hours. There are many small talk conversations between the platform crew to create some intimate and sympathy with the characters that soon will be tested to the most horrible conditions. But it is all a bit too obvious to really become acquainted with the crew members and feel sympathy for their suffering to come. The part where the trouble on the platform starts and the platform disintegrates into a big ball of fire is taking too long. Although this should be the most ‘exciting’ part of the movie i felt it became quite boring after seeing one fireball after one other and collapsing structures.

All in all this movie is more about entertainment than offering you a glimpse into what really happened on board of the Deepwater Horizon. The characters are stereotypes (the bad guys from BP versus the good guys from the platform crew) and the script does carefully follow the Hollywood rules of a disaster movie. Nevertheless I enjoyed the performances of John Malkovich as the cynical guy from BP and Gina Rodriguez who played the part of a female crew member. I think the movie might have been more interesting and sticking if it did not follow the typical disaster movie scripting and would have focused more on the events as they really happened.

-Den Haag, October 25th 2016-

Thierry Baudet: about national identity and political reforms

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October 18th I attended a presentation of Thierry Baudet, a Dutch intellectual and since recently aspiring a political career. Baudet is in the Netherlands known as one of the initiators of the ‘Ukraine referendum’ from April 2016.  Dutch citizens could vote in favor or against a trade association between the Ukraine and the EU. The referendum resulted in a strong ‘against’. Afterwards the Dutch government struggled -and failed so far- to find a clear and decisive response to other EU members concerning the verdict of the Dutch referendum. The referendum was unique: it was the first of its kind based on new legislation that allowed Dutch citizens to organize a referendum for new bills that had passed both chambers of the parliament.

The April referendum sparkled interest from the Dutch public in the affairs of politics, the first time since the rise of Pim Fortuyn’s LPF party in 2001. After Fortuyn’s was brutally murdered in May 2002 the interest of the Dutch in political affairs gradually waned over the years. In his presentation Baudet outlined that the success of the Ukraine referendum called for more permanent referenda: not only for new bills but also the possibility to organize referenda to re-evaluate existing bills. This raised the question from the audience if ‘referenda activists’ could frustrate the democratic process and make any kind of legislation impossible or questionable by provoking referenda.

Through a series of books Baudet’s intellectual baggage and ideas about politics gradually evolved. He concluded that for citizens of a country it is important to have a national identity. Baudet considers this national identity essential for a democratic process within the nation. Yet in his opinion a small, powerful elite in Dutch society acts reversely as they consider a national Dutch identity to be a burden from the past. A past when the Dutch nation gathered much of its wealth as a colonizing nation, slave transporter and introducing ‘racist’ phenomena like Zwarte Piet (the assistant of Sinterklaas). This elite, though small in numbers, has its tentacles in all important Dutch social and political institutions. It controls education facilities (from kindergarten to university), traditional media (radio, television, papers) and has a strong presence in all levels of civil administration and subsidized non-governmental institutions The most conspicuous manner to undermine the national identity and to replace it with a new one is their strive for a new multicultural European identity. The introduction of the Euro as a common currency was a remarkable exponent to aim for such a shared European identity. The allowance of mass immigration is another key policy in undermining the belief in a national identity.

According to Baudet most citizens from an individual perspective have a very good intuition about what is ‘wrong’  or ‘right’ to contain the stability of the nation and to keep their national identity. Yet the Dutch citizens have no platform or means to express their intuition. On contrary, they are often being marginalized or criminalized by the elite for expressing challenging opinions. On a personal level Baudet notes that for him and other intellectuals it became impossible to express their opinion through traditional media outlets. Baudet told he became an outcast in the world of Dutch universities, while universities should be the ultimate place for debate on social and political matters from all points of view.

From intellectuals educated in Dutch universities, again according to Baudet, no miracles could be be expected to oppose the views of the elite. These intellectuals are educated in the universities and think along the lines developed by their teachers in the 60’s and 70’s. They want to invent, plan, regulate and control every aspect of social and economic life. For them the unpredictability of the free market consisting of its small and autonomous parts is a horrendous thought.

Baudet explained his decision to join with his Forum voor Democratie next year’s Dutch parliament elections. In the past he was not interested in becoming involved in the field of politics. The inability of Dutch politicians to renew and reform within made him change his mind. His Forum voor Democratie now wants to join the political world in order to reform and break out from within the political system. Besides expanding the possibilities of referenda other targets included an elected mayor. Mayors for Dutch cities are nowadays chosen from the small political elite. Dutch citizens should directly influence politics through the use of digital technology: a dashboard should indicates the current status and opinions of important political subjects.

Baudet’s ideas are interesting and at the same time they leave one wondering about consistency and practicality of his ideas. His thoughts about the nation state and national identity are applicable to many nations within the Western hemisphere and do not particularly apply to the Dutch situation alone. So this might need to further investigation why they face similar tendencies as in the Netherlands.

Personally my belief is that the nation state as an instrument of identity will become less relevant in a not too distant future. As the world opens up, physically and virtually people will adapt themselves to new identities from completely different perspectives and for example adapt to virtual identities (something we already can witness with the growth of social media groups). As people consider the world a commonplace to work and live in, new identities will arise from those perspectives too. The combination of the continuation of the importance of an identification with the nation state in comparison to a rapidly changing world through digital innovation seems to me a bit weird. I do agree though with Baudet it is silly to keep the processes of democracy embedded in a 19th century world when many of the nation states emerged. The same digital innovations open up completely new ways to improve the democratic process.

A second thought was if Baudet’s ideas will really appeal to an already lukewarm audience or will they die in theoretical and idealistic beauty? Participating in daily political affairs opens an opportunity to realize reforms, but within the crowded Dutch political landscape with its many political parties there is a big risk that ideas will get lost in watery compromises. There is the famous example of D66, a political party started 50 years ago with similar and radical plans to reform politics from within the system. Nothing substantial from their original revolutionary ideas ever materialized. D66 is nowadays considered to be part of the Dutch political elite, having dropped all of its initial principles.

-Den Haag, 19 Oktober 2016-

Two years married!

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Today marks the two year anniversary of our marriage: on August 9th 2014 we tied the knot on that beautiful day in Situbondo, East-Java. Last year it was Deny who wrote on this blog to commemorate this our first year anniversary, this year I will take the opportunity for some reflection.

First of all I feel blessed to have Deny because of her patience with me and her relentless dedication as my wife. I will never think lightly of all the steps Deny made by giving up so much from her life in Indonesia to follow me all the way to the Netherlands.

In our two year marriage, we, like any other couples, experienced so many positive things and sometimes negative things. The sum of these experiences made the bond between us stronger and we still have many things to look out for in life.

Sometimes Deny asks ‘Why don’t we meet each other earlier in life?’. And then I usually have some logical response, like ‘Be glad, we did meet each other…” Of course it would have been wonderful too meet earlier, but maybe in life we open our sensors for love and meeting when we are ultimately ready for the experience so the time we met is the perfect time.

As my late Dad once replied per mail to our congratulations for my parents marriage anniversary: ‘if it is up to us we hope you two will witness many more anniversaries to come’. Sadly for them it turned out to be their last marriage anniversary as my Dad passed away a few months later. Needless to say that Deny and I intend to celebrate many, many more anniversaries and in the meantime enjoy our time in life together…

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Deny and Ewald were at lake como, Italy

-Den Haag, 9 Agustus 2016-

Visit to Berlin (Part 1)

Berlin 1989

Today Deny is on her way to Berlin by train. In Berlin she will meet her friends and spend some days visiting Berlin’s interesting places. This gives me some time to reflect on my own journey to Berlin a long time ago, in 1989 to be precise!

In those days the Wall was still standing, ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ was still operational and not yet a museum. Berlin was separated in a Western and Eastern part of the city, like Germany itself was divided into two countries: West Germany with Bonn as the capital city and East Germany or DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) as the East Germans themselves called it) which was actually a communistic satellite state of the Soviet Union). The eastern part of Berlin was the capital of the DDR and reflected the territory of Berlin that the Soviet Union occupied during World War II.  The western part of Berlin was an enclave and knew a British, American and French sector. This picture will give you an impression of the complex situation of Berlin during that period.

Berlin after 1945
Berlin after 1945 Source: Pinterest

As you can see from this image West Berlin was fully enclosed by East Germany. For me travelling by train from the Netherlands this meant I had to cross West and East Germany before arriving and staying in West Berlin. In those days there was a hostile relationship between the two countries, comparable to the situation nowadays in Korea. This hostility was mainly due to the difficult living situation in East Germany. East Germany was governed by the rule of dictatorship and the economic situation was becoming more and more deplorable.The East German government already feared since a long time that citizens would massively flee to West Germany and East Germany became more and more a fortress and the Berlin Wall, built in the early 60s was obviously the most prominent edifice of this isolation from the West. Travelling through East Germany I immediately felt the impact of this. When the train left the Netherlands into West Germany all doors of the train were automatically sealed, the train only had one destination on the programme: West Berlin. Soldiers and police were on the train and did intensive inspection of the bags that the travellers had with them. I vividly remember the border between West and East Germany: it was build not to let anyone pass it alive without permission.

I must admit that my memories of the West Berlin visit are a bit less clear than my one day visit of East Berlin. In West Berlin I remember visiting Spandau and the Kurfürstendamm, with its impressive KaDeWe shopping mall. Because of the Wall it was complex to travel from West to East and vice versa, there were however a few spots that would allow you to go from West to East. I think I passed East to West through a checkpoint at the Friedrichstrasse. There was an intensive inspection and you had to exchange money and everything that was left at the end of the day you had to return to the East German border control (of course I could not resist to take some East German money back into West Germany).

I can conclude my East Berlin visit shortly as: depressing yet fascinating. At the border just behind the Wall most houses were empty and guarded by soldiers. I remember visiting the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) where the East German parliament was seated and the Fernsehturm a huge television tower in the city center. The Palast der Republik was dismantled in 2006, but the television tower is still present. Already in those days the tower had the rotating restaurant in the top of the building. The weather that day was dark and foggy so the promised beautiful view was absent. The food served in the restaurant was of terrible quality, which forced me to do a second meal later that night when I arrived back in West Berlin.

It was a strange situation, you could easily see that the East Berliners had a lower living standard than their Western counterparts that only lived a few blocks away on the other side of the Wall. Also the difficult situation of living under a communist dictatorship was a heavy burden for the East Berliners. I can recommend you the movie ‘Live of Others‘ that gives an adequate view on how life was in East Germany.

So at the end of the day I left with mixed feelings East Berlin and went back through the inspection point and walked back to the comfort and luxury of West Berlin. Not long after my visit there would be some dramatic changes in the situation in Berlin and East Germany. Due to upheaval in other communist states like Hungary, the East German people revolted against their government and as a result the Wall was broken down by the end of 1989. By the end of 1990 West and East Germany were reunited and Berlin became the capital for the reunited nations.

I am curious how Berlin is now in 2016 and am sure that Deny will share her experiences soon!

-Den Haag, 31 Juli 2016-

Note:
I am still in search for my pictures from West and East Berlin, but have not traced them yet. If you are curious what Berlin looked like in the late 1980s I can recommend the movie ‘Wings of Freedom‘.

What about this ‘Brexit’?

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As you will have noticed news about the ‘Brexit’ (an acronym of Britain and exit) has been flooding the (social) media since the result of the referendum became clear and more or less surprisingly a majority of the British population voted for a ‘leave’. As Deny asked me about this, we discussed it might be a good idea to give some informations about the background, motives and consequences of the Brexit. It might contribute to understanding the current situation in Europe.

As a consequence of the Second World War large parts of Europe were in shambles and this war caused an extremely high number of casualties. Among them were millions of innocent civilians killed in bombardments of the European cities or in concentration camps. After the war there was a sentiment that a repetition of such events should be prevented at all cost. The most obvious way to prevent these events should be accomplished by an intensive collaboration between the countries of Europe, so the urge to go to war to settle conflicts would faint. This was actually easier said then done, because right after the war Europe became divided into two large spheres of influences: the capitalist Western-Europe with countries liberated by the Allied forces (mostly Americans, Canadians and English) and a communist Eastern-Europe with countries liberated by the Soviet-Union (nowadays Russia). In this image you can see which countries belonged to which side. Germany and its capital Berlin were split in two: one side controlled by the Allied forces and one side by the Soviet-Union.

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Europe divided between East and West after World War II Source: fasttrackingteaching.com

This divide meant that in the West and East separate initiatives were taken to come to a more intensive collaboration. In the 1950s Western-Europe made progress with collaboration on economical matters like abolishing import duties between its member states. The group of collaborating countries was gradually expanded and among those new countries was the United Kingdom joining in 1973. The collaboration between the United Kingdom and the other members would however always remain stressful, mainly because the United Kingdom objected the height of their contribution to the collaborative efforts.

In the 1990s important events happened for the collaborative efforts of the European countries. One was among the collaborating countries from Western-Europe itself. Besides the economic aspect there was an urge to pursue a tighter social and political integration between the countries. The collaborative effort would now take place within the European Union (EU), the official name since 1992. Border controls would be largely removed (the Schengen treaty) and political institutions like the parliament that already had been established since the 1970s would become more influential. The European Union would design its own laws on a number of subjects and these laws would prevail over national laws of the individual member countries. Brussels would become the center were the main political institutions of the European Union were established. This centralization of power led to a sharp increase of people who would be working for the European Union. For many politicians from the individual member states a career in Brussels would become the highest fulfilment of their political ambitions and lucrative from a financial perspective (high salary and many other benefits).

Another important development in Europe was the implosion of the Soviet-Union. This implosion would lead to the disappearance of the Eastern sphere of influence. The reunification of Germany and independence for a big number of countries that previously had been occupied by the Soviet-Union came out as a result of these developments. Many of these countries would eventually join the European Union. By 2016 the European Union already consisted of 28 countries as can be seen in this image.

EU Map
The 28 members of the European Union. Source: BBC

Without any doubt one of the biggest achievement of the European collaboration was the introduction of the Euro in 2002. This would mean that participating countries would give up their national currencies (for example Germany its Mark, Netherlands its gulden, Frankrijk its franc, Italy its lire). You could now use the same Euro currency in large parts of Europe. The United Kingdom did not join the Euro project and kept its own currency, the pound sterling.

Despite these great advancements and achievements over time it became obvious that the European Union also had its darker side. The expansion with so many new countries led to an imbalance within the European Union. In the Northern part there were countries like Germany and Netherlands with an abundant economical growth that paid ever increasing contributions to the Union and in the Southern and Eastern part of the EU there were countries that would become heavily relying on the contribution of their wealthy neighbors but did not achieve the same kind of economic growth and prospect.

The most striking example of the financial trouble developed in Greece. The Greeks joined the EU and the Euro on base of manipulated figures considering their economic position and prospects. A big disadvantage of one currency for members with economies of different strengths now became apparent. In the past a nation could devaluate their currency to give its local economy a push, but now there was no other way than the rich countries handing over large amounts of money to support a weaker member nation. This would ultimately lead to disproportional financial support from the Northern countries, almost bringing the Euro currency to its knees. It would lead to a very negative impact on the public opinion within the northern EU countries (‘Why do we pay so much and will we ever benefit from these payments?’ many citizens started to ask). In this image you see how the money flows within the European Union and which countries are net contributors or net receivers.

Net contributors versus net receivers. Source: BBC

 

The situation in Greece spiralled almost out of control and the term Grexit was circulating: the Greeks could be forced to leave the European Union and be expelled from the Euro currency. This Grexit however until today never became a reality. The Greek government complied to a package of severe economic measures from the European Union (and other sponsors like the IMF).

Another development for the European Union was that the public opinion became very negative because of many reports in the press about the undemocratic, uncontrollable and incompetent way that many of the institutions worked. Where should the EU project stop? Would ultimately the individuality of nations disappear and would a United States of Europe (like the USA) become the result of the collaborative efforts?
Stories in the media started to appear about ongoing financial fraud and money waisting. A famous example of money waisting  is a deal between Germany and France implicating that the parliament is some days in the month residing in Strasbourg and on other days in Brussels. This means that an enormous transport of people, documents and belongings is taking place a few times per month.

 

If these developments were not bad enough already in the 2010s it became clear that the European Union was confronted with a new and immense problem to which it never could develop a clear and united answer. A wave of mass immigration started, first people travelling from Africa to Italy and Spain by boat, but in 2015 a new route started to cause even bigger challenges to the EU member states. Through Turkey immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and as far as Pakistan and Eritrea travelled from Turkey to Greece (only a small boat trip) and from there travelled further, mainly to the richer countries in the European Union. These events led to big irritation and quarrelling between the EU members on how to cope with handling these migrants and refugees.

In the United Kingdom it was president David Cameron who promised its citizens that they could express their opinion through a referendum if the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or it should opt for an independent course and leave the EU. We all know since June 23th that the people from the United Kingdom have opted to leave the European Union. As soon as the result of the referendum became clear the impact was widely felt. A period of uncertainties is now starting: how will the leave of the United Kingdom take place? What are the economic implications? Will this mean the European Union might collapse because other member states also want to leave?

These uncertainties are already reflected in the economical developments: the stock markets worldwide collapsed after the result of the referendum and there is doubt if the United Kingdom can be the same strong economy outside of the EU as within the EU. London is one of the most important financial markets and there is a fear that many institutions might relocate to cities like Frankfurt and Amsterdam. There is some awareness arising within the European Union that its institutions should be reformed in order to give a solid impression to the populations of the member states or there could be a real risk other countries leave the EU.
And if big other net contributors like France or the Netherlands would leave the whole system could collapse, just like the Soviet Union did in the late 1980s. Because the European Union is such a bureaucratic and inert system it remains to be seen that it can adequately and timely react to the events that are taking place now. Looking at the inability to respond to the immigrant crisis the chances for swift and affirmative action to keep the current EU stay afloat do not stem too hopeful.

What will happen to the United Kingdom and London needs to be seen. There are countries in Europe that never joined the EU, like Switzerland and still have a strong economy and its citizens living prosperous lives. So in the long run the United Kingdom and London could be fine and find a new and reinvented place within Europe and the world. The real issue for the EU becomes to reform and show that it has serious and beneficial future perspective for all its members. If not then other countries might follow the example of the United Kingdom.

-Den Haag, June 25th 2016-

Romeinenweek

This week, from April 30th until May 8th in the Netherlands there is an event called Romeinenweek. The English translation would be something like Week of the Romans.  It is a nice gesture to commemorate the presence of the Romans in the Netherlands 2000 years ago. There is a special website that has a program of all the activities to this special week. This year is the third time this event will be organised and the theme for this year is water. So the activities will be focused on subjects like bridges, aquaducts and canals.

But why would a nation commemorate the presence of Romans, an event that already happened so very long ago? There are several reasons for that. From a personal level I remember as a young child there was something fascinating and magical about Romans and their Roman Empire. Most of all, their soldiers looked cool. They wore impressive outfits and the soldiers were very well trained and usually would easily beat their enemies.

romans
Roman soldiers

I think this is still applicable to the children that grow up nowadays even in this time of TV and video game ‘superheroes’, the Romans still have this special attraction to children. If you want to know how life in the Netherlands was during the Roman presence you might consider making a trip to Archeon in Alphen aan den Rijn. They rebuild buildings from that time, like a Roman bathhouse and there are shows with Roman soldiers and gladiators.

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Bathhouse in Archeon

As I grew older and studied ancient history I learned that there were many other reasons why the Romans could be considered ‘cool’. They managed to unite and unify large parts of the tribes and people that lived in Europe, something that no other military or political figure since then has managed. And they knew how to stay in control: the larger part of their empire would be united for nearly 1000 years. It seems almost unbelievable that with the modest technology they had at their disposal they managed to keep together an empire that stretched from England and Spain in the West, Germany in the North, North Africa in the South and stretched all the way to Egypt and Israel in the East. The Romans built a capital, Rome, that was unlike anything the world had ever seen until that point. Millions of people were living in that city and it would take until the 19th century before humanity would see new capitals with a comparable figure of inhabitants.

Rome

The Dutch people have always had a keen interest in their history. And the Romans have left us many things to remind us from the time they were present in the Netherlands. Not as obvious like temples or buildings, those have not survived. But by excavating or by pure accident many objects from the Roman time have been found. Not only phyiscal objects like (coins, household items and tombstones to name a few) but also infrastructures like the roads they built or the fundaments of cities and villages. Many of these found objects are on display in musea all around the Netherlands. I could recommend visiting the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden that has one of the largest collections on display in their beautiful museum.

For a full program of activities during Romeinweek you can have a look at the schedule.

-Den Haag, 2 May 2016-