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Part 5 The History of the Netherlands

Gepost in Geschiedenis Nederland

history of holland

Part 5: World wars and past-war reconstructon 1914-1966

1914-1918 - The First World War

bondgenoten 1e wereldoorlog

The economic and social progress achieved in early 20th-century Europe created a general mood of optimism. Materialism was in the ascendant and industry strove to achieve ever higher turnover, sales and profits. The newspapers were full of jubilant accounts of booming coal and steel production, ever bigger ships, accelerating population growth and expanding armies. But the new technologies born of the industrial revolution were also being used to produce new and improved weapon systems. On 28 July 1914, when the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife in Sarajevo prompted Germany's ally Austria to declare war on Serbia, nobody had any inkling of the eventual consequences. This first all-out war in world history, with its combination of antiquated military strategies and up-to-the-minute weaponry, was to prove disastrous to those who served in it. The 'Great War', as it was known at the time, cost the lives of 10 million men and the limbs of 20 million more. Within four years it cut a broad swathe through the male population of Britain, Germany, France and Russia.

At the start of the war, the Dutch government reaffirmed the Netherlands' traditional neutrality, but announced that it would mobilise the country if Germany failed to keep its commitments. Germany's invasion of Belgium (which was also neutral) in August 1914 caused turmoil in the Netherlands. Within a few days, the Dutch economy went into melt-down. Goods were hoarded, money withdrawn from the banks, industrial production reduced and workers dismissed on a massive scale. The country also had to cope with thousands of Belgian refugees. Despite the panic, the government managed to restore calm. The Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Willem Treub, was especially successful in using economic measures to halt the general collapse in confidence. The government issued a statement in parliament appealing for political differences to be forgotten for the duration and even P.J. Troelstra's Social Democratic Labour Party (SDAP) agreed.

The Netherlands succeeded in preserving its neutrality because of the associated benefits to the belligerent nations. Britain was glad that German troops were denied access to the North Sea coast and Germany was happy to be able to transport goods via the Netherlands. Even so, both countries continued throughout the war to put pressure on the Netherlands to give up its neutrality. Dutch diplomats were kept busy negotiating with the aim of keeping the Netherlands out of the war.

In 1917, despite the proximity of hostilities, the government succeeded in obtaining parliamentary approval for a revision of the constitution. This satisfied major demands of both the left and the right. The left gained universal male suffrage and the right financial equal treatment of denominational and non-denominational schools. Other important provisions concerned the introduction of compulsory voting and proportional representation, putting an end to the system of constituency voting which had often necessitated many further ballots.

The new electoral system produced a minor landslide in the next year's general election. The main losers were the liberals and the winners the confessional parties. The SDAP won some seats but was disappointed at the proletariat's failure to achieve the expected socialist revolution via the ballot box. The main victor was the Roman Catholic State Party which, together with the other confessional parties, was to maintain its grip on the Dutch political scene for most of the next half century.

zo europa 1920



1929 - Economic crisis

The First World War was followed by a series of socialist revolutions in many parts of Europe, perhaps inspired by the successful Russian Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In the Netherlands too, the socialist SDAP thought that the time was ripe for the proletariat to seize power. The party leader, Pieter Jelles Troelstra, made an inflammatory speech in parliament more or less demanding the resignation of the government in favour of his party. However, this proved to be a miscalculation: the public responded by demonstrating their loyalty to queen and country and the revolution failed to materialise. In 1920 the Netherlands became a member of the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations). The League had been established to increase international cooperation and promote peace and security. In 1922 another change to the constitution gave women the vote and opened the way to greater autonomy for the colonies.

beurskrach 1949

In 1929 the world was shaken by the crash on the New York stock exchange. This led to a serious worldwide economic crisis. The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies were hard hit. Because of the contemporary belief in boom and bust liberal economics, it was initially assumed that the economy would revive automatically and that the depression would be followed by a period of strong economic growth. However, the government's policy of keeping the guilder on the gold standard actually exacerbated the crisis and led to an unprecedented decline in exports. The consequences were alarming. By 1935, unemployment was running at 40 per cent and in 1936 the Netherlands was finally forced to abandon the gold standard. It was the last country in the world to do so.

Despite these problems, the period between the two world wars was not all gloom and doom. It was marked by an influx of new fashions, new music and new mass media entertainment from the United States. Clothing became less constrictive and formal, especially for women. New cinemas opened to show the films arriving from Hollywood and fashionable clubs and bars began to swing to the sound of jazz. The first radio broadcast in the Netherlands was made in 1924 and a national public broadcasting association (AVRO) was set up in the same year. However, its lack of special political or religious affiliation made it unacceptable to large parts of the strongly segmented Dutch society of the time, and it was soon followed by the Protestant NCRV, the Catholic KRO, the socialist VARA and finally the dissenting protestant VPRO. Even today, all of these broadcasting organisations still compete for time on the Dutch air waves.

schilderij mondriaanIn the cultural arena, the leading Dutch figures on the international scene were architects Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud and Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and the painter Piet Mondrian.

They were all associated with a periodical called De Stijl ('Style'), which artist Theo van Doesburg had established in 1917. The principles of the movement initiated by this periodical included the banishing of any reference to perceived reality, a philosophy taken to the ultimate extreme in Mondrian's completely non-representational paintings. The movement had a major influence on the contemporary arts, extending beyond architecture, painting and sculpture to inspire poets and writers to seek to reveal and express the universal harmony which, it maintained, controlled the universe and human life.

Queen Wilhelmina's mother, Emma, and her husband, Prince Hendrik, both died in 1934. Three years later, her only daughter, Princess Juliana, married a young German prince, Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld. The marriage was to produce another direct heir to the throne, Princess Beatrix, and three other daughters.

1940-1945 - The Second World War

The years of economic malaise between the wars provided fertile soil for extremist parties in many European countries. One of them was the German Nazi party headed by Adolf Hitler. In the Netherlands, Anton Adrian Mussert, a hydraulic engineer, founded the National Socialist Movement (NSB) in 1931. Compared with parties like the Fascist League and the League of Dutch-speaking National Solidarists, which closely emulated the Nazi party but were a minor force in Dutch politics, the NSB was initially fairly moderate. In 1935 it achieved a major electoral victory but subsequently forfeited its popularity by adopting ever more openly anti-semitic policies. By this time, Hitler's power was entrenched. Unwittingly helped by a Dutch revolutionary socialist called Marinus van der Lubbe, who had set fire to the Reichstag as a protest against fascism, he had been able to convince the German parliament that he alone could lead the German people. A series of acts giving him special powers enabled him to establish a dictatorship. Van der Lubbe was executed as a communist. In the Netherlands, Hendrikus Colijn, leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party and head of the government, revived the policy of neutrality, believing that this would shield the country from involvement in the impending war. Hostilities eventually commenced with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 and the Netherlands was immediately mobilised.

Despite German promises to respect Dutch neutrality and the fact that no ultimatum or declaration of war had been issued, German troops crossed the border on 10 May 1940. Airborne troops were dropped near The Hague with orders to capture the government and the royal family. The plan was thwarted by determined military resistance and the government and royal family were able to escape to England on 13 May 1940. Despite its out-dated weapons and equipment, the Dutch army managed to hold back the German attack until 14 May but was finally forced to capitulate following the bombing of Rotterdam. The capitulation did not, however, apply to Dutch overseas territories. The government in exile continued to administer the colonies from London and on 8 December 1941 responded to the invasion of the Dutch East Indies by declaring war on Japan.

The first few months of the German occupation of the Netherlands were relatively quiet. Believing in a certain fraternal feeling and ideological affinity between the Netherlands and Germany, the Nazis allowed the country a civil rather than a military administration. This was a concession made to no other occupied country except Norway. However, the character of the occupation changed when it became evident that 'Nazification' was not proceeding as smoothly as expected. The political parties were dissolved and measures were taken against the Jewish community. This led to disturbances in Amsterdam and elsewhere, with one German fatality. In reprisal, three hundred Jews were rounded up and deported to a concentration camp. This provoked a spontaneous rail strike, which the occupying authorities broke two days later with a massive display of military muscle. It was the only open protest in Europe against the persecution of the Jews.

europa 1942

Europa 1942

Over the next few years, more than a hundred thousand men, women and children, comprising some 75 per cent of the Jewish community in the Netherlands, were to die in German concentration camps. Many Jews tried to evade persecution by going into hiding. Among them was the family of a thirteen-year-old girl called Anne Frank, who is now world-famous for the diary she wrote describing her experiences.

The Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944 gave the Dutch new hope. By September, Allied forces were advancing through Belgium and the southern Dutch provinces were eventually liberated. The failure of a massive drop of airborne troops near Arnhem in an attempt to capture the bridges and advance towards Germany led to a difficult winter for the provinces in the north and west. Devastating food and fuel shortages combined with exceptionally severe winter weather caused the deaths of thousands of people from cold and starvation. The liberation of the whole country was finally achieved in the spring of 1945. The German capitulation was signed on 5 May by General Blaskowitz in the presence of the Canadian General Foulkes and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

1941-1945 - Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies

The war had not been confined to Europe. On 27 September 1940, Japan, Germany and Italy signed a pact and on 7 December 1941 Japan bombed the US Pacific Fleet naval base at Pearl Harbour. It went on to invade and occupy Burma, Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies with very little difficulty. The Allied fleet under the command of Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman was defeated in the Battle of the Java Sea with the loss of almost all the Australian, British, American and Dutch vessels involved and thousands of men on board them (including 900 Dutch citizens).

indie moet vrijThe Dutch land-based troops in the region were forced to capitulate after three months. Over the next few months, all Dutch citizens in the region were interned in separate men's and women's camps. In itself the experience was deeply humiliating for the Dutch colonial elite and the ill-treatment they received in the camps at the hands of the Japanese military made it even worse. The prisoners were subject to strict discipline and a starvation diet, and many died.

The attitude of the Indonesians was initially ambiguous. They were uncertain whether to regard the Japanese as liberators or occupiers. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the country had already had a nationalist movement headed by Sukarno and his Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI). The Japanese exploited this movement for their own ends and the whole nation was yoked to the Japanese war effort. Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were treated as slave labourers, as were the male Dutch prisoners of war.

In the summer of 1942, America was able to halt the Japanese advance. The US navy gradually gained the upper hand in the Pacific with victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942) and the Battle of Midway (3-6 June 1942), and US forces returned to the Philippines in October 1944. On 6 August an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima killing 140,000 people, followed three days later by another on Nagasaki killing an estimated 70,000 more. This ended the war. Japan formally capitulated on 2 September 1945 and immediately began its withdrawal from the areas it still occupied.

1945 - Indonesian independence

The end of the Second World War brought a period of immediate decolonisation. On 17 August 1945 Sukarno proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia. Sukarno was a civil engineer who had been active in politics from an early age. In 1927 he had set up a political party - the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI) - to campaign for independence. Between 1929 and 1932 he was a political prisoner, and in 1933 he was again imprisoned by the Dutch authorities until finally liberated by the Japanese in 1942. During the occupation, he collaborated with the Japanese, who exploited nationalist feelings in the country for their own ends.

In the Netherlands, there was a general expectation that the pre-war colonial status of Indonesia would be restored following the end of hostilities, despite the fact that Queen Wilhelmina had made a radio broadcast in 1942 promising to organise a post-war government conference to arrange Indonesian independence. The Dutch underestimated the strength of Indonesian nationalist feeling and this was one of the factors which eventually prevented a gradual transition. Another was the Dutch view that colonial rule should be restored before talks on independence could begin. However, Britain (which had liberated Indonesia) was unwilling to cooperate in this aim unless the representatives of the Republic were consulted. This was tantamount to a recognition of the Republic of Indonesia. In 1946, a conference was held in the Netherlands between representatives of the Republic and the Dutch government, but it proved impossible to reach agreement. In the same year, the Dutch parliament approved the Linggadjati Agreement, which provided for the eventual establishment of a Dutch-Indonesian Union consisting of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States of Indonesia, headed by the Dutch Queen. Public opinion in the Netherlands and virtually all the political parties in the country were fiercely opposed to Indonesian self-rule.

In 1947, under pressure from breaches of the truce and Dutch companies who felt that their interests were under threat, the Netherlands embarked on the military operation known in Dutch history as the 'first police action'. An indignant United Nations intervened by calling on the Netherlands to desist. A UN 'Committee on Good Offices' acted as an intermediary but could not prevent Dutch suspicions of the Republic's intentions leading to a second military operation in 1948. Once again the UN intervened and this time a UN Commission for Indonesia (UNCI) was set up with powers to prepare for the transfer of sovereignty. This finally took place in Amsterdam on 27 December 1949. Over the next few years, Indonesia and the Netherlands continued to wrangle over a wide range of issues, including the sovereignty of New Guinea. The tension between the two countries led in 1957 to the forced departure of all Dutch citizens from Indonesia, followed by the nationalisation of all Dutch enterprises in the country in 1958, and the severing of diplomatic relations in 1960. In 1962, mediation by Robert Kennedy, brother of the then president of the United States, led to a resumption of talks on New Guinea and the transfer of sovereignty took place in the following year, with the restoration of diplomatic relations following in 1964.

1946 - Social and political divisions

The Second World War brought the Dutch economy to its knees. The cost of the material damage was between 10 and 15 billion guilders. Roughly a third of all industry had been destroyed, 60 per cent of the transport system was in ruins and much of the housing stock was uninhabitable. Strict internal rationing and wage and price controls helped to get recovery under way but it was not until America started to provide economic assistance under the Marshall Plan in 1948 that the real upturn began. Despite the problems, there was great public unity and idealism. During the occupation, the resistance had already forged plans for a post-war campaign of national solidarity to overcome the parochial pre-war 'pillarisation'. These ideas were supported by Queen Wilhelmina and shortly after the liberation they took shape with the foundation of the Netherlands' People's Movement (NVB). This was specifically intended to bridge the gap between the socialist and confessional parties. In 1946 a number of dissenting democrats and Christian democrats joined forces with the SDAP to found the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). This was intended to unite the left, but as early as 1948 a splinter group of moderates seceded to establish the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A new Roman Catholic party was also set up under the name of the Catholic People's Party (KVP).

The results of the first post-war general election, held in 1948, came as a shock to all advocates of innovation. The country voted overwhelmingly in favour of the old parties. Indeed, the Labour Party won fewer votes than the individual parties from which it had been formed. Clearly, the country was not prepared to abandon its pillars. The result was not only that the political parties continued to operate firmly along separate liberal, Christian and socialist lines, but also that these divisions continued to dominate social and cultural life in the Netherlands. The various movements controlled their own radio stations, schools, social clubs and organisations, trade unions and print media. For example, the KRO radio station and the Volkskrant newspaper were the voice of the Catholic KVP, whilst the non-confessional PvdA spoke to the country via the VARA and Het Parool. Dutch life fragmented once again along the familiar pre-war political and religious lines. The confessional 'apartheid' was complete. Catholics married Catholics and Protestants Protestants. Their children belonged to clubs and attended schools run by their parents' churches. This 'pillarisation' was to continue for another half century.

1948 - Abdication of Wilhelmina

Queen Wilhelmina spent the war in London but was nevertheless able to exert a considerable personal influence on affairs of state. She was closely involved in the resistance and in plans for post-war reconstruction. Indeed, she actually cherished expectations of a new constitution extending the powers of the monarchy. Post-war developments were a major disappointment. During the war she had displayed great resolution and stood as a shining example to her subjects. Even President Roosevelt of the United States was impressed. Her 1959 autobiography entitled Eenzaam, maar niet alleen ('Lonely, but never alone') reflects her disappointment. She felt bitter at the speed with which Indonesia had broken away from the mother country.

On 4 September 1948, she abdicated in favour of her daughter Juliana. It was fifty years to the day since the start of her reign. On 6 September 1948, Juliana was invested as queen in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. She was to be held in high esteem by her subjects, who appreciated her social commitment and warm interest in others.

Governments from 1946 to 1958 were dominated by coalitions of the Catholic People's Party (KVP) and the Labour Party (PvdA). For an entire decade they were headed by the PvdA leader, Willem Drees. Together with Carl Paul Romme of the KVP, he maintained a coalition between the Catholics and the socialists which provided a firm basis for post-war reconstruction and the establishment of a welfare state. Drees owed much of his enormous popularity to his initiation of an old age pension scheme. He was held in great personal affection by the Dutch public.

In order to ensure the success of reconstruction and economic recovery, the two sides of industry were asked to avoid industrial unrest. The necessary harmony was guaranteed by a system of organised consultation via the Labour Foundation, founded in 1945 to provide a platform for cooperation between employers' organisations and trade unions. The government maintained strong wage and price controls. In 1950, a law was passed providing for the establishment of public-law industrial regulatory bodies, membership of which was to be compulsory for all members of the relevant trades or professions. These bodies were given powers to issue binding orders. The Socio-Economic Council (SER) was also established to act as a link between government and industry. One third of its members are appointed to represent private-sector employers, one third to represent the trade unions and one third in their capacity as experts. The SER's reports have come to exercise a major influence on the socioeconomic policies of successive Dutch governments.

Between 1948 and 1952 the Netherlands received upwards of a billion dollars in Marshall Aid. The funds were put to good use and the economy made steady progress. The German Wirtschaftswunder was an additional bonus for the Netherlands, since West Germany was the country's most important trading partner.

1949 - Farewell to neutrality

Just as the post-war Netherlands reverted to its old political and confessional compartmentalisation, so too divisions opened up in the post-war world at large. The Soviet Union, which had done much to ensure the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany, converted the countries it had liberated in eastern Europe into communist satellite states. America, Britain and France responded by providing West Germany with economic and financial aid and absorbing it into the Western alliance. Berlin became the battlefield for the 'Cold War', as the East-West conflict came to be known. To counter the threat posed by the 'Eastern Bloc', the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was founded in 1949. The Netherlands became a member of the new organisation, thereby bidding a firm farewell to the traditional doctrine of neutrality which had lain at the heart of Dutch foreign policy ever since 1839.

In the Netherlands itself, life gradually returned to normal. By around 1950 wages had risen and people were relatively well off. To relieve the shortage of accommodation, house-building was going on apace all over the county and a new kind of multi-storey housing began to appear: three or four-storey blocks of flats in the Functionalist style first introduced in the 1920s. But there was no quick solution to the housing shortage. The end of the war brought a wave of marriages but the new couples were frequently unable to find homes of their own and had to continue living with their parents until one became available. The population grew rapidly, from 8.8 million in 1940 to 10 million in 1950. The newly built homes could now be equipped with a wide range of electrical appliances to make life pleasanter and more convenient. Dutch households began to acquire radios, record players, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and spin-dryers. Ordinary Dutch people had never previously experienced such prosperity and comfort. The low-paid and low-skilled benefited particularly.

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The Netherlands was also involved at this time in the establishment of various international organisations, such as the UN and NATO. In 1948 a desire for economic integration led to the foundation of Benelux, a successful customs union of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 1957 these three countries plus France, Germany and Italy decided to establish the European Economic Community (EEC), an aim achieved on 1 January 1958 when the Treaty of Rome came into force. As Article 2 of this treaty states, the EEC was intended 'to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the States belonging to it'. The EEC was eventually to have a common internal market and a common agricultural policy. In 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom acceded to the EEC, followed in 1981 by Greece and in 1986 by Spain and Portugal. Austria, Finland and Sweden joined what was now the European Union (EU) in 1995. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent democratisation of the countries of eastern Europe, thirteen new candidates have applied for membership. They are now preparing themselves for full membership of the European Union. This forthcoming enlargement of the Union will spell the achievement of an ideal cherished in Europe since the 14th century.

1953 - Flood disaster / The Dutch struggle against the waters

In February 1953 the Netherlands faced disaster when the dikes protecting the southwest of the country watersnoodrampwere breached by the joint onslaught of a hurricane-force northwesterly wind and exceptionally high spring tides. In the night of 31 January to 1 February 1953 more than 1800 people drowned, thousands of farm animals were lost and 150,000 hectares of land were inundated. Flooding caused by storm surges were nothing new to the Netherlands, but this time the nation was stunned by the extent of a disaster unparalleled for centuries. Emergency aid flowed in from all over the world to help soften the blow to a country only just recovering from war. Ironically enough, the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management had published a policy document only a few days previously detailing plans to prevent precisely this sort of disaster. The document proposed that all the tidal inlets and estuaries in the provinces of Zeeland and South Holland should be dammed. In the light of the disaster, urgent action was taken to implement this plan, known as the 'Delta Project'.

The earliest inhabitants of the Netherlands protected themselves against flooding by constructing mounds ('terps') on which to build their farmsteads and houses. Later occupants of these mounds started to protect larger areas of land by building dikes between them.

Around 1300, large parts of the present-day Netherlands still lay under water. In the centuries that followed, more and more land was wrested from the sea by constructing dikes and using windmills to pump away the water. It was the advent of the windmill in around 1300 and its use in land drainage that formed the landscape of the Netherlands as we know it today. By 1800 there were some 9000 windmills in the Netherlands. The 16th and 17th centuries saw a boom in wind-powered lake reclamation schemes financed by wealthy Amsterdam merchant-entrepreneurs. These created large polder areas unlike anything else in the world. The hydraulic expert Jan Adriaenszoon Leeghwater (1575-1650) is famous in connection with the reclamation and drainage of North Holland. He even wrote a book (the Haarlemmermeerboeck) explaining how the vast 7,000-hectare Haarlemmermeer between Amsterdam and Leiden could be reclaimed, a feat not in fact accomplished until two centuries later (1848-1852), after the arrival of the steam-driven pumping station.

Throughout history, the populations of the Dutch coastal provinces have been regularly afflicted by devastating storm surges. The most famous are the St. Elisabeth Flood of 1421 and the All Saints' Day flood of 1570, which cost the lives of many thousands of people and caused enormous damage. The area around the Zuyder Zee suffered badly in 1916. The danger of flooding could come either from the Zuyder Zee or from the Rhine/Maas delta in the southwest. As early as 1667, Hendric Stevin, son of the more famous Simon Stevin, produced a plan to prevent flooding around the Zuyder Zee by damming the channels between the islands in the Wadden Sea. At that time the technology simply did not exist to do this but the idea persisted and in 1889 a thorough study was made of its technical feasibility. One of those responsible was Cornelis Lely (1854-1929), later Minister of Water Management. It was he who - prompted by the disastrous floods of 1916 - was finally to commission the necessary works to seal off the Zuyder Zee from the North Sea by constructing a Barrier Dam from the tip of North Holland to the Frisian mainland. Work began on the 32-km-long dam in 1927 and the last opening in it was sealed on 28 May 1932. Later, large parts of the Zuyder Zee - rechristened the IJsselmeer - were drained to create two huge new polders: the Noordoostpolder and Flevoland.

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The Delta Project was one of the greatest post-war feats of hydraulic engineering in the Netherlands. Immediately after the devastating storm surge of 1953, a Delta Commission was appointed to advise the government on the necessary works to protect the south-western part of the country. The first step was to construct a moveable storm surge barrier in the Hollandse IJssel, east of Rotterdam. This went into operation in 1958. The next move was the closure of the Veerse Gat and the Zandkreek in 1961. This necessitated the building of great sluices to regulate the discharge of water from the major rivers. Huge dams with sluice gates were likewise completed in 1971 to close off the Haringvliet and in 1972 to protect the Brouwershavensche Gat. The Philips and Oester Dams followed in 1974 and 1987 respectively. Plans for the closure of the last open estuary, the Eastern Scheldt, were also on the table, but evoked a clamour of protest from mussel and oyster farmers and environmentalists. They were fiercely opposed to closure on the grounds that it would destroy a unique tidal area and that the Eastern Scheldt was the nursery for many species of North Sea fish.

Eventually a compromise was reached. A partially open storm surge barrier would be built, with huge gates that could be closed in the event of high water levels. This would preserve the ecological value of the Eastern Scheldt as a tidal area while at the same time guaranteeing the safety of Zeeland. The resulting storm surge barrier in the Eastern Scheldt is one of the biggest in the world. The components for the moveable gates, each the size of a twelve-storey block of flats, were built in special docks and floated into place before being sunk. The dam was officially opened by Queen Beatrix on 4 October 1986 and the final piece of the Delta Works jigsaw was slotted into place in 1997, when a moveable storm surge barrier was completed in the New Waterway. This consists of two vast gates which are normally kept open but can be closed when a storm is imminent.

In 1993 and 1995 there were two new flood emergencies in the Netherlands. There were no fatalities, but the economic damage was enormous. This time the flooding came not from the sea but from the rivers. In 1995, meltwater from the mountainous heartland of Europe and extremely heavy rainfall downstream combined to burst the banks of the Rhine and the Maas and more than 250,000 people had to be evacuated. This latest flood emergency led immediately to the drafting of a Delta Plan for the Major Rivers. This provides for the major rivers transecting the Netherlands to be given greater freedom to spill out across some parts of their traditional floodplains, while the height of the dikes controlling them is increased elsewhere.

1959 - Greater affluence

By the 1960s the Netherlands was a fully industrialised country heavily dependent on trade. Change and innovation were the order of the day in agriculture as well as industry. Tractors, chemical fertilisers, new methods of farming and new pesticides were resulting in vastly increased production. Rotterdam was now the biggest port in the world and several giant multinationals like Philips, Unilever and Shell were major employers. Industry was given added impetus by the discovery of huge natural gas reserves near Slochteren in the province of Groningen in 1959. Within a few years, new natural gas mains had been installed serving millions of people. As a result, central heating became a standard feature of Dutch homes. Revenues from gas exports made it possible to expand the welfare state to guarantee an acceptable standard of living for all. The economic boom generated a labour shortage that was resolved by recruiting foreign workers in the Mediterranean region. It was assumed that they would work in the Netherlands for a few years and then return home. Instead, it became apparent in the 1970s that many of them were choosing to settle permanently and to bring their families to join them.

Television broadcasting began in the Netherlands in 1951 but access to the new medium was at first the prerogative of the wealthy few. Ten years on, however, more than a million people were watching television. Mopeds were another new luxury and there were soon 280,000 of them on Dutch roads. The first post-war Dutch cars were also emerging from the production line. Van Doorne's Automobielfabrieken (DAF) was about to make the dream of mass car-ownership come true. The first post-war DAFs featured a revolutionary 'variomatic' automatic transmission system using a continuous variable belt which eliminated the need to change gear.

Equally radical changes were taking place in the arts. In 1950 a group of poets, calling themselves the 'Experimentals', rejected traditional metrical structure. Well-known members of the group were Lucebert (1924-1994), Gerrit Kouwenaar (b. 1923), Remco Campert (b. 1929) and Simon Vinkenoog (b. 1928). They had close links with the 'Cobra' group of painters, whose members included Karel Appel (b. 1921), Constant (b. 1920), Corneille (b. 1922), Dotremont (1922-1979), Alechinsky (b.1927) and Asger Jorn (1914-1973). Dotremont and Alechinsky were Belgian and Jorn Danish, and the name of the group was derived from the first letters of the Dutch, Belgian and Danish capitals: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The group rejected traditional ways of painting and aspired to a spontaneous, experimental and colourful approach. They sought inspiration in the art of primitive peoples and the naivety of children's drawings. In literature, writers like Harry Mulisch (b. 1927), Heere Heeresma (b. 1932), Jan Wolkers (b. 1925) and Jan Cremer (b.1933) were setting tongues wagging. The books of Wolkers and Cremer roused particular excitement by challenging sexual taboos. However, the soft-bellied middle-of-the-road Dutch society of the time regarded the paintings and books as scandalous and immoral.

1966 - The sixties

The mid-1950s produced a totally new phenomenon: young people who scorned the hard-won bourgeois lifestyle enjoyed by their parents and preferred to listen to a new form of popular music, drink beer and go out dancing. In 1956 Elvis Presley's hit number 'Heartbreak Hotel' swept America. The music was known as 'rock and roll' and was a hybrid form of rhythm and blues and country and western. It was the forerunner of today's pop music. Bill Haley's film 'Rock around the Clock', made in the same year, exported 'rock' around the world. The unrestrained dancing that accompanied the music horrified parents and political leaders. They thought it barbarous and likely to deprave and corrupt the innocent young. Four young British musicians calling themselves The Beatles also attracted worldwide fame and they were quickly followed by another British group, the Rolling Stones. The music of these groups marked the appearance of the generation gap. The children of the post-war baby boom had grown up into teenage louts who challenged the establishment and flaunted their long hair as a symbol of protest.

On 10 March 1966, Princess Beatrix, the heir to the throne, married a German diplomat, Claus von Amsberg, at a ceremony held in Amsterdam. The occasion triggered riots in the city, particularly featuring a group of young people who called themselves 'Provos'. The Provo movement had been initiated in 1965 by a student called Roel van Duyn to oppose capitalism and organise demonstrations against the atomic bomb. The effect of its protests was slight, but the movement became famous in the Netherlands and abroad for its 'white bike' plan to reduce the number of cars in the streets by providing bicycles that could be used by everyone free of charge. Light-hearted Provo campaigns of this kind frequently caused great embarrassment to the government. Many young people, especially students, adopted Provo's attitudes towards the hypocrisy of the affluent society and a new generation of progressive young people entered politics, taking with them Provo ideas to influence the agendas of the political parties. They are one of the reasons why Dutch social legislation is now among the most extensive and generous in the world.

Following the independence of the colonies, many people from those countries came to the Netherlands. Large numbers of Indonesian immigrants arrived in the 1960s, later to be followed by people from Suriname and the Antilles. This has helped to give the Netherlands its present highly multicultural society

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