For three nights, scenes of riots are repeated across the Netherlands. Anger against sanitary measures is erupting across the country, from Rotterdam in the West to Enschede in the East, Groningen in the North to Tilburg in the South.

Friday night, police opened fire with live ammunition on protesters. This kind of shooting had not happened in the Netherlands for more than 10 years. An investigation is opened to verify whether the agents were in self-defense.

Police overwhelmed

Why that “orgy of violence”, according to the expression of the mayor of Rotterdam? The Netherlands reintroduced last week a series of restrictions to deal with an outbreak of Covid-19 cases. Bars and restaurants must close at 8 p.m. And the Dutch government is already announcing the rest: a strategy called “2G” (gevaccineerd of genezen, vaccinated or cured), which will prohibit access to bars and restaurants to non-vaccinated.

The outbreak of violence that followed these announcements surprised, even if it reminds of the unrest that shook the country during the introduction of the curfew at the beginning of the year. The police device set up in Rotterdam on Friday was unable to cope with the scale of the demonstration which degenerated. In other towns, however, such as Breda, demonstrators marched without incident.

“Soudain, everything is forbidden “

The successive announcements of restrictive measures have fueled a feeling of fed up with part of the population. “The Netherlands have so many freedoms, and suddenly everything is forbidden. Cancellation of activities is a source of frustration”, explains an academic, witness to the violence in Rotterdam.

In De Volkskrant, sociologist Don Weenink details this perception: “Friday night, it was the addition of all these elements: the bars are closed, you cannot go to football and then, you hear that for New Years Eve, the fireworks are prohibited. Take it all away! That’s the conclusion: we are no longer allowed to do anything! The frustration with all these restrictions is probably deep. “

Society’s anger is spiraling out of control

The president of a police union even expresses some understanding for the anger that explodes: “Imagine being a young person who does not have the right to do anything, who cannot find housing. And above all, he should trust the government”, s’indigne Gerrit van de Kamp dans le Volkskrant.

The trade unionist accuses the political world of not seeing the social malaise: “Everything is viewed purely from a health care perspective. Covid is becoming a chronic disease, I think it’s clear. I’ve been warning about this other disease we are in for years. now. The anger of society is spiraling out of control. “

“I want riots”

On Telegram encrypted messaging, thousands of new members have registered in recent days for discussions dubbed “Riots in the Netherlands” (Rellen Nederland or Rellen NL 3.0). These cats were created in January, in reaction to the curfew. Some now have 10,000 members, and hundreds of messages are exchanged per hour. Messages such as: “Where’s the demo? I feel like rioting.”

Some of the harshest incidents are attributed to hooligans linked to Feyenoord, Rotterdam’s big football club. But the editorial writer of Volkskrant Willem Vissers refuses to see it as a problem linked to the world of football. “Someone spilled the bubbling cocktail of years of social discontent that sat on the edge of the table.”, he writes. “Ultimately, one can say that football supporters are the experienced precursors of discontent.”

Idiots, for Mark Rutte

Despair has set in, according to Willem Vissers: “Young people see the time that will never return slip through their fingers, with another winter confined inside. It does not give the right to violence, on the contrary.” But for the columnist, the riots are the sign “of these times of growing division, of bygone freedom and of growing and dangerous mistrust of government.”

For Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the rioters are above all “idiots”. “I realize that there is a lot of tension in society because we have had to deal with the problem of the coronavirus for so long. As a prime minister, as a liberal, I will always fight for protests to take place in this country, within the framework of our democracy, of our rule of law “, at-il dit à RTL Nieuws. “But what I will never accept is that idiots use sheer violence against the people who are on the ground every day to ensure the security of the country, under the pretext that they are unhappy”, he added.

Feeling of power

“Demolishing gives rioters a sense of power”, explains the sociologist Don Weenink to Volkskrant : “We can do it, whatever you forbid or impose on us, and we will show it.”

A “second pandemic” would be underway in the wake of that of coronavirus, according to Marnix Eysink Smeets, security expert interviewed by NRC : “a pandemic of stress, uncertainty and frustration created by the coronavirus crisis and by the measures taken. Violence is like a virus: it infects people who are already more prone to it in their normal lives.“This second pandemic would be underestimated by the government, and its own ability to cope with it would be overestimated,” said the expert in NRC.

Winter will be hot

Police management is sounding the alarm. How long will she be able to hold out? “The critical limit is in sight”, according to Amsterdam Police Chief Frank Paauw. The police now embody “a lot of discontent in society”, he explains, and therefore became a target for rioters. This does not bode well for the coming winter. The president of the Dutch Police Federation plans “long months of violence against the government and against the police”.

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