Three amateur diggers found debris from a WWII plane – and were convicted of theft

In the warm and dry summer of 2018, Tim W., then 39, got the idea to dig up the downed Spitfire. Finding the British fighter jet was like finding the holy grail. From an early age, W., born and raised in Meerlo in North Limburg near Venray, had been told that a Spitfire had crashed near his parental home during the Second World War. He also said he had developed a real passion for the Second World War through other war stories. He now belonged to the army of amateurs who use a metal detector to search for weapons, ammunition and helmets left behind in the soil.

In mid-November, W. stood trial with two co-defendants for digging for the plane. The case revolved around the question of whether the three were violating the Heritage Act.

In itself, that law, from 2016, allows searching the soil for militaria. At least, if the landowner has agreed, and if finds are reported to the competent authority, for example the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. The finds may also not have been made more than 30 centimeters below ground level. Unauthorized persons are prohibited from digging deeper, because then the still intact soil with archaeological information can be disturbed.

The Spitfire crashed near Meerlo on May 28, 1944, with 26-year-old Neville Clark on board. The Australian Royal Air Force pilot had taken off earlier that day from Benson military airfield, southeast of Oxford. He belonged to the 542 Squadron that carried out reconnaissance flights over Germany with unarmed Spitfires. After taking pictures of German airfields near Dortmund and Bochum, his plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire on the way back. At a quarter past eight in the evening, his plane crashed just outside Meerlo, at the intersection of Keuter and De Ham. The Germans salvaged his remains and buried them in Venlo. After the war he was buried at the Jonkerbos military cemetery in Nijmegen, more than 16,000 kilometers from his wife, who had remained behind in Leichhardt, New South Wales.

The fragments of Clark’s Spitfire, which ended up in the swampy ground of an old course of the Meuse, had already sunk by then. Later a small forest with coppice and blackberry bushes grew over it. The spot was never marked, nor was there a monument, as was the case in 2008 for the five crew members of a Lancaster that also crashed nearby sixteen days after Clark’s crash.

Looking for the Spitfire, Tim W. hacked his way through the brambles with a machete. The forest was too large to dig at random; presumably he had a metal detector with him. About thirty meters from the road he encountered the crash site. With a shovel, according to W’s story, he dug a deep hole. The groundwater was so high that he needed a pump to empty the pit. And then he hit the engine block. The main prize, but much too heavy to get out on his own.

He immediately knew who to ask for help: Jordie G., from a nearby village on the other side of the Maas. Also someone with a ‘passion’ for the war and metal detection. He had been working on it since he was fifteen, the sturdy man (38) later told the court.

An Instagram account in his name with seventy search messages between January 2019 and February 2020 shows what that means. On a photo of February 9, 2019 shows that next to a deep pit are seventeen corroded German helmets, excavated on one of the battlefields of Market Garden. The photos from March 4, 2019 show a Market Garden site with a parachute in a pit, a wheelbarrow and a ladder in the background. hashtag: #deepdig.

Engine block in three pieces

Jordie G. was happy to lend Tim W. a helping hand with the Spitfire. He in turn asked the then 46-year-old Harm G. (not the same surname), a member of an official association of ammunition collectors, because he could arrange a ‘crane’, a small excavator.

The operation at the beginning of August 2018 attracted the attention of many villagers. Photos were taken as the engine block was taken out of the ground in three pieces. Afterwards, all the finds – oxygen tanks, an inflatable boat for emergency situations, a life jacket, aluminum fragments and fragments of maps – were loaded onto Tim W.’s trailer, who would store the items with his mother.

An amateur archaeologist heard about the excavation work through the village tam-tam. Concerned, he alerted an archaeologist friend. He went to look and based on the caterpillar tracks and the size of the pit, which had filled up with water again, determined that mechanical digging had taken place. Reason for him to report the illegal excavation in March 2019 to the Government Information and Heritage Inspectorate, which falls under the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

There they have been concerned for some time about metal detector amateurs looking for militaria from the war, says heritage inspector Nico Aten. He doesn’t know exactly how big the problem is. A 2017 report on Metal Detection and World War II estimates there are 10,000 to 15,000 metal detector amateurs. Since 2016, they have been able to report their metal finds from all periods of history to the PAN (Portable Antiquities Netherlands) database. This happens a lot for finds from other periods, but the number of finds from the Second World War in the public database is remarkably small – which may indicate many hidden war finds.

In October 2019, Jordie G. offered a Spitfire oxygen tank for sale via Marktplaats

There are more indications of a “massive encroachment” on World War II heritage by metal detectorists, says Nico Aten. On internet forums, finders show their finds under pseudonyms, he says. And forest rangers note that digging has taken place in many places, especially in the Nijmegen region, where metal detectors are prohibited by regulation. Aten: “We see that certain groups are using small excavators. And deep seekers, detectors that can detect metal up to five meters in the ground, are widely available to hobby seekers.” Traders who offer deep searchers – at prices of around 1,000 euros – explicitly target “militaria seekers” on their websites.

Jordie G. in particular would not take the Heritage Act very seriously, say professional archaeologists. Three archaeologists report anonymously NRC (names known to the editors) that G. seeks out, if not exceeds, the edges of the law. He does not ask landowners for permission, he uses machines to dig deeper pits, he pushes mortal remains aside, he does not report finds, but sells them, and, to put it mildly, he does not like people who call him to account for his actions. The archaeologists say they are apprehensive, even afraid of him and other metal detector amateurs with whom he works.

One of the archaeologists says that G. under the name ‘Ghosts of the Western Front‘ posted photos and videos of his searches on Facebook and YouTube. According to him, they clearly show that G. and fellow seekers violated the Heritage Act on several occasions. A bone of a leg was also rumored to have been found during the excavation of the Spitfire. Given the heavy crash, it would not surprise him if the Germans did not salvage the entire body at the time. G. has since removed the Facebook page and the videos.

Nico Aten and his colleagues from the heritage inspectorate had never succeeded in bringing perpetrators to justice. The Spitfire case offered an opportunity to do just that. Inspectorate and police started working together when it turned out that the land owner had also filed a report: he had not given permission. “With Defense we also tried to have the British government, the rightful owner of the Spitfire, report theft,” says Frank Assendelft, charged with art and antiques crime at the Limburg police. “We’ve come a long way, but it didn’t happen because of Brexit.”

When Jordie G. offered an oxygen tank from the Spitfire for sale via Marktplaats in October 2019, a detective team went to work at Assendelft’s instigation. Permission was given for a pseudo-purchase and house searches of the suspects. At Jordie G. not only the oxygen tank was confiscated. He also turned out to have a lot of war ammunition in his house. Part was so unstable that the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Service immediately detonated it.

Partly due to corona, it took more than two years, until November 15 this year, before the Spitfire case came to court. During the hearing, Tim W. did not deny his part, but Jordie G. and Harm G. both stated that they had only been present during the excavation: they would not have dug themselves. Jordie G. was shocked because of the trio in The Limburger had been portrayed as “treasure diggers”. He did not recognize himself in that, it had caused a knot in his stomach, he said. The public prosecutor demanded community service against the trio. Their lawyer pleaded for an acquittal.

Read also: The war hobbyist dug out of ‘passion for history’ but broke the law

On Tuesday, November 29, the judge ruled that the three suspects had cooperated “closely” and “consciously”. He found them guilty of theft and willful violation of the Heritage Act. He called “unbridled hunting” for historical heritage “reprehensible”. “Especially when the lost and found […] be removed from the site, distributed and even monetized.” As a deterrent and ‘in the interests of the protection of historical heritage’, the judge imposed higher sentences than the public prosecutor had demanded. Harm G. and Tim W. both received a community service sentence of 80 hours, W., as the initiator, also received a one-month suspended prison sentence. Jordie G, who had already been convicted in 2018 for an offense with serious illegal fireworks, and who therefore still had a suspended sentence, received the heaviest sentence: 100 hours of community service and a month’s probation (plus 180 hours of community service for the suspended sentence that was he still had standing).

Frank Assendelft said: “We have achieved what we wanted: a unique ruling for violation of the Heritage Act. It is also very important that theft is proven.” Nico Aten is pleased that the court considers WWII material, including the non-technical parts of the aircraft, as heritage. “This ruling gives us more options to act.” Both are also pleased that the illegally excavated parts of the Spitfire are now being given a good destination: they are going to Overloon War Museum.


The judiciary is apparently only public to the extent that it pleases the judge

Another illusion less – the administration of justice is not half as public as I always thought. Every citizen can always inspect an (anonymised) judgment of the criminal court. At least I had article 365 paragraph 4 Criminal procedure always understood. After all: criminal hearings are public and so are the sentences. I also thought I knew the exceptions: sessions with minors, family issues and tax matters are closed. But access to case law is always there. So I thought. The judiciary ‘makes living together possible’, they say themselves, and public access is a pillar of this. On Twitter, a platoon of criminal judges explains current rulings in that spirit and invites citizens to attend hearings.

But Robert Asman from Bergen op Zoom put an end to that cheerful naivety. He requested an anonymous judgment from the Zeeland-West-Brabant court and received a categorical refusal from the police judge. He had not made sufficiently clear what his ‘interest’ was in disclosure. His argument that the judiciary was public after all did not count. He had to motivate better, demonstrate a specific, even personal interest. If not, then privacy was more important. A complaint to the Attorney General (PG) of the Supreme Court also did not help. A refusal fell within the jurisdiction of the judge, the attorney general found. “Just providing judgments to anyone who requests it is not in line with how the legislator intended the openness of the judiciary,” the spokesperson wrote to me.

Simply issuing judgments, what kind of language is that? Do you have to take an exam before you can read a verdict? I couldn’t imagine it, but was patiently explained. The judge is not obliged to issue an anonymised judgment and may decide that the interests of the suspects or others in the case outweigh the interests of the suspects or others. The PG at the Supreme Court agreed. This falls within judicial autonomy.

Milder than in the media?

Asman’s interest was piqued by a message from Omroep Brabant of May 13 about a certain Cora W. (56), artist in Tilburg who had conducted a long-term hate campaign against the alderman of Culture and a local writer. The judge had imposed a stiff sentence. Three months probation with a two-year probationary period. Plus a five-year restraining order. And every time she would cross the line, a week in prison. “One more word wrong and you are immediately in jail!” said judge Pleun Wijffels. Asman had heard that the charge was milder than what the media had made of it. He wanted the seam of the stocking, but was refused. And emailed surprised to NRC. What’s up with that?

Okay! Would the newspaper also be denied the verdict? And what would be sensitive in that? After some fives and sixes (“you serve a journalistic interest?” asked the court) I received the anonymized verdict. That turned out to be a kind of form, an Annotation Oral Judgment, on which only the sentence is stated. It did not contain any justification or any privacy-sensitive fact. There used to be no verdict at all. Police judges only appear to write that when the suspect appeals, which Cora W. had not done.

That completed the riddle. What interests did the judge have in mind, as a result of which access had to be refused? I didn’t find out. When asked, this court says that it does not refuse citizens access more than twice a year. And I now know that that is formally correct. But why did the judge refuse to allow a citizen to read this ‘judgment’ of a public session with a lot of media attention, which subsequently contains nothing? Moodiness? Do not feel like?

It fed my prejudice that ‘publicity’, despite all the tweeting criminal judges and beautiful communication language, is not really in the DNA of the judiciary. See the website, the only publicly accessible database with judgments. It still contains no more than a selection – only those judgments which, according to the case law itself, are legally relevant and socially important, about 4 percent. Media interest and attention in science are taken into account. But in essence, the judges decide for themselves what they publish.

Legal inequality

That something like this no longer fits in a time of legal tech, search engines and data journalism was realized by the Council for the Judiciary last year. Chairman Henk Naves then said that within ten years “a percentage of close to 75 percent” should be available online (anonymously) for everyone. That is 1.4 million court decisions every year. A more transparent judiciary strengthens the position of citizens and legal aid providers, said Naves. After all, if the government itself is a party to the proceedings, it does have access to all judgments. Through the back door – the court databases. Civilians don’t. That is legal inequality that cannot be tolerated.

Since then, the inventory Jurisdiction’ what needs to change technically, organizationally and legally to achieve this. Better content indications, clearer legal references, more specific jurisdiction reference, standard text formats. Are judges prepared to work with formats for their judgments? Do they want to report metadata with their judgments: keywords, authorities, themes? After all, this makes digital searching easier. What do the b2b publishers, researchers, data journalists, legal aid providers need? And how can that mountain of statements ever be anonymised? Not by hand, like now, that much is already clear. Another detail: this should preferably not cost money.

Not all of the 1.4 million court decisions are relevant. Half a million comes from administrative judges. They deal with very private issues. Control of the financial affairs of individual citizens who have been placed under administration or guardianship. In addition, there are tens of thousands of withdrawals, settlements, ‘notes of oral judgment’, settlements out of court and declarations of inadmissibility. The number of verdicts with real legal content and weight is no more than about half a million annually.

And what does such a statement database 2.0 yield? The courts, judges and lawyers could just become transparent. It is possible to ‘score’ digitally. On profit and loss, on the level of fines and penalties, on government or ‘citizen friendliness’ in the rulings. This can influence litigation behaviour, even the question of whether citizens dare to go to court. I immediately see one advantage. Sulky police judges who refuse citizens access have then been overtaken by time.


Opinion | Fewer? No, we just need more cynicism

Cynicism is bad. Almost all sane people agree on that. In the run-up to the 2017 parliamentary elections, Sybrand Buma, then leader of the CDA, passionately defended “our value tradition” in the book Against cynicism. Comedian Claudia de Breij, not a Christian Democrat herself, gave her Jan Terlouw lecture last year the title Beyond cynicism. In recent weeks’ reactions to the embrace of the anti-Semitic conspiracy thinker David Icke by FVD leader Thierry Baudet, he was repeatedly accused of cynicism, sometimes also linked to another terrifying activity: nihilism.

And yet we could use a little more cynicism.

Baudet is called a cynic and nihilist because he doesn’t seem to believe in anything anymore. Did he first speak of “a worldwide conspiracy of evil reptiles”, after the fuss about his statements it turned out that he does not really think that such a conspiracy exists – the r-word was only a metaphor for the numbness of world leaders. Previously, he saw himself as the savior of “boreal” civilization, but since the corona pandemic his focus has shifted to undermining “the system” by sowing confusion.

Those who claim to oppose cynicism today are referring to people and institutions without ideals, completely indifferent to morality and truth, and acting accordingly. Until the early eighteenth century, however, cynicism meant something quite different. It referred to a movement within ancient philosophy started by Diogenes. This Greek philosopher was nicknamed ‘dog’ by his contemporary and enemy Plato. Diogenes himself took pride in his animal shamelessness and caustic criticism of others. Subsequently, Diogenes’ followers were also called ‘canine’. In ancient Greek this is ‘kynikos‘ and from this are eventually derived (via Latin) ‘cynic’, ‘cynic’ and ‘cynicism’.

Diogenes was born in Sinope (modern day Turkey) at the end of the fifth century BC. After his exile he went to Athens, and later to Corinth. He lived in a large earthenware pot on the market square – a house he considered unnecessary luxury. Hundreds of short anecdotes and conversations he had with passers-by have been preserved. One of those passers-by was the young king of the Macedonian Empire: Alexander. He was brought to Diogenes’ pot on his own initiative and asked what he could do for the philosopher. Diogenes bade the king step aside. He had stood in his sun.

Brutal independence

This difficult encounter with Alexander contains the core values ​​of Diogenes’ philosophy: brutal independence from power and making use of what is naturally given to us as humanity (sunlight, common sense, our bodies, etc.). Diogenes’ cynicism consisted in questioning all existing norms. He showed their relativity by ostentatiously flouting them and behaving like a dog. His contrariness also meant that, unlike virtually all of his contemporaries, he was critical of slavery.

The anecdotes and sayings of Diogenes have been handed down from the fourth century BC to the present day. Among his admirers we count the Stoic philosopher Epictetus in Roman times and the jack-of-all-trades and provocateur Desiderius Erasmus in the Renaissance. At the time of the Enlightenment in France, he was such an important figure that it could be both a compliment and an insult to be called the ‘new Diogenes’. In the first case, his name stood for freedom, courage and independence. In the second case for shamelessness and overthrowing the existing norms too quickly.

Shortly after this, cynicism also acquired its modern meaning: ‘cynical’ suddenly came to be used as a very specific, negative label for thinkers who had failed to live up to their high philosophical ideals and, in retrospect, must therefore have been insincere. Thus the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had the dubious honor of being called cynical in both the ancient (follower of Diogenes) and the modern sense of the word.

Read also: Actually, Baudet only believes in nihilism and conspiracies

Life in a jar

Old-style cynicism can help us find a way out of the contradictions of our time. Diogenes urges us to pierce through existing norms and hierarchies. If the status quo is unjust, it’s up to us to address it. As far as he is concerned, everyone has a voice in this, regardless of origin or social status. Diogenes’ choice to live in a jar meant that he lived and embodied his own philosophical principles. This transparency symbolizes the requirement that the cynical philosopher actually live up to his ideal of radical, critical independence in his own life. He was not as sharp with anyone as with individuals who did not live by their own beliefs.

This may all sound rather wacky, but Diogenes’ thinking also offers tools to prevent an overly strict application of our ideals. He once described himself as a choir director who sets the tone just a little too high, so that the others pick the right pitch: the choir members do not reach the note that the conductor sings anyway and automatically end up a little lower. Aspiring cynics should actively model Diogenes’ way of life, but he recognized that not everyone would succeed completely.

What makes being woke so repulsive to anti-woke is that it feels like an overly demanding straitjacket, like tunnel vision, like ‘you can’t say anything anymore’. Diogenes’ cynicism derives its strength from the acceptance of ethical imperfection.

Cynical lifestyle offers real wealth

Diogenes’ universal critical stance protects us from polarization in another way. If resistance to the established order threatens to result in blind, collective progress thinking, we must also dare to apply the brakes. After all, ‘the dog’ was ready to bite anyone who thought they had a monopoly on the truth – it didn’t matter which side someone was on.

The old cynicism also offers starting points for dealing with right-wing populism. At first glance, politicians such as Thierry Baudet and Donald Trump look a bit like the old Diogenes. They set themselves up as champions of the interests of the common man, which is accompanied by a provocative style and resistance to the established order. They prove their status as outsiders to the political elite by vociferously violating existing rules of conduct. They derive their charisma to a large extent from this picaresque role. They do and say everything most of their followers would like but dare not.

Live according to your own philosophy

Modern populists often pride themselves on having no ideals at all. With this, one of the most difficult tasks of the old cynicism, namely to live by one’s own philosophy, is completely irrelevant to them. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk tried the apathetic twentieth century Zynismus with Diogenes’ version (Kynismus). The difference is that the current populist movements do not see any obstacles in the absence of new ideals to open the attack and thus enthuse their supporters.

But Diogenes was not out of line in seducing people. He had no interest whatsoever in seizing power for himself, his aim was to show that the establishment has no real power. In other words: Diogenes does not want to be Alexander, nor does he need to overthrow him, because he is already free by his way of life. He undermines power by showing others that there is no need to obey or please the king – the cynical way of life offers real wealth and security.

Ultimately, Diogenes’ “rawness” is an opportunity to compete with right-wing populism or fight it with its own weapons. As the actions of Extinction Rebellion (they disrupted a concert in the Concergebouw) have shown, it is not at all necessary to grant right-wing populism the exclusive right to provocation. Diogenes would also make short work of the aggrieved fear of being canceled on the part of anti-woke: those who are truly courageous and independent, he teaches us from their pot in the market square, need nothing or no one to defend their acquittal. to exercise.

That’s cynicism.


Opinion | My autistic son can think more than you guys

My son was diagnosed with autism a few years after he was born. Shortly after his fourth birthday, the age at which he should start school, his mother and I parted ways in a silent, cruel implosion. We became co-parents to a child who needed our full-time attention.

Dutch special education is divided into four categories or clusters: cluster 1: blind, visually impaired pupils, cluster 2: deaf, hard of hearing pupils or with a speech development disorder, cluster 3: physically and/or mentally handicapped children and the long-term sick, cluster 4: children with mental and behavioral problems.

In fact, my son was hearing in Cluster 4, but he had no behavioral problems, in fact he was gentle, almost timid. I went to look at the cluster 4 schools and soon saw that the children there had completely different problems than he did and that he would never be able to maintain himself in that environment, let alone develop.

We looked for more creative solutions, places where they might make an exception for my son under the guise of ‘suitable education’, such as the primary school around the corner from his mother. He was rejected everywhere. When he was almost five years old, we managed to get him enrolled at a well-regarded school in cluster 2: speech and language problems. During his second year at this school, a new director came who thought that there were too many children with autism at the school. My son’s IQ was too low to learn to read, or so we were told. I showed her studies that prove you can’t measure an autistic brain with an IQ test. It didn’t work. They could “not offer him what he needs.”

We went looking again. With lead in our shoes we visited schools throughout Amsterdam and beyond, we looked at the iPad school of Maurice de Hond, the Free School, Dalton School, Montessori School, the Tobias School. We followed every tip from well-meaning relatives, colleagues and neighbours, even testing it at a small Scientology school where they made figures out of clay, but kept getting variations on the same answer: ‘We can’t place these kinds of kids’ or ‘We don’t offer what your child needs.’ No one seemed to see that we were being openly discriminated against.

My son could only go to schools in cluster 3: physically and/or mentally disabled children. Great, passionate people work there, but none of them had the right knowledge of autism or tools to help my son learn. He went to a school where he felt safe, but learned little or nothing. The list of therapists and organizations we’ve tried outside of school over the years is pages long. I began to understand that the schools in the Netherlands that have high expectations of children did not want him, and the schools that did accept him without the condition of a good education.

Recognize whole words

I am originally American, my son has dual American-Dutch nationality and speaks both languages. I have always kept a close eye on the literature and developments surrounding autism in the US. In the summer of 2019, I took my son to a school in New Jersey, Celebrate the Children, that specializes in autism. There, a teacher tried different reading methods with him. The third, where he had to learn to recognize whole words instead of spelling them first, worked right away.

The emotion that came with it was overwhelming for both him and me. The world of words and letters, which had always remained closed to him, opened up. Back in the Netherlands, we worked on this English-language reading program in the evenings and weekends. He learned a hundred words, and then two hundred. By the time he knew four hundred, he had mastered the building blocks of the English language. Now he could get down to the more complicated compound words like ‘meanwhile‘, because he ‘mean‘ and ‘while‘ recognized. Meanwhile, he did not read Dutch at all.

When his last year of primary special education came, the same merry-go-round started again. We visited all corners of special education in the Netherlands, I tried to set up a school myself, we looked at a private international school for special education in The Hague, sought advice from independent education experts, asked the Autism Center for advice, asked other parents for advice, visited countless organizations and schools, and heard the same message everywhere: for your son there is only cluster 3. ZMLK, or Very Difficult Learning Children.

My son started reading street signs, menus and short books he got from school

Desperate, I decided to give the school in the US a chance. After all these years, if my son could learn to read with these American methods, what else could he learn? His mother didn’t want him to go. He was Dutch, she was Dutch. The Netherlands was his home, she thought, not America.

Read also: ‘Why did I have this son? Pointless question. He’s just there

Finally, we agreed on a trial year in the US. That was not an easy decision. My current wife would lose her husband for a year, my other two sons their father. We would have double rent and fixed costs and have to fly back and forth a lot to see each other. But we believed that if this would help my son learn, become confident, interpret and understand the world around him, and develop into an independent or at least partially independent adult, it would be worth it.

I got him enrolled at Celebrate the Children and in the 2020-2021 school year he filled his days with subjects like language, social skills, biology, history, mindfulness, music, etc. in addition to practical subjects like ‘life skillswhere he learned how to fold laundry, pay bills, etc. In Amsterdam, our schedule had been a military operation, with a patchwork of mismatched extracurricular therapy spread all over the city. At Celebrate the Children, school was combined with care in a hyper-personalized curriculum: he received physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, extra language lessons, etc., and when that was all over, he got off the school bus at the door and we could both relax . It felt so normal that it made me nervous.

Real friends

My son started reading street signs, menus and short books he got from school. He was a mentor to a younger student on Celebrate the Children. Perhaps more importantly, he made friends. Real friends, boys who looked like him in everything, and when his social skills failed, there were professionals at school who could help him understand the complicated world of social interaction. His teachers praised him for his leadership skills, his generous and helpful nature, and his will to learn.

He was asked to be a scriptwriter for the annual school play. So much was constantly expected of him that I was afraid he would fail. The opposite happened. The school rebuilt his self-confidence. He went from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’. The school encouraged him, believing that he has as much potential as a neurotypical child. He was happy and wanted to stay in this school in the US. His mother was not convinced and wanted him to come back.

I applied for substitute permission from a judge. Because Amsterdam was legally my son’s place of residence, I had to go to a Dutch court for this. But after seeing what my son, who was almost fifteen, was capable of in New Jersey, how happy he was in a community that embraced him and had high expectations of him, and how much he wanted to stay himself, doing nothing was no option.

Read also: I’d rather not have a Ritalin experiment with my child

Fist-thick file

The file in our case was thick, full of reports from teachers in the US, evidence of my son’s academic progress, an explanation of the scientific methods used there, a comparison of the school he would attend in Amsterdam and the school in New Jersey, a long timeline of everything we had tried so far in the Netherlands without success, and many statements from American and Dutch experts in the field of autism who indicated that there was nothing for our son in the Netherlands. A Dutch autism expert, who is also the mother of an autistic son, wrote that they had moved to the US because of the poor education in the Netherlands.

His mother indicated that there were exactly the same opportunities for him in the Netherlands. That he could fully develop here and that the methods from the US would be applied here in the Netherlands. Finally, she invoked her right as a mother to have our son with her, in the Netherlands. This right would transcend all other interests.

In the end, three judges decided that it had not been proven that our son had learned something in the US that he could not learn in the Netherlands. They rejected the request for replacement permission. On appeal, the judges ruled that our son had indeed received an education in America that he could not receive here, but that the mother’s right to have him here with her outweighed his right to that education. The request was again rejected.

When the first day arrived at his Dutch ZMLK school, I cried harder than I had in years. I had failed, failed to protect him, and failed to secure for him one of the most basic human rights: education.

Not a single Dutch word

We are now over a school year further. He has not learned a single Dutch word. The methods from the US are not available in Dutch. During parent meetings, his teachers emphasize that he is such a sweet, happy boy, but that he doesn’t seem to be able to learn to read, write or count. Sinterklaas hasn’t been in the classroom with the average fifteen-year-old for a long time – he does. (He asked if he could stay home.) He regularly comes home with a sticker on his hand. “That’s because I did well,” he says. His outflow route is ‘non-wage-forming daytime activities’. He is not allowed to follow therapy or courses outside school during school hours, and the number of organizations that are allowed to visit the school for specialized help or care is so limited that he has nothing in between. He does not receive speech therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy.

In the meantime he follows me at home, in the evenings, for English language lessons via the computer with his language teacher from the US. His stamina and concentration is admirable and he progresses quickly. We recently watched a movie with English subtitles and I paused the movie with every new sentence. He read them all. The satisfaction and self-confidence that such a moment gives him is difficult to see, because the next day he is again from half past eight to three at a school where he does not learn.

It’s almost impossible not to spend every minute of every day thinking about where he could be if he could have used all those hours to develop at a school like Celebrate the Children. The months turn into years, and our son approaches adulthood. Without training.


Column | The power of the dictator is also the power of the street

Teachers have been taking to the streets across Hungary since September to protest against low wages. While many have been dismissed as a result, they still formed a ten-kilometer chain in Budapest last week. In the meantime, demonstrations against the regime in Iran continue, even though dozens of demonstrators have been shot dead and more than 1,400 arrested. Even in China, people are now protesting the government’s draconian, hopelessly ineffective corona measures.

“Authoritarian regimes are unbeatable, until suddenly they are no longer. History is littered with deposed emperors and tsars.Financial Timescommentator Philip Stephens this week in a blog under the hopeful title “A bad year for autocrats. Xi and Putin are the big losers of 2022′.

Stephens is right: we shouldn’t hang our heads. Yet we should not be under any illusions about popular protests and what they can do in 2022. Modern autocrats are less easily chased out of the plush than the generations before them.

Gone are the days when dictators came to power through coups and then established a reign of terror on two pillars hated by the people: security services and the army. If you wanted these dictators gone, you had to get the army command and security bosses on your side. If that succeeded, the dictators would no longer have a power base. Today’s dictators are slicker. They try to remain popular among the population. They hardly engage in mass killings anymore and no longer mow down demonstrators in front of CNN cameras, but quietly lift them off the bed afterwards or produce ‘evidence’ of a sex crime. And they hold referenda and opinion polls, and chat with citizens. Foreign investors do not run away because of this democratic facade, which keeps the economy running and citizens keep bread on the shelf.

You see this in China, but also in Europe: the Polish rule of law conflict with Brussels escalated, but European companies continued to invest in the country. Hungary, which just missed out on 7.5 billion in European subsidies because it is no longer a rule of law state but – according to MEPs – an “electoral autocracy”, no German car factory cares less about it. Because dictators have most media completely in their pockets thanks to modern technology, they largely determine what people read or see. Orbán says that George Soros is inciting the teachers – and his business buddies, who have bought up a lot of media, make sure that’s the tenor of the (scarce) coverage about it. Chinese TV even cut supporters without masks from images of Qatar.

Modern dictators have long worked for popular support. That is why all kinds of countries became completely polarized – Brazil under Bolsonaro, the US under Trump, Hungary under Orbán. Even if half the country takes to the streets, the other half supports the dictator.

According to researchers at Harvard the chance of success of street uprisings under this new type of ruler is six times smaller than in 2000. Popular protest used to be built up slowly, from the ground up. This promoted cohesion and solidarity. Now protesters are being mobilized through social media. The club spirit is weaker. Street protests die faster. Moreover, the authorities now also use advanced technology for propaganda, infiltration and intimidation. Not only Poland and Hungary spy on opponents with Pegasus software, but even Greece and Spain – even if they say they don’t know anything. We live in a time of “digital authoritarianism,” according to the Harvard study.

In the past, massive and prolonged street protests had the best chance of success. Not anymore – just look at Iran. If you want to get rid of modern dictators, you also have to break down their ‘popular’ power base. And that, as we see every day in Hungary, is not that easy. In addition to good arguments, it also requires patience, organizational skills and the same stamina as the autocrat himself possessed when he started his advance.


In the lowest polder in the Netherlands you can see why the water level can no longer be lowered

We are more than six meters below sea level, on the floor of a pumping station that keeps the deepest polder in the Netherlands dry. This is the Zuidplaspolder. The water managers took a remarkable decision this week about part of this area: although the peat soil sinks every year, the water level will no longer fall with this fall. “If we continue in the same way, we will have reached the end of the makeability of the Netherlands,” says Toon van der Klugt, who is the chief executive of the Schieland and Krimpenerwaard Water Board as dike warden.

Adjusting the water level is no longer possible, says Dijkgraaf Show van der Klugt of the Schieland and Krimpenerwaard Water Board.

The soil in part of the Zuidplaspolder has sunk so much that saline groundwater bubbles up and pollutes the ditches, which turn orange as a result, due to oxidizing iron. Cozy for football fans these days, but in no way undesirable. Van der Klugt: “In previous centuries, we always adjusted the water level to the subsidence, so that the same agriculture remained possible. But that process is finite. We are now saying in time: we can no longer lower the water level, keep that in mind.”

Government policy

The measure was unanimous this week, so also with the approval of the representatives of the farmers, taken by the general board of the Rotterdam Water Board. “That is special,” says the dijkgraaf. “Everyone realizes that adjusting the water level is no longer possible. However, we have been urged to work more quickly with the municipality and province to achieve good prospects for the future.”

The decision is a rather ideal illustration of the usefulness and necessity of the policy announced by the cabinet last week, in which water and soil will henceforth be ‘steering’ in the spatial planning of the country. “Confidence in the manufacturability of our landscape is great. But we are now increasingly coming up against the limits of the water and soil system,” wrote Minister Mark Harbers (Water Management, VVD) in a letter to parliament. “Soil subsidence and low water levels cause a lot of damage to building foundations and extra maintenance on roads and railways. Sufficient good drinking water is no longer a matter of course. The survival of plant and animal species is under pressure.”

Some of the measures favored by the government: no more construction should be done in areas that are necessary for the storage and drainage of water, such as floodplains and the deepest parts of deep polders; and the Netherlands must strive for a higher groundwater level, because that provides sufficient water if it has not rained for a while, slows down the subsidence of peat soils and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Water in the Zuidplaspolder is stained by pollution of saline groundwater.
Water in the Zuidplaspolder is colored by subsidence and pollution of saline groundwater.
Photos: Walter Autumn

In a part of the Zuidplaspolder, which was drained almost two hundred years ago, between Rotterdam, Zoetermeer and Gouda, it can be seen that such policy intentions are not a thing of the future, but are already a dire necessity. This is the first area known to have reached the ‘breaking point’. The Restveen, a part of the polder between Moordrecht and Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel of almost four hundred hectares, consists of peat that dries out further every year and actually burns and shrinks. As a result, the increasingly lighter soil is no longer able to withstand the upward pressure of the groundwater. The soil cracks open and poor-quality groundwater damages farmland, nature and inhabited living environments. This effect is also extra large here in the lowest part of the Netherlands. Elsewhere in the polder, too, the soil threatens to crack without measures. “You get stuck on all sides,” says Van der Klugt.

Read also: Groundwater goes up, nitrogen goes down

In addition to the damage caused by poor quality water, there is also a risk of subsidence elsewhere. “There is a railway here. If it starts to sag, you’re talking about millions of dollars in damage. The NS has already warned about this.” Other users such as homeowners could also get involved. The usefulness of stopping the downward lowering of the water level was already known twenty years ago, when the province of South Holland had plans to turn the Restveen into a piece of ‘wet nature’ and thus counteract subsidence. However, the plans fell through when the government suddenly turned off the money tap. In the following years, the level was not lowered ‘for the time being’. From now on it is finally clear that a lowering of the level will not happen again. Van der Klugt: “The benefits no longer outweigh the costs. The time of porridge and keeping wet is over. The current water level is the starting point for everyone.”


The consequences of the decision will mainly be felt by a limited number of farmers and a few horse owners. Grazing cattle and harvesting grass, now also one tour de force in the fairly wet area, will be less and less possible. “Farmers understand that. But this decision is also a signal to the province and the municipality to discuss alternatives with users.” In the next ten or twenty years you could still drive lighter machines across the farmland, and later grow other crops or build solar parks. For example. Or still construct wet nature. “That could be.” Will the rest of the Netherlands follow suit? “We do not know that. Every area is different. We do it wisely.”


What does NRC | The future of the Netherlands

The Netherlands must continue to exist to its full extent, also in a hundred years’ time. It has not yet been fully thought through, but the cabinet seems to have made this choice. And it sees the Randstad as the permanent economic and demographic heart. Even after the expected rise in sea levels due to climate change.

With some good will, this common thread can be drawn from the fragments of vision and policy that the Rutte IV cabinet has been releasing in recent weeks. It often remains implicit, in parentheses on topics such as water policy, plans for housing and infrastructure, and the future of agriculture. But they do point in one direction.

Minister Mark Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management (VVD) looked explicitly past 2100 when he told the House of Representatives that decisions would still have to be made this decade about questions such as whether or not to build a second coastline, an artificial buffer against the higher sea. After all, such large projects take “about eighty years”, he remembered from previous projects. The mindset is clear again: keep the west.

Apocalyptic scenario

It is a good direction – and it is not self-evident, given the climate change scenarios. All the more so as the government can be expected to also take the worst variants into account. According to the Scientific Council for Government Policy, this generally happens too little. And it makes quite a difference. According to the Sea Rise Knowledge Programme, the sea will rise by 30 centimeters by 2100, in an apocalyptic scenario it will rise by 10 meters in the year 2300.

What is desired and at what price? Many government plans for spatial development or the reorganization of the Netherlands do not go beyond the medium term.

During that period, for example, a lot of construction had to be done in the U-shape from Hoorn to Nijmegen, around the ‘national rain barrel’ of the IJsselmeer and the Markermeer. Starting in the next ten years with 400,000 new homes in that region, plus 3.4 billion euros from a fund for economic growth. And investments in infrastructure, a large part of which is around Amsterdam.

Read also: How the government let go of control over the organization of the Netherlands

This would – hopefully – turn out differently if the government assumed that the Netherlands would have to start giving up the west to the sea. Then it would be time to start shifting the infrastructural center of gravity to the east – as Indonesia has already planned its capital elsewhere (because Jakarta is sinking into the sea). This cabinet does not start such grand designs. In Zeeland, Limburg and northeast of the Deventer-Zwolle line, relatively few infrastructural investments are planned.

More thoroughness lies in thinking about the West. For example, the cabinet wants to stop building in the lowest-lying polders in the western Netherlands, where the advancing sea is already causing more salinization of the surface and groundwater. A choice that received praise this week.

In any case, it is an example of the necessary national direction of spatial planning, which sometimes disrupts local plans. For example, in the Zuidplaspolder, where thousands of new homes are currently being planned in the lowest-lying area of ​​the Netherlands.

In its plans, the cabinet also considers the space needed after 2050 to reinforce dykes, dunes and dams (enthusiasts take note: there are also ‘water-retaining structures’ such as locks and bridges). Fortunately, the south and east are participating: in the flood plains along the major rivers, building is (even) less allowed.

Post-fossil world

Such perspectives are necessary to set the framework for short-term dilemmas. Take agriculture, housing and traffic projects, for example, which are now stalled due to the inadequate nitrogen policy. Once there is a solution for this – and if new blockages due to lagging water quality are avoided before 2027 – it is very important that the right projects are given priority: the forward-looking ones. That costs less and limits the risks for residents, entrepreneurs and nature. Unfortunately, the government’s vision on the future of agriculture that has just been drawn up is still too vague.

The longer term also deserves a more explicit and open debate. The climate summit in Egypt showed once again that the pursuit of a post-fossil world must be accelerated considerably – and at the same time that even with unexpected success this will not be enough. The future of (also) the Netherlands will be determined by that other leg of climate policy: adapting to new living conditions. With more extreme weather, more severe river flooding, higher temperatures and less drinking water.

Dealing with water is the heart of Dutch democracy – the national survival strategy

The debate about this is intensifying among experts. See Deltares researcher Marjolijn Haasnoot’s recent plea to respond now to the major sea level rise in the future: the longer you wait, the smaller the number of options, she says. She thought a ‘sea level rise test’ for all current projects was a ‘nice idea’. There are also researchers who say: let the sea come.

And in the meantime, banks and other providers of mortgages and corporate loans are being advised to ‘price in’ climate risks more. And meanwhile, people are weighing climate risks into life decisions.

Such developments should also form part of the government’s considerations. It may be a consideration to build more railway lines in the northeast – above NAP. That’s wise. More needs to be done for the economic development of these areas.

This long-term debate needs to be more explicit. It can cause political shifts. For example, an alliance is conceivable between parties rooted in the east (CDA, ChristenUnie, perhaps after the provincial elections also BBB) and people in the west who prefer to approach climate change with the utmost caution and want to live and work higher up.

The views of civil servants at the many ministries involved must also be made public; there are too many experts there to withdraw their polyphony from the public domain.

There must be confidence that decisions will ultimately be taken in the political arena, by a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Because dealing with water is the heart of Dutch democracy – the national survival strategy. For centuries.


‘I found out at the age of 57 that I am not a difficult person’

‘In my punk days, I was somewhere in my twenties, I could be jealous of men washing their cars on Saturdays. Men who went shopping with their girlfriend later in the day, and in the evening sat with their feet on the couch in front of the TV. Men who just floated with the flow. I wish I was able to live a life like that too. But I can’t. I always go against the grain. And then you get yourself into a lot of trouble.

“I can not stand injustice. Not as a child. I was a vegetarian for years because I couldn’t sell it to myself that we have full supermarkets, celebrate Christmas and birthdays with a lot of meat on the table, while a child dies of hunger every two seconds. When I went to the supermarket with my mother, I confronted other people with their full shopping carts and the hunger in the world. It drove me to despair.

“I am the middle of three children. I was born next to the Feyenoord stadium. My father, like all his family, worked in the ports. He owned a plastering business. I was a smart little boy. When I went to a different, better, primary school, I started to stutter. I was very impulsive, and not afraid of anyone. So I got kicked out of class a lot, and I got into a lot of fights at home. Even though I come from a loving family. I was a difficult little boy. At least, that’s what everyone said.

“I wanted to go to the Hogere Zeevaartschool, but it turned out that I had the wrong subjects for that. I had never thought about which subjects I should have chosen in order to go to that course. Not a second. I was already involved in photography at the time, so the alternative became the Art Academy. But there I was rejected. Logical: I hadn’t even printed a photo. I only showed up with negatives. No chance. The School of Journalism turned out to be a solution. But I didn’t finish it. A few months before my final exams, I fled to London to unload trucks. I wanted to leave the Netherlands. Away from all responsibilities.

“After four months I came back and tackled everything that came my way. I worked as a photographer, but also as a publisher, miller, nature manager and recently I became a sailor on a sailing ship. Is the circle still round? When I look at my resume, it’s unbelievable what I’ve done. I don’t work to make a career and improve myself; I care about the content. And I am very principled about that. So principled that, for example, I resigned at the age of 55 because I felt that the management of the company where I worked at the time was making the wrong decisions. I will only see the consequences of such a step much later.

“It’s been that way all my life. I have a highly developed sense of loyalty and can’t say no. Here in the village the bakery would close. The last shop in the village. The one place where everyone meets. I can’t let something like this go my way. Then I have to do something to keep that bakery open. Even if it keeps me awake at night. But I do. Most recently, in the cockpit. In the last minutes Feyenoord – Cambuur I see a brawl in my box. I jump right in to break those people apart. Only later do I think: that could have gone very wrong.

“I am on the board of all millers here on the dike, and in the interest group of the village, and this year I am bringing an American bluegrass band to the Netherlands for the third time in ten years. I just can’t say no when called upon, even though sometimes it would be better for me.

“My youngest son, I have four children, does exactly the same. He is a copy of me at that age. That is not always easy. We decided to have it tested. I said: if you get yourself tested for ADHD, I will too.

“I had to take the same test twice. One without medication and one with. That difference was absurd. Thanks to the dexamphetamine, for the first time in my life my head wasn’t a 12-ball pinball machine. There was peace. Really fantastic. The doctors smiled afterwards and said, “We use a scale of 0 to 10 and you’re obviously a 9 ½.” For me that was a revelation. At the age of 57 I found out that I am not a difficult person, as everyone always said, and that I had come to believe in myself, but that I just function differently because I have ADHD. Really, that was a bizarre discovery.

“I was on medication for a while. But I stopped doing that anyway. At first the dose was too high and I was wide awake every night. After that it was so low that I hardly noticed it and forgot to take the pills. I am now trying to create order out of the chaos myself. That’s not easy. I have to be careful not to freak out. Fortunately, my psychologist taught me how to change my mind. I’ll go chop wood. Or cut planks to size. That is my yoga moment.”


Headstrong French star Kylian Mbappé wants to be more than a well-paid top football player

Ask young people in the Parisian suburb of Bondy what star footballer Kylian Mbappé means to them, and nine times out of ten you will get an answer that is not really about football. They start with the sports complex that was refurbished in 2017 by Mbappé’s sponsor Nike. About the concert of rapper Niska that took place in the town thanks to Mbappé. About the huge mural that adorns an apartment building. Or about the empty streets when all of Bondy turned out to welcome the attacker home after the World Cup in Russia in 2018. “He lit up Bondy,” says student Soraya Amara (17) beaming.

The city can use it. Bondy (over 50,000 inhabitants) is one of the forty towns in Seine-Saint-Denis, which has perhaps the worst image of all the French departments. The unemployment is high in the city – 30 percent of the Bondynois sit at home – the average income is low. It’s such banlieue which is usually spoken about in a negative sense, says Mayor Stephen Hervé by telephone. “The focus is often on crime.”

It can be seen in the streetscape, where gray blocks of flats alternate with low-rise workers’ houses. The edges of the city are decorated with colorful graffiti. Pizzerias, kebab shops, hookah cafes and vape shops follow each other in the center. A continuous stream of cars drives through the streets.

It is the setting in which Kylian Mbappé (1998) grew up. For a large part of his childhood he lived with his parents, adopted brother Jirès and little brother Ethan in an apartment of less than sixty square meters. They looked out on the fields of AS Bondy, the local football club with a discolored grandstand with less than three hundred seats where Mbappé’s Cameroonian father Wilfried was a trainer. Mother Fayza Lamari, born in France to Algerian parents, played handball at a professional level.

Also read this profile from 2019: Kylian Mbappé, star of the banlieue, hope of Les Bleus

Unguided projectile

Mbappé was a loose cannon as a child, Lamari said Le Parisien. ‘KyKy’ bounced around the house from early morning, often with a ball at his foot. Despite his above-average IQ, he had difficulty concentrating at school and was up to mischief. “It’s not malice, but it drives you crazy,” Lamari said.

It was because his mind was always on football, Mbappé describes in his released last year autobiographical comic book Je m’appelle Kylian. From an early age he played football with his brothers, who would also become professional football players. He memorized the names of great players and their clubs. Pasted his childhood room full of posters of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar jr, currently his teammate. And he dreamed big: in his comic book he describes how he said as a child that he would one day play in the Champions League, be part of the national team, score at a World Cup. His family called him petite mythlittle fantasy.

Kylian Mbappé (third from left) in 2017 with family members during his presentation as a Paris Saint-Germain player.
Photo Etienne Laurent/EPA

But it was more than a childhood fantasy or arrogance. It was also self-knowledge. From his first football game with AS Bondy at the age of four, it was clear how talented he was. Mbappé was lightning fast, scored often and with both feet. Throughout his childhood he played two years above his age. His talent was noticed by the big clubs: when Mbappé was twelve, scouts from Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Real Madrid and AS Monaco were already lining the line.

But his parents wanted Mbappé to finish school and they thought he was too young to go abroad. So he stayed with AS Bondy under the wing of his father, until he was admitted to the national football academy INF Clairefontaine in 2011. After this, offers from several top clubs were on the table, but the Mbappés opted for the smaller AS Monaco. Not too far from home and Mbappé could play more. He received 400,000 euros signing money.


Mbappé played two years as a junior in Monaco before starting as a professional footballer in 2015 at the age of sixteen, with a monthly salary of 80,000 euros. In Monaco, the Mbappés showed that they would not just comply with the (unwritten) rules of the football world. When Mbappé did not get on well with the youth coach, he and his mother forced him to train alone. When big names in the football world tried to persuade Mbappé senior to hire a player’s agent, he brushed them off – he could do it himself. And when the legal work became too much for Lamari, she hired a Parisian lawyer who knew nothing about football and was therefore “not polluted by the football universe.”

Mbappé would more often go his own way. When Real Madrid made a bid to acquire him in 2017 for a record sum of 180 million euros, he said no. “I am a Parisian,” he allegedly told AS Monaco president Vadim Vasilyev. “I don’t just want to leave my country, I want to become a big player in France.” Also his parents wanted him to continue his career in his own country, so that he could also continue to receive French education.

Read also: At Paris Saint-Germain, image control is paramount

The arrows were aimed at PSG, in Mbappé’s eyes the only club of value in France. Father Mbappé contacted the Qatari owner Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, who personally visited the family in Monaco. In 2017, Mbappé signed a contract in Paris, PSG was willing to match Real’s astronomical amount of 180 million euros.

The same year he made his debut in the French national team. And a year later, Mbappé caused a furore by scoring four times at the World Cup in Russia as a nineteen-year-old, one of which came in the Les Blues won final. After a somewhat stiff start, Mbappé has also made himself indispensable at PSG, where he plays alongside Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi. Last season he scored 34 times in 43 games.

The now 23-year-old footballer has fulfilled his childhood dreams. against the French news channel BFM TV he said last summer that he now aims to win the Champions League with PSG – it would be the club’s first time – and become the club’s top scorer. “If I carry on as I am doing now, there is no reason that I will not be,” he said confidently as ever. Winning the World Cup again is also on his list, said national coach Didier Deschamps hopefully at RTL.

But where Mbappé only dreamed about football in his youth, he now also has ambitions outside the stadium. Against The New York Times he said he “wants to be more than that guy who shoots the ball, finishes his career and sits on a yacht and collects his money.” ‘KyKy’ wants to be a good person. Have a positive impact on the world. That is why, after the world title in 2018, he donated the profit premium of 350,000 euros to a sports organization for disabled children. He set up the foundation at the beginning of this year Inspired by KM op, who supports 98 French children from various backgrounds financially and through courses and coaching but their first job. And he aimed media company Zebra Valley on, that should increase ‘global diversity’ and give ‘a voice to young people’.

A mural in Bondy, the Parisian suburb where Kylian Mbappé was born.
Photo Baptiste Fernandez / Icon Sport

On social media, he still shows himself to be a family man. Instead of pictures of expensive cars and watches, he shares images on which he sings songs with his niece and nephew or FIFA plays with his little brother, often with his trademark big smile. “He’s really funny,” says Soraya Amara in Bondy. Her friend Lina Hua Oui (17) adds that he comes across as “super nice, friendly”.

‘City of possibilities’

Mbappé also seems to want to be the face of his socially conscious generation. In interviews, which he prefers to give to media like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal than to sports magazines, he is eloquent. He emphasizes that he reads books and thinks about social themes such as police brutality and racism. He himself was a victim of it several times, including when he died in 2020 decisive penalty kick missed in the quarterfinals of the European Championship against Switzerland.

In an interview of l’Equipe President Emmanuel Macron said Mbappé has “a rare awareness of his role, the weight of his words, the power of his actions.” The same Macron personally called Mbappé when the attacker was about to transfer to Real Madrid earlier this year. Mbappé finally decided to stay in Paris after this “cry of the fatherland and the capital”. His salary apparently 72 million euros per year and the fact that the “team was built around him” will have played a role.

At least in Bondy he has influence inside and outside the football field. “Since the success of Mbappé, we see that many more children want to play football,” says mayor Hervé. He does not have exact figures, but “AS Bondy now has to make selections and a few small clubs have been added in the city”.

Student Amara says that Mbappé shows young people that residents of poor municipalities can also make it. “He has from Bondy made the city of possibilities,” she says referring to the slogan “ville des possibles‘ which Nike came up with for the city and which is displayed on a wall along the stadium. Schoolmate Mohamed Aïttaleb, 18, says Mbappé’s success “gives hope to little ones that they can escape the difficult life in neighborhoods like this one, where life isn’t always pretty.”


The Hour with feminist Hedy d’Ancona

She is one of the godmothers of feminism in the Netherlands: Hedy d’Ancona and her ‘sisters’ paved the way for generations of women to follow. They could go to college and decide for themselves when they wanted to have children through the pill and the right to abortion. Yet we are far from done with the emancipation struggle, warns the tireless activist. A conversation about the new generation of women in revolt, the threat of populism, love in old age and why you need to spoil yourself as you get older.