Netherlands | Facts & Information
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Facts & Figures
The Netherlands, on the coast of the North Sea, is twice the size of New Jersey. Part of the great plain of north and west Europe, the Netherlands has maximum dimensions of 190 by 160 mi (360 by 257 km) and is low and flat except in Limburg in the southeast, where some hills rise up to 322 m (1056 ft). About half the country's area is below sea level, making the famous Dutch dikes a requisite for efficient land use. Reclamation of land from the sea through dikes has continued through recent times. All drainage reaches the North Sea, and the principal rivers—Rhine, Maas (Meuse), and Schelde—have their sources outside the country.
Julius Caesar found the low-lying Netherlands inhabited by Germanic tribes—the Nervii, Frisii, and Batavi. The Batavi on the Roman frontier did not submit to Rome's rule until 13 B.C., and then only as allies.
The Franks controlled the region from the 4th to the 8th century, and it became part of Charlemagne's empire in the 8th and 9th centuries. The area later passed into the hands of Burgundy and the Austrian Hapsburgs and finally, in the 16th century, came under Spanish rule.
When Philip II of Spain suppressed political liberties and the growing Protestant movement in the Netherlands, a revolt led by William of Orange broke out in 1568. Under the Union of Utrecht (1579), the seven northern provinces became the United Provinces of the Netherlands. War between the United Provinces and Spain continued into the 17th century but in 1648 Spain finally recognized Dutch independence.
The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602, and by the end of the 17th century, Holland was one of the great sea and colonial powers of Europe.
The nation's independence was not completely established until after the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), when the country's rise as a commercial and maritime power began. In 1688, the English Parliament invited William of Orange, stadtholder, and his wife, Mary Stuart, to rule England as William III and Mary II. William then used the combined resources of England and the Netherlands to wage war on Louis XIV's France. In 1814, all the provinces of Holland and Belgium were merged into one kingdom, but in 1830 the southern provinces broke away to form the kingdom of Belgium. A liberal constitution was adopted by the Netherlands in 1848. The country remained neutral during World War I.
WWII and the Aftermath
In spite of its neutrality in World War I, the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940, and the Dutch East Indies were later taken by the Japanese. The nation was liberated in May 1945. In 1948, after a reign of 50 years, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated and was succeeded by her daughter Juliana.
In 1949, after a four-year war, the Netherlands granted independence to the Dutch East Indies, which became the Republic of Indonesia. The Netherlands also joined NATO that year. The Netherlands joined the European Economic Community (later, the EU) in 1958. In 1999, it adopted the single European currency, the euro.
The End of 300 Years of Colonization in Asia
In 1963, the Netherlands turned over the western half of New Guinea to Indonesia, ending 300 years of Dutch presence in Asia. Attainment of independence by Suriname on Nov. 25, 1975, left the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba as the country's only overseas territories.
The Netherlands has extremely liberal social policies: prostitution is legal, and it became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (2000) and euthanasia (2002).
The Government Is Rocked by Resignation and Assassination
Wim Kok's government resigned in April 2002 after a report concluded that Dutch UN troops failed to prevent a massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in a UN safe haven near Srebrenica in 1995. Explaining his action, the popular prime minister said, “The international community is big and anonymous. We are taking the consequences of the international community's failure in Srebrenica.”
The country's normally bland political scene was further rocked with the May 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing anti-immigrant politician. Days later, his party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, placed second in national elections, behind Jan Peter Balkenende's Christian Democrats. Leading the country into a marked shift to the right, Balkenende formed a three-way center-right coalition government with his Christian Democrats, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. Balkenende became prime minister in July 2002.
In November 2004, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who had recently released a controversial film that was critical of Islam and highlighted the abuse of Muslim women, was killed by a militant Muslim. Van Gogh's murder sent shockwaves throughout the country and increased the ethnic tension fomenting throughout the country.
In 2005, just days after French voters rejected the EU constitution in a referendum, the voters in the Netherlands followed suit.
Karst Tates, a 38-year-old Dutch national, drove his car into a crowd of people at a Queen's Day parade in May 2009 in Apeldoorn. He narrowly missed hitting a bus that was carrying Queen Beatrix and other members of the royal family. Five people died in the crash. Tates, who later died of injuries sustained in the crash, admitted he was attempting to assassinate the royal family.
Government Divided Over Country's Role in Afghanistan
Balkenende's coalition fell apart in Feb. 2010 in a contentious row over the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Troops were scheduled to return home in 2010, but at the urging of the U.S., Balkenende agreed to extend the deployment of a reduced force. His governing partner, the Labor Party, however, had demanded full withdrawal and pulled out of the government in protest.
The economy, rather than Afghanistan and immigration, was the main issue during the campaign season for June's parliamentary elections. The election proved inconclusive; the Liberal Party (VVD) took 31 of 150 seats, one ahead of the center-left Labor Party. The VVD entered into coalition talks with the Christian Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, a controversial figure known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigration fervor. The Freedom Party increased its number of seats from 9 to 24. After months of negotiations, the Liberal and Christian Democrat parties agreed in October to form a minority government with support from the Freedom Party. Mark Rutte, a businessman and the leader of the Liberal Party, became prime minister and the head of the minority government.
European Debt Crisis Takes Its Toll
Three-party budget talks between the Liberal party (VVD), the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Party–meant to bring the Netherlands in line with the new economic guidelines of the EU–collapsed in April when Geert Wilders refused to accept the proposed austerity measures. On April 23, 2012, Prime Minister Mark Rutte tendered his resignation to Queen Beatrix. Early parliamentary elections are scheduled for Sept. 12, 2012.
September election results were a surprise victory for centrists. A coalition government of the liberal VVD party and the Labour Party was the outcome of polling that reflected popular opinion firmly seated in the center-right and center-left. Prime Minister Mark Rutte remained in office.
Queen Beatrix Announces Abdication
On January 28, 2013, Queen Beatrix announced on television that she would leave the throne on April 30, 2013, which is Queen's Day or Koninginnedag, a national holiday in the Netherlands. At age 75, Queen Beatrix was the oldest reigning monarch of the Netherlands.
Queen Beatrix announced that her son Willem-Alexander, age 45, would succeed her to the throne. On April 30, 2013, he became the first king the Netherlands has had in 123 years. The last king was his great-great-grandfather, William III, in 1890.
Netherlands Held Liable for Srebrenica Massacre
In July 2014, a Dutch court found the Netherlands liable for the murder of more than 300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July 1005. At the time of their murder, the men and boys had been at a United Nations compound in Srebrenica, a compound that was being protected by the Dutch peacekeeping forces, Dutchbat. About 8,000 total were killed by Bosnian-Serb forces during the Bosnian War. The case was brought to the Dutch court by relatives of the victims who called themselves, "Mothers of Srebrenica."
The court ruled that Dutchbat did not do enough to protect the 300 men and boys at the compound. The court also said that Dutchbat should have known that the victims would have been killed when handed over to the Bosnian Serbs. "It can be said with sufficient certainty that, had Dutchbat allowed them to stay at the compound, these men would have remained alive. By co-operating in the deportation of these men, Dutchbat acted unlawfully," the court said in the ruling. Due to the ruling, the Netherlands must pay compensation to the victims' families.
The following year, in April 2015, a Dutch court ruled that General Thom Karremans, commander of Dutchbat at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, should not be prosecuted. The court decided that Karremans was not criminally liable for the murders on grounds of command responsibility.