zondag 10 maart 2019

The Dutch Conquest Of The Banda Islands (1599-1621)

At the end of the sixteenth century the Dutch set out in search of the sea route around Africa to the East Indies. One of the reasons they did so was to obtain spices which were produced in the Moluccas and Banda Islands. The latter were particularly famous for its cloves and mace. When the Dutch arrived in the Bandas, situated to the south of the island of Ceram, it seemed that contacts between them and the Bandanese were to develop cordially. However, this soon changed when mutual violence occurred. In this text we are dealing with the question how Dutch-Bandanese relations developed between 1599 and 1621 and how they were influenced by the role played by competitors in the archipelago, particularly the English.

In Search of Cloves and Mace

The Dutch had political, strategic as well as economic reasons for opening their own direct trade route to the East Indies. The first two had to do with the Eighty Years War fought between the Dutch and the Habsburg rulers of the Netherlands which finally resulted in the official recognition of the independence of the Dutch Republic (1648). The economic reason was to share in the lucrative spice trade between the East and Europe. However, as soon as the Dutch arrived in the Indonesian archipelago they realised that competition, particularly by the Portuguese and the English, could be a threat to the profits of trade, which made them decide to establish a monopoly even if this meant having to use force (Hall p. 321). As it soon became evident that the power of the Portuguese was already in decline by the time the Dutch arrived, many of them began to perceive the English as their main competitors in the East.
When the first Dutch expedition under van Heemskerk arrived (1599), it was well received and a right to trade with the Bandas was agreed upon. However, soon attempts to establish a monopoly by forcing the islanders to trade solely with the Dutch were to meet with great disapproval by the Bandanese. As spices were in great demand, prices tended to rise making it worth while for the inhabitants of Banda to play off one competitor against the other. This soon soured relations with the demanding Dutch.

Dutch, English, Bandanese

Though the Dutch presence in the Moluccas was considerably stronger than the English due to better organisation, better equipment and greater financial backing (Ricklefs, p. 23), the latter were perceived as the greatest threat to the profits of the VOC. As a result of this the company tried to exclude the English from trading whenever possible even to the extend of not or very reluctantly carrying out the agreement made by England and the Dutch Republic concerning eastern trade. As the end of the so-called Twelve Year's Truce with Spain (1609-1621) was approaching and a renewal of the hostilities was likely, the States-General of the Dutch Republic thought to come to some sort of understanding with the English. The agreement, concluded in 1619, contained provisions for sharing the spice monopoly. A third of the trade was for the English, two thirds for the Dutch. Long before the agreement there had been incidents between Dutch and English traders in the archipelago and the treaty, news of which only reached the Indies in April of the following year, largely remained a dead letter, mainly due to open obstruction of it by Jan Pieterszoon Coen, governor-general of the VOC from 1617-1623 and again from 1627-1629. Coen was determined to do whatever lay in his power to enforce the Dutch monopoly even to the extend of using force.
Problems in the Bandas started when in 1602 five Dutch traders on the islands, part of a group that had stayed behind in expectation of the next trading fleet, were murdered while the remaining ten were forced to leave. Apparently a quarrel about a Dutch loan to the Bandanese lay at the bottom of this incident (Van Goor, p. 85). Despite this the 1602 trade agreement was renewed in 1605, but again the Bandanese continued their trade with the English and other competitors of the VOC.
In 1609 a large Dutch fleet under admiral Verhoeff arrived in the Bandas. Though reluctantly the inhabitants of Banda Neira offered Verhoeff the right to build a fortress and they somehow managed to convince the admiral and his company to come ashore without bringing a guard. He was ambushed and murdered together with forty-six others. The fortress however was established by his successor vice-admiral Hoen and a new trade agreement signed, which was again from time to time ignored by the Bandanese. Though the Dutch managed to strengthen their position in the Bandas and the Moluccas, incidents with the English who persisted in their efforts to trade continued. These efforts, though greatly irritating the Dutch, had only limited success, mainly because the English were not powerful enough to offer the natives sufficient support in the event of Dutch retaliation (Hall, p. 325). The VOC on the other hand showed a growing determination to have its own way.

John Jourdain and Jan Pietersz. Coen

In 1613 the Englishman John Jourdain founded a factory at Macassar. Soon he became the leading figure in the struggle against the Dutch, particularly when he became president of the English settlement at Bantam on Java. Jourdain thought a show of determination would constrain the Dutch, but he underestimated Jan Pieterszoon Coen. When the English seized a Dutch ship, the Zwarte Leeuw, off Bantam in December 1618, to use as a security against VOC actions, Coen attacked the English factory at Jacatra and destroyed it. Leaving a garrison to defend the VOC position at Jacatra he sailed to the Moluccas for reinforcements and returned in May to relieve the Dutch and drive the English and the forces of the sultan of Bantam out. Jacatra rose out of the ashes to which it was reduced by Coen as Batavia, which would become the administrative centre of the VOC and later on the capital of the Dutch East Indies until 1949.
When the English under George Ball arrived at Banda Neira in March 1615, they were met by a strong Dutch force. Ball therefore decided to divert his ships to Ay in order to get cargo. The Dutch however attacked the island, but were driven off by the natives with English help. This was only a temporary success. The Dutch were by now determined to establish their monopoly by force (Hall, p. 326). Even though the English sent a small fleet to the Bandas again in 1616, which could not do much to assist the natives in the face of overwhelming Dutch power, the latter overran Ay in December. The English thereupon sent two ships to the isle of Rhun offering it protection, but they were seized by the Dutch. VOC admiral and predecessor of Coen as governor-general, Laurens Reaal offered the English a deal: if they agreed to allow the Dutch to treat the islands as they saw fit, their ships would be returned. The English refused. However brave this refusal looked, it did not help the natives much, as the English could do little more than offering encouragement. In November 1617 Reaal demanded the English evacuation of Rhun. The English refused to do so and for the time being the situation remained as it was, though through English instigation there were several attacks by locals on the Dutch on Banda Neira (Fort Nassau) throughout 1618 and 1619. After the destruction of Jacatra Coen decided it was time to strike in the Bandas. The final act of the drama however was delayed by the arrival in the archipelago in April 1620 of the news of the Anglo-Dutch treaty, news that must have certainly displeased the governor-general.

Final Act

In the nineteenth century Jan Pietersz. Coen became one of the popular great men in Dutch history and he remained so until well into the twentieth century. Few Dutch historians however would now agree with the words of admiration once used to describe the establishment of VOC power in the archipelago: 'Daar werd iets groots verricht' (Something great was achieved out there). No doubt Coen did establish the VOC monopoly in the Bandas and generally put Dutch power in the archipelago on a strong footing, but the way he did so was even in his own days not wholly uncriticised.
Though officially the English were to have their third share in the spice trade of the Moluccas and the Bandas, Coen took his time to act according to the Anglo-Dutch treaty, to such an extend that some historians accuse him of openly sabotaging it (Hall, p. 331). The treaty implied that the instructions Coen received from Holland in 1618 to use force if necessary to expel all foreigners from the archipelago did not apply to the English. However, Coen decided that this should but remain a dead letter. He insisted on the need to occupy the islands as the only way of establishing the VOC monopoly.
Using the pretext that the Bandas traded with the Spanish enemy on Tidore, a VOC squadron under Coen attacked Lonthor (Banda Besar) in January 1621. Though the islanders resisted fiercely they were forced to surrender in March. Fearing a Dutch attack the inhabitants of Rhun made their submission too. The Bandanese were convinced that they were betrayed by the English who did not offer any help because they lacked the power to do so and also felt bound to the Anglo-Dutch treaty (Hall, p. 332). Soon after their official surrender the people of Lonthor (Banda Besar) started a serious revolt. This came to Coen as a present from heaven, because it gave him the excuse to carry out his plan to solve the problem of the Bandas once and for all. This meant removing all the original inhabitants from the islands and repopulating them with settlers from elsewhere that would be fully loyal to the VOC. This plan was ruthlessly carried out after first having treated and executed the headmen accused of leading the revolt. Even in Coen's own days servants of the VOC who were witnesses on the scene were shocked and disgusted by the violence used (Van Goor, p. 82/ Hall, p. 333).
The conquest of the Bandas and the subsequent clearances of the islands meant that the Anglo-Dutch cooperation as provided for in the treaty of 1618 had completely broken down even though in name it still existed. The final blow came on the island of Amboina (Ambon) in 1623, when eighteen English traders were arrested by the Dutch. They were accused of conspiring against the Dutch fortress and thereupon tried and executed.

The Use of Violence

Violence was not an uncommon way for powerful traders in the archipelago to set things right in case they felt wronged. In many ports violence was not, or not yet, a monopoly of the state. The situation varied from place to place, but particularly in those areas where states were either small and weak or not yet fully developed, trading companies like the VOC and the EIC tended to fend for themselves. Already the first voyage of the Dutch (1595-97), under Cornelis de Houtman, was marked by violence (Van Goor, p. 82/83). It was not constricted to the Europeans either, although their influence and power, both financial as well as military, played an important role in the continuously flaring up of conflicts between the myriad of competing smaller and bigger states in the archipelago.
When it was founded the VOC was not only granted a trade monopoly with the East by the States General of the Dutch Republic, but it specifically obtained the right to maintain men of war as well as to raise an army not only in order to establish and defend its monopoly, but also to wage war on the enemies of the Republic, the Spanish and Portuguese. Once in the east the Dutch soon began to see the English, who followed in their trail, as the largest threat to their monopoly. At first this quite surprised the English, who sympathised with the Dutch in their struggle against the king of Spain and who tended to see them as their natural allies in Europe (Hall, p. 321). As Hall implies, the English no doubt reacted indignantly towards the aggression by the Dutch, which probably made them more determined to get their share of trade without giving in to demands they thought profoundly unreasonable. This reaction however may have been regarded by the Dutch as proof of the soundness of their suspicions against the English and therefore encouraged them to drive the enemy out, if needed by force.
No doubt the violence used by Coen was excessive and recognised as such at the time. Yet Coen was never condemned nor reproved by the Heeren XVII (the board of governors of the VOC). Dutch violence was probably encouraged by three factors. First of all irritation about English insistence on trading with the Bandas and fear that this would finally lead to a failure in maintaining the VOC's valuable trade monopoly and secondly the behaviour of the Bandanese themselves who were constantly breaking their agreements with the Dutch not seldom using violence and murder as well, as we saw in the case of admiral Verhoeff and his company. Thirdly the person of Coen himself, a man who was to carry out his mission with whatever means possible in the most determined way. 


At first it looked like relations between the Dutch and the Bandanese would develop peacefully, but they were soon at loggerheads with each other. The Dutch insisted on establishing a trade monopoly, but the Bandanese thought to profit from the continuously rising price of cloves and mace and therefore carried on their trade with the competitors of the VOC, particularly the English. The Dutch, who became more and more suspicious of the English and who feared the monopoly would finally be lost, decided that the only way of maintaining it was to conquer the islands. The actual conquest was only slightly delayed by the Anglo-Dutch treaty, which was almost certainly wilfully ignored by Jan Pietersz. Coen. That he could do so shows how powerful the VOC had become as a 'state in the state.' Even though there was some criticism of the excessive violence Coen used in the Bandas, his actions were finally approved by his superiors and the States-General and until far into the twentieth century looked upon as a token of Dutch enterprise and heroism in the east.


J.H.C. Blom & E. Lamberts (ed.), Geschiedenis van de Nederlanden. Amsterdam 1994.
C.R. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire. Harmondsworth 1973 (1965).
D.W. Davies, A Primer of Dutch Seventeenth Century Overseas Trade. The Hague 1961.
Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800. Minneapolis 1976.
Femme S. Gaastra, De Geschiedenis van de VOC. Zutphen 19912 .
J. van Goor, De Nederlandse Koloniën. Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse expansie, 1600-1975. The Hague 1994.
D.G.E. Hall, A History of South-East Asia. 4th Edition. London 1981.
Jonathan Israel, Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740. Oxford 1989.
M.C. Ricklefs, A History of Modern Indonesia. London 1988.
Jan & Annie Romein, Erflaters van onze beschaving. Nederlandse gestalten uit zes eeuwen. Amsterdam 19719 (On J.P. Coen).

First published in Anistoriton, Athens 2000.

maandag 10 april 2017

Cyprus: the state of affairs (2)

When in Nicosia, I like to take a walk through Agios Kassianos, a picturesque neighbourhood on both sides of the Green Line, in the east of the historic centre. After the Turkish invasion (1974) it was largely abandoned. Many houses fell into disrepair. After the turn of the century things gradually changed, although the population is still only about a quarter of that before 1974. The Archaeological Service restored a traditional mansion in Axiotheastreet, where the University of Cyprus established its Cultural Centre. When recently in Cyprus, I visited a rebetica concert in the framework of the annual cultural festival, in its characteristic courtyard. The building alone is worth a visit. Private houses too were restored, even though they are sometimes literally bordering on the Green Line. In Axiotheastreet, for example, which near the Cultural Centre is closed off by a barricade of old oil barrels, corrugated iron and barbed wire. Behind it we see the sad decline of buildings that have been left abandoned for forty-two years. It sometimes gives me a rather uncomfortable feeling during my wanderings.


Agios Kassianos, which was called Kafesli in the past, is named after its church, built in the nineteenth century. Close by we find the church of Chrysaliniotissa, the oldest and most important Orthodox place of worship in the city. The main street is Ermou, before the Turkish invasion the Kalverstraat of Nicosia [the Kalverstraat is the main shopping street of Amsterdam - KK]. Now it has the tranquility of a back street. Soon, you'll hit the Green Line, which cuts through Ermou and behind which the minarets the Selimiye Mosque in the occupied part of the city are visible. Formerly a Gothic church known as Agia Sophia built by the Lusignans (1192-1489). As the birds fly two hundred meters, but reachable on foot through the checkpoint on Ledrastreet in about three quarters of an hour.

Centre of Visual Arts and Research

In the Ermou quite a few buildings have been restored. For example the Centre of Visual Arts and Research, containing a museum and research library. It opened its doors to the public in 2014 and is housed in a former Ottoman inn, which was converted into a flour mill in 1953. When the mill closed the building fell into disrepair until it was restored by the Kostas and Rita Severis Foundation, which aims, according to Dr. Rita Severis, the general manager, 'to promote the peaceful coexistence of peoples through the study of the multicultural heritage of Cyprus.' The board of the foundation therefore has both Greek and Turkish Cypriots as members. The focus of the museum is on the 18th to 20th centuries. It possesses more than a thousand paintings, prints and drawings from local and international artists. The collection also contains a large number of items from the personal lives of important historical figures such as the uniform of the first British governor, Sir Garnet Wolseley, and the completely reconstructed office of former president Glafcos Clerides (1919-2013), which is rented regularly to companies or organisations as a meeting room. Of great importance too is the library, which contains a few thousand books and a collection of documents available for scientific research. 'Our centre is primarily a bi-communal project,' Dr. Severis emphasises. A major project is SHARE (Sharing History, Art, Research and Education), which includes educational activities aimed at young people in the whole of Cyprus.The Centre also organises such events as concerts, film screenings and lectures. However, if its ideal, finding a solution to the division of Cyprus, will be achieved in the foreseeable future, is still questionable.


I put this question to Dr. Georgios Kazamias, professor of history at the University of Cyprus. According to him, there still are quite a few obstacles on the way to a solution, which would include the creation of a federated Cyprus with two states. First there is Turkey. Nothing happens in northern Cyprus beyond the control of Ankara and it seems at the moment that a solution is not very urgent to Turkey, as a Turkish EU membership has drifted far out of sight. Perhaps the desire to share in the promising gas reserves under continental shelf of Cyprus could have a positive effect, but given the low energy prices he has serious doubts about this. According to him, an irrational factor like the strong Turkish nationalism is a major obstacle, but there are also practical problems. For instance the question in what way the displaced people will be financially compensated, and more importantly: who will pay for it? The government hopes for donations from friendly countries, but whether these will materialise is still uncertain.

Chamber of Commerce

President of the Chamber of Commerce, Phidias K. Pilides, believes that a solution will be beneficial for the economy in the long run, although initially there will be costs. There will be possibilities for joint ventures with the Turkish Cypriots, who in particular will benefit, because their economy is still not very well developed. Shipping will benefit by the opening of Turkish ports to ships sailing under the Cypriot flag. At the moment they are still banned from entering these. The Turkish market will be opened to Cypriot companies and construction will likely attract a lot of work because of much reconstruction work waiting, especially in the UN buffer zone and in Famagusta, where the tourist district of Varosha, abandoned since 1974 and sealed off from the outside world, must be rebuilt. He also sees new opportunities for tourism, especially maritime, which will further develop. Finally, the exploitation of gas deposits under the continental shelf will be easier. The Chamber of Commerce therefore hopes that both parties will eventually come to a solution.

Treaty of Guarantee

An adviser to the president, who asked to remain anonymous because he speaks in his own name, however, does not sound optimistic. It's often mentioned in the media that the time to reach an agreement is more favourable than ever, but that idea is primarily based on the fact that President Anastasiades and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, are personally getting on well together. There still remain some formidable obstacles to an agreement. For example the Turkish Cypriot demand for the presidency to rotate every few years between the president (elected by the Greek Cypriots, 80% of the population) and vice president (elected by the Turkish Cypriots, 18% of population). This is not in line with democracy. Also, it does not appear that the Turkish Cypriots and especially the Turks, will accept the Greek Cypriot demand for the abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee. This treaty implies that Turkey, Britain and Greece guarantee the independence and constitutional order in Cyprus. With this agreement in hand, the Turks justified their invasion in 1974. Thirdly, both sides are still far from an agreement on the territories of the two states. The Greek Cypriots claim in any case the return of Morfou and surroundings and Famagusta.

On the last night of my stay I return Agios Kassianos. In the Ermou I discover a restaurant with a garden overlooking the Green Line. The garden is romantically lit, but in the buffer zone it is pitch dark. Two cats are quarreling. Their shrieks echoing against the houses on the other side of the demarcation line. Once the argument is over, a peaceful silence returns. I wonder when this charming part of Nicosia will again be a prosperous, reunified residential area. The latest rounds of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, in September and November, and the beginning of January, the last of which took place at the Swiss town of Mont Pelerin, have not yet resulted in agreement.

Photo's: Kees Klok

Originally published in Dutch in Griekenland Magazine, spring 2017.


vrijdag 7 april 2017

Cyprus: the state of affairs (1)

The Green Line, the UN buffer zone that splits Nicosia, the only segregated city in Europe, in two is quite a bit older than the Berlin Wall, which fell after twenty eight years. The Green Line already celebrated its forty-second birthday. It seems as if in the meantime another, temporary, barrier has emerged. On the edge of the historic centre, which lies within the ramparts built by the Venetians, work is going on to reconstruct the Platia Elefteria, the square which gives access to the famous Ledrastreet, leading to a checkpoint through which you are able to go the northern part of the city where the Turkish Cypriots rule. For years, it was virtually impossible for Cypriots to cross the Green Line, but that did change in 2003. Today, there are quite a few Turkish Cypriots working in the free area, as the part of Cyprus not conquered after the Turkish invasion in 1974, is called by the Greek Cypriots. The North calls itself "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", a country that has been recognised only by Turkey, which has deployed an army of nearly forty thousand men in the area. It is in fact the only territory of an EU member state which is occupied by another country.

Shock therapy

The huge building site proves that the reconstruction of the square is tackled on a grande scale. Something you would not expect in a country that has been hit hard by the euro crisis. For a long time Cyprus balanced on the brink of bankruptcy. For too long, according to Dr. Andreas Charalambous, the man responsible for maintaining financial stability at the Ministry of Finance. According to him, the government in office at the time the crisis broke out waited too long to ask for emergency aid, due to a number of reasons. The most important of them an imbalance in the real estate market, and particularly the high proportion of Greek sovereign debt in which Cypriot banks were involved. By waiting too long to ask for aid, the financial situation worsened unnecessarily, which eventually led to a "shock therapy". Savers and depositors lost a large part of their assets above a limit of one hundred thousand euros to save the country from bankruptcy. Cyprus also had to subject itself to the regime of a "troika" of the IMF and the EU, in return for financial aid, which meant cuts on spending and a consequent rise in unemployment.

Bustling activity

With the images of the havoc the crisis causes in Greece on my mind, the bustling activity in Nicosia is surprising. Yes, there are empty shops and during my stay I have also seen one elderly woman begging, but you do not see streets with almost nothing but empty commercial properties and the poverty and deterioration noticeable in some areas of Athens is absent. Dr. Charalambous explains that the aid programme has now come to an end, that Cyprus is able to borrow from the financial markets again and that the country is trying to attract new investors. In the last quarter of 2015, some economic growth already returned. The government, he remarks, strictly implemented the measures demanded by the troika. It was also important that there was hardly any violent opposition or social unrest, like in Greece. Work is underway to strengthen the position of banks and prudent handling of public finances remains necessary because, although there is economic growth again, the country is not yet out of the crisis. His opinion is shared by the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Phidias K. Pilides and its Secretary General, Marios Tsiakkis. They emphasise the importance of innovation in medicine, technology and education. In some sectors, such as construction and retail, the recovery is relatively slow. Shipping and tourism, however, are powerful engines for the economy. Tourism is experiencing an unprecedented growth, with 20% more visitors this year. The sector seems to benefit from the unrest in neighbouring countries, such as Egypt and Turkey.


Although the clouds over the economy seem to be drifting off, it will still be a while before we'll see the bright blue sky again, so typical for Cyprus. Future economic growth also depends on developments in the eurozone and the situation in the region. There is uncertainty about the Brexit. According to Mr. Pilides Cyprus is among the top four countries that will feel the impact of a British withdrawal from the EU, though the consequences are not yet predictable. A devaluation of the British pound, as a result of the Brexit can negatively effect tourism and will be bad for the exports. By contrast, the imports from the UK will become cheaper. Dr. Charalambous believes that the effects of a Brexit will largely depend on how Europe will cope with it and if it can maintain confidence in the euro. For Cyprus it is of prime importance to focus on keeping the budget balanced for the time being, which forces the government to set priorities.

Illicit trafficking

"We are trying to do more with less," says Dr. Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou, director of the Department of Antiquities. As a result of the crisis the department, essential in preserving the Cypriot cultural heritage, also had to deal with significant cutbacks in expenditure. However that was no reason to sit by and do nothing. The department undertakes numerous activities, despite an inevitable reduction in the number of staff. "Every Mediterranean country has sun, sea and beaches, but it distinguishes itself as unique by its culture," she argues. Digitalising the archives has priority. This is especially important to intensify the fight against illicit trafficking of archaeological finds. Not only a lot of steeling and looting went on during the Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of the North, but it also takes place in neighbouring countries, due to war and violence. In fighting illicit trafficking Cyprus cooperates with many countries in and outside the EU.

Cooperation and preservation

Another important activity of the department is to facilitate access to museums and sites for people with disabilities. Information materials are also made available in braille and in large print for the visually impaired. The information on monuments and archaeological sites is available in braille too. In Kourion and Paphos golf cars were purchased for visitors who have difficulties in walking. Guides are specially trained to show people with disabilities around. Furthermore, the department is working on new exhibitions, like in the near future at Amathus on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the French Archaeological School. Publications appear in more languages than Greek and English, and with EU support management plans are drawn up for areas which are on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, as Chirokitia. The department aims to promote understanding of its work among the general public, so it will no longer be seen as a 'hostile' organisation that keeps an awkward finger in the pie in housing construction and infrastructural projects. Through a Technical Committee for cooperation in the preservation of the cultural heritage, it works together with the Turkish Cypriots to secure as much as possible the conservation of antiques in the occupied territory, though this is yet limited to unmovable property and monuments. Of course, the department is also involved in preserving recent finds, including Roman mosaics, almost certainly part of a bathhouse, one found during sewer work in Larnaka the other in Akaki.

That heritage conservation is not only of scientific interest, but also of economic, for example because it attracts tourists, goes without saying. Cyprus appears well on way to recovery from the consequences of the crisis. However, one difficulty still remains: the question how to solve the problem of the tragic division of the island.

Published in Dutch in Griekenland Magazine, winter 2016.

Photo's: Kees Klok

dinsdag 26 juli 2016

Note to Stella on her birthday

Dear Stella,

You'll surely remember this photograph which stood on your writing desk in the house in Thessaloniki. You held the sun on your hand, having an unknown future before you. It was long before we met in far off Minneapolis. We could have met years before, when both of us spent a long time in England in 1970, but you were staying in London and I in a village in between Liverpool and Manchester. Should we have met, would we have fallen in love as we did in America? It's the kind of question one would like to see answered with 'yes', but 'if if' history isn't history. Today you would have celebrated your birthday if not, eight and a half years ago..... I cherish this and other photographs. You were the girl of my dreams long before I got to know you and so you will always remain.

For ever in my thoughts,


woensdag 25 mei 2016


On the way from my temporarily abode in Salonica to the lower town I descend Agia Sophia street. I notice the name of an alleyway I pass: Urania street. Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. It makes me think of Charles Dickens who founded a home for 'fallen girls,' named Urania Cottage, together with the fabulously rich miss Coutts. The aim was to rehabilitate these girls by teaching them the necessary domestic skills after which they were to be shipped off to Australia or Canada to get married and live long and happily ever after.

Dickens never visited Greece, never mind Salonica, in the nineteenth century the competitor of Smyrna and Alexandria for the position of second city in the Ottoman Empire. There probably aren't any 'fallen girls' to be found on Urania street, though you will in the seedy side of town, between the port and the railway station. By the way, there aren't many stars to be seen either at night between the towering flats of narrow Urania street.

My temporary abode is in the former Turkish quarter. Just above the street where the great fire of 1917 began. It burned for thirty-six hours during which three quarters of the city was destroyed. It's a picturesque neighbourhood with quite some remains from the days that mobile telephones and the internet were still eccentric dreams of a whacko Gyro Gearloose. A girl obsessively staring at her smartphone nearly bumps into me. She gives me an angry look, as I am to blame of course.

The fire drastically changed the features of the city. History drove out the Turks in 1923 and twenty years later almost all the Jews, who constituted the largest community in Salonica by the end of the nineteenth century, the reason why it was sometimes named the Jerusalem of the West. It's impossible to predict what the internet will finally bring about, but at least the word γουγλάρω found a place in the Greek language.

Photo: Kees Klok

zaterdag 26 december 2015

2007 - 2015

On this day, eight years ago, I had to take leave of you, but you're still living on in my heart, darling Stella.

donderdag 17 december 2015

Christmas Message

We were sixteen and idealists. The world had to be made a better one and because the mindless masses and the detestable bourgeois didn't do it, it was up to us. We joined the Action Group for Peace and Development. Together with, amongst others, a vicar, a high ranking civil servant, the unavoidable feminist and a number of trade unionists.

We decided to use a heavy weapon: we'd go on a hunger strike during Christmas, a great time for revelling. That would shock the world. That would make the world a lot better. It could even be the beginning of the end of international, oil dominated capitalism. We were the vanguard that was to lead the battle from a tent in the town square. Strategically situated in the centre, close to a public urinal and a few pubs. The world would be castigated from Christmas Eve until five o'clock on Boxing Day. After that we were to have our Christmas dinner.

During the icy night the world hit back. While we were trying to keep warm in our sleeping bags, me secretly eating chocolates, an endless procession of noisily drunk townspeople passed by, often shouting curses that had little to do with the idea of Christmas. During the day the square was the desolate umbilicus of the Bible Belt. Quarter of an hour after we left, the reporter of the local rag came round, someone told us later.

Photo: archive Kees Klok