Why Amsterdam really closed the Red Light District
Now I'm willing to believe a lot of things, but what I don't believe is that the city government of Amsterdam was ever really interested in fighting human trafficking. And I believe that for a number of reasons. First of all, because everyone could've figured out by him or herself that closing down windows doesn't help in any way to fight human trafficking, it only endangers those women that loose their workplace, because you loose them out of sight. You can't protect people if you don't know where they are, and girls in need of help can't call for it. Also virtually every prostitution organisation warned the city government of Amsterdam about this, yet they still continued with their plans.
And secondly I don't believe it, because the prostitution windows aren't the only thing being attacked by the city government of Amsterdam. Also the coffeeshops are being attacked by the city government of Amsterdam. In the eyes of the city government of Amsterdam, those coffeeshops are crime-related, just like how prostitution would be crime-related. And on top of that, also other small shops have been branded as 'undesirable', and have been threatened to be closed down because they would also be crime-related.
Things like human trafficking, forced prostitution, money laundering and other criminal activities where mentioned by former alderman Lodewijk Asscher as the main reason for closing down large parts of the Red Light District, not just windows, but shops, coffeeshops and everything else they saw as crime-related.
As I've already said in my previous post about Amsterdam's policy towards prostitution, the city government of Amsterdam has lost every single case against business owners that where considered to be crime-related. So why does the city government of Amsterdam keep threatening to close down businesses which where already proven to be clean? Is it really because there's something wrong going on, that nobody can find, and even the city government itself can't prove? Is there really so much crime happening every day in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, like how former alderman Lodewijk Asscher suggested, that I haven't seen in 4 years time working there every single day? Am I really missing out on it, or is it something else?
Is there perhaps some other interest the city government has in the center of Amsterdam, that's so important, that only companies in the center of Amsterdam, in the heart of the Red Light District, are being threatened to close down? After all, why would this crime only be concentrated around the Red Light District area, one of the most protected areas in Amsterdam, where police are on the street every second of the day, where camera's are running 24/7? Why would crime only be happening in coffeeshops in the Red Light District, while there are so many coffeeshops outside of the Red Light District as well?
Some people have suggested the real interest of the city government lies within the buildings. That the city government of Amsterdam wouldn't really be interested in fighting crime, but rather be interested in the value of the buildings most of these 'crimes' where happening. But knowing that the city government doesn't buy those buildings, but rather a real estate company does that for the city government, I doubt that. In fact, the partners of the city government of Amsterdam, those real estate companies, only have lost money on this whole clean up project, and have even quit the project, because the people who are in those buildings now pay hardly any to sometimes even no rent at all, if they can find someone to get into those buildings in the first place. Many of the former window prostitution buildings are now empty, some are being occupied, like I talked about in the previous post.
No, the answer lies within something else. There is an influential group of people living in the center of Amsterdam. Within this group of people there are influential business people, politicians and other people with deep pockets, which apparently the city government wanted to keep as friends. These people have been living there for years already, and they've seen the Red Light District grow from a nice neighborhood into a massive tourists attraction. After the legalization of prostitution and softdrugs in 2000, they've seen tourism grow massively. Huge groups of English tourists coming to the Red Light District, to party, drink, smoke legally a joint and visit legally a prostitute. The end result was drunk English tourists making a lot of noise, harassing people and pissing against people their doors and houses because they where too drunk and stoned to realize what they where doing.
The citizens living in and around the Red Light District grew restless, they got angry, and demanded the city government to do something about it, as one of them, Piet Leeghwater (later revealed to be Gerrit van der Veen), wrote about here on 22 February 2008. Something had to change. And so they formed a collective, together with other people from the city government and the police and some local business owners, and formed the IBO (Integraal Burgwallen Overleg). This group, under the lead of Gerrit van der Veen, became a powerful influence on the city governments policy, under the wings of former alderman Lodewijk Asscher.
But what could they do about those annoying drunk English tourists causing trouble all the time? They couldn't tell those people to stay home. The police was already having problems to control them, so that wasn't an option as well. Some how, the city government needed to find a way to get rid of these kind of tourists, and attract different kind of tourists. Friendlier kind of tourists, the kind that are quiet and nice, that don't get drunk, tourists with children and stuff. Hold on! We need families with children!!!
And so it happened that the city government of Amsterdam, under the wings of Lodewijk Asscher, started to work on a plan, closely together with the IBO, on attracting different kinds of tourists, by changing the face of Amsterdam from prostitution and drugs into a family friendly city. Prostitution and drugs would needed to be reduced, as well as shops that sold things that where not family friendly, like sexshops etc. Cafe's and bars would needed to be hold back, and something else would have to come in place to attract the new kind of tourists that wouldn't cause any trouble.
Lodewijk Asscher cunningly used false stories about crime-related businesses in the Red Light District as an acceptable excuse for the general public to reduce the Red Light District. He used false stories of Patricia Perquin (read more about that here), to suggest many women would be trafficked and forced into prostitution, and claimed reducing the number of windows would help to get better control over the area (the fact that other girls would simply disappear apparently didn't matter to him). He claimed to be helping prostitutes, and who could argue with someone like that? The people who are against prostitution got what they wanted (less prostitution), and the people that a were in favor of prostitution couldn't argue with a plan that would help victims.
A few people protested against these plans, but anyone who protested would be considered a supporter of human trafficking by Lodewijk Asscher (a tactic he borrowed from Bush), saying if you're not with us, you're against us. By closing down windows it would become less interesting for those English tourists to come to Amsterdam, and in stead move on to other places with legal prostitution like to Germany for instance.
But closing down windows wouldn't be enough. Also the coffeeshops where a target for this plan, and needed to be reduced. After some failed ideas (read here), recently the city government has finally achieved that (read it here). Now they don't have to give out new permits to existing coffeeshops, because according to the court they could indeed be involved with crime. The fact that no crime was ever proven in a coffeeshop was irreverent, the city government is the boss, and they can do what they want how they sit fit. Also the fact that a new law that states that coffeeshops cannot be close to schools, enabled the court to agree with the city government. This law was initially used to prevent minors from buying cannabis in coffeeshops (even though cannabis is illegal for minors already) and smoke it during school time, but apparently University student counts as minors as well.
Also cafe's and bars got a tough time ahead, as they got closure times, so they wouldn't cause too much noise for the people in the neighborhood. The fact that most of these bars where already there long before most people where even living there, doesn't matter apparently. I also wonder why people would complain about the noise of bars and cafe's, since you know when you live in the center of Amsterdam that this is the case. Also sexshops got to deal with closure times, before they could be open all night long, along with the Red Light District itself, but now all of the sudden they had to close down at 10 'o clock at night.
All of these policies where created with one single goal in mind, to reduce the number of drunk English tourists causing trouble in the center of Amsterdam.
And to attract the new type of tourists the city government wanted to attract, they focused on the grand reopening of Amsterdam's biggest and most famous museum, the Rijksmuseum. But of course that wouldn't be enough, there would need to be some kind of big promotion or international publicity stunt to show people all over the world the new face of Amsterdam. Not the face of the Red Light District, prostitutes, drugs etc. But that of a clean and nice city filled with culture and history, a city you could take your entire family to.
here) for a city and a museum by visiting the Rijksmuseum and holding a press conference in front of one of the world's most famous paintings, the Night Watch from Rembrandt.
Not very surprising, the Rijksmuseum had a record breaking opening year, and also the news covered here how the Rijksmuseum added a lot to the growth of tourism in Holland.
But now what about the aftermath. Has trouble making English people disappeared and been replaced with family friendly tourists? Partially, because even though the new Rijksmuseum attracted a lot of new tourists, those will not become regulars. The tourists that come to the Red Light District come back every year, year after year, because those people love it here in Amsterdam, because here they can do all the things they can't do at home, like smoke weed and go to prostitutes. But how many times will people come back to visit the same museum with the same paintings? They won't. They'll come once, and after they'll go to other countries and cities that also have museums, just like Amsterdam.
Fact is, that Amsterdam is trying to compete in a competition that is too big. Huge cities with enormous budgets like New York, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, etc. They're all big cities with many more museums then Amsterdam has, and they all have their own identity as museum cities. While Amsterdam will always been known for it's drugs and prostitution, no matter what you do.
And the only thing all those new rules and policies have achieved, is that because those cafe's and bars have to close so early now, all those drunk people keep hanging in the streets of the Red Light District, because they have no place to go, and they start making trouble at my work in the Red Light District.
Recently a Dutch TV channel made a two-part documentary about the closing of the Red Light District (part one and part two here). The documentary showed perfectly how the city government of Amsterdam used the story of human trafficking as an excuse to close down parts of the Red Light District, but not for the safety of the women. In the documentary called 'De slag om de Wallen' (translation: The battle for the Red Light District), mayor Eberhard van der Laan was seen heavily agitated by the interviewer who confronted the mayor with the results of the policies of Amsterdam. It was clear the mayor didn't like it, and he had trouble to answer some of the questions the interviewer asked him. It's showing just how much the mayor, but also former alderman Lodewijk Asscher, have lied to keep a small group of influential people happy in order to maintain their power.
The fact that dozens of women ended up without a save workplace, and simply vanished into nothingness, not knowing if they're safe or in danger, the fact that Amsterdam's cafe's and bars have drawn empty because of the new closing times and reduction of tourists for the Red Light, the fact that sexshops struggle to survive as their income has dropped enormously since they've had to close down before the Red Light get's busy, and the fact that dozens of companies and their employers have ended up without a job apparently mean nothing to them. Apparently the interests of a few important people with money and influence is more important then the lives and jobs of dozens, if not hundreds of other people. And the sad thing is, it won't work, because people will always come back to the Red Light District, because that's unique, and a city with a museum isn't.
(With a huge thanks to my boyfriend for the research and the website of Marcel Katée for a lot of the information)