MDI opening ceremony, March 21, 1997this page in Dutch
The opening ceremony was performed on Friday, March 21, 1997, in De Balie in Amsterdam by Brieuc-Yves Cadat, board member of the Magenta foundation and Mr. Hans Dijkstal, Minister of Internal Affairs.
Present at the opening were various people from the anti-racism movement, members of the MDI Sounding Board group, the police, the judiciary, politicians, diginauts and the press. Our thanks to De Balie for the hospitality offered.
Speech by Mr. Brieuc-Yves Cadat, board member of the Magenta foundation:
Welcome everyone, especially Mr. Dijkstal, Minister of Internal Affairs. Before we proceed to the opening of the Hotline, a few words:
In the Netherlands and the rest of Europe we have seen an increase in racist expressions and acts in recent years. The internet, as an integral part of society, cannot escape this either; discriminatory and racist texts, extreme right-wing pages and digital networks of right-wing extremists. Last year the need arose from the anti-racism movement to do something about this. Discrimination is punishable and Dutch law also applies to the Internet. "In Real Life" Discrimination Hotlines are not yet active on the Net, so the minimum we can do is provide a counterbalance by setting up a Digital Hotline for the Dutch part of the Net.
We are supported in this by the LBR, the national association of ADBs and Hotlines, the Discrimination Hotline Amsterdam, the association of Dutch Internet Providers NLIP and by our webspace provider, Vuurwerk Internet. The discrimination team of the Amsterdam police has also shown interest in the reporting center and expressed the wish to enter into consultations and to arrive at an efficient handling of reports.
Today, March 21, is the International Day Against Racism. Moreover, 1997 is the European Year Against Racism. The Netherlands has a novelty in Europe with the Hotline for discrimination on the Internet.
Mr Dijkstal, may I now request you to officially open the Internet Discrimination Hotline.
19.17 Minister Dijkstal stands at the PC with the special opening page of the Discrimination Hotline and presses a mouse button. The image jumps to the Main page and on the International Day against Racism the Dutch Reporting Center for Discrimination Internet (MDI) was officially opened.
The minister then takes place behind the microphone.
Speech by Mr. Hans Dijkstal, Minister of Internal Affairs:
You just saw how I pressed the mouse with trembling fingers, I'm one of those naive people who has no experience with it. I looked up the word 'decoration system' once and then I think I ended up at an embroidery course.
Unfortunately, there are those who are interested in gross images of child pornography, very harmful information about bomb-making and outrageous displays of racism and discrimination, all of which can be found on the Internet. And how do you organize the prosecution? This is not yet arranged so easily with modern technology. It is easy to think lightly about it, but every initiative can help.
That is why a very big compliment to the initiators of this Meldpunt and of course also for all others who support this initiative It would be best if there were little to be reported, but the world doesn't look that beautiful yet.
A guest's memory of the 21th of March, 1997
By Jolie van der Klis
"I'm invited to the opening of the Internet Discrimination Hotline," Felipe Rodriquez turned to me in the stairwell of the Prins Hendrikkade, "I was wondering, could you go there on behalf of XS4ALL? It's a party in De Balie, Friday next week..."
For a moment the idea of a party —Oh my, I won't know anyone there— collided with Felipe's ever-sweet eyes, to which it was practically impossible to say 'no' to.
"Um... Of course... What time?"
"I'll send you the invitation!" Felipe called over his shoulder as he continued down the stairs.
That's how a week later, I locked my bicycle at the Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen and walked into De Balie uncomfortably. Indeed, I didn't know anyone in the hall — and if I did recognize anyone, it was because the well-known face belonged to the Minister of the Interior — Hans Dijkstal — or other politicians, like Anne Lize van der Stoel or members of the City Council.
I looked for a place in the background and searched among those present for a familiar face. Maybe someone from the Digital Citizen Movement. From Wegener Internet, Planet, or my classmate Hendrik Rood, in the role of columnist or telecom expert. I remembered the discussions on Hotlines we had. Were they not set up to just pass on the hot potato, under the guise of "we providers are only postmen, not police officers. If you have any complaints, contact the hotline..."?
"Welcome! Are you Jolie? From XS4ALL?" Two friendly eyes behind thick glasses and an outstretched hand to shake my hand.
"I'm Ronald. Eissens. We had a good laugh about that Unox Sausage Factory post you made on DB.NL the other day..." He blinked a finger in the corner of his eye, as if he was wiping a laughing tear from behind his glasses.
"Suzette and I — That's Suzette," he pointed to a girl with spiky hair, who disappeared laughing behind a table with computer equipment, "we do read DB.NL [Digital Citizen Movement], but it's one large flame-war, pointless to respond to."
Soon we were engaged in a conversation about illegal material that did exist on the Dutch usenet servers — material to which internet providers did not want to burn their hands. About the discussions within the providers themselves — in which even employees wanting to remove downright illegal photos —for example clothingless children in abusive situations— ran into the argument of the 'common carrier'.
"Aren't you afraid that you'll be, um, say, used by the providers: that it's your task to clean up the mess now — ànd you'll have to deal with the shitload of discussion about it?"
"No, I'm not afraid of anything, we have knowledge in this area. In principle, the law is clear about what is and is not allowed."
"Yeah yeah: 'in principle,' like I say often: 'in principle' just means 'not.'"
"Haha! You should get to know Suzette... Suzette!" The girl in black gave a wave and disappeared again among the crowd.
While we continued talking, Ronald turned out to be a lot younger than I had guessed, only two years older than me. Was it his long resume, Rietveld Academy, Biochemistry study, Groen Amsterdam, internet provider VuurWerk? Or was it the suit, the build, and the beard that had made him look older at first glance?
From his stories about the Balistraat and the Zilverberg, it appeared that Ronald had shared a house with dear friends, and how he had played a part in their legendary stories of the "taken milk cart" and the sad drug addict at the Zilverberg appartments, whom Ronald found as manager of the flat, when Mahmoud had been lying dead on his bed for months. Not noticed by anyone. Not missed by anyone.
I asked about the necklace that Ronald unintentionally held between his fingers during his story about the tragic Mahmoud.
"What letters are they?" I pointed to the pendant.
"Ah, that's Chet and Jot. Together the word Chai, that means Life. The life we celebrate, respect and commemorate. Just like we say 'Le Chaim!' when we toast."
At the end of the afternoon I was convinced that this Hotline had been set up by a person with the highest integrity, who was also modest, friendly and capable. I hadn't spoken to Suzette, but only a woman of his caliber would fit a man like Ronald.
There was only one thing I worried about all these years: What was the weight of this task on Ronald and Suzette's shoulders? Even those who tirelessly, soberly react on every message of hate and every violation of the anti discrimination laws, will have their physical limits.
While the violations were still the size of fishing boats in the 1990s, they increasingly became the size of mammoth tankers after the turn of the millennium.
Just under 24 years after that meeting in March 1997, much earlier than ever imaginable, we had to say goodbye to Ronald at Zorgvlied. And now, 8 months later, also to Suzette.
Ronald and Suzette did not only leave us the task of continuing to fight hate speech and inequality, but also their motto: to celebrate, respect and commemorate life itself.
Jolie, July 25, 2021
SuZ replied, to the first version on July 26, 2021:
"What a beautiful text. [...] Thank you, I immediately went back to that March 21."