Amsterdam Articles > Secrets of Amsterdam - Chapter 1
Secrets of Amsterdam - Chapter 1
Amsterdam has a high proportion of ethnic minorities compared with the rest of Europe, currently 45%. The population register now contains over 150 different nationalities. In ten years' time half the population will be of foreign origin.
The City spends substantial sums to prevent the formation of ghettos in boroughs with an over-representation of ethnic minorities. A Social Diversity Policy paper published in the summer of 1998 will give new impetus to the city's minorities strategy. It will deal with any groups who might suffer social discrimination. Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of a person's beliefs, race or sexual preferences. In 1996 the Municipality of Amsterdam added its own code of conduct for local authority staff to this Article, plus a complaints scheme and an anti-discrimination office. The ethnic composition of the civil service in the city must reflect the population of the city. The main ethnic minority groups are Creoles and Hindustanis from Surinam (72,000), Moroccans (57,000), Turks (35,000) and immigrants from the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba (12,000). Amsterdam also contains around 26,000 Chinese, and has its own "Chinatown", situated in the Nieuwmarkt area. In 2000, the first Chinese Buddhist temple opened on Zeedijk. There are also around 76,000 migrants from other non-industrialised countries, such as Ghana and Pakistan. The local Salto cable network transmits programmes made for and by immigrants on the Amsterdam TV Broadcasting Association for Immigrants (MTV). The Municipality has installed five advisory bodies to assist it in its migrants' policy.
The policy on women
Support for the emancipation of women and of people who are subject to discrimination based on their sexual preferences is part of the city's policy. The city pursues a specific emancipation policy and in 1995 installed the Ombudsman Service for Women to deal with complaints relating to the legal and social position of 'black, white and immigrant women' in Amster-dam. Adresses of more than a hundred help, advice and contact organisations are included in the "Yellow Pages for Women" (Gele Gids voor Vrouwen) published by the Multicultural Emancipation Bureau.
Amsterdam has had a Jewish quarter for more than 350 years. The district was de-populated during the German Occupation in World War Two.
Initially the quarter lay outside the city walls and was inhabited mainly by Jews originating from Spain and Portugal, including the family of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Rembrandt felt at home in the colourful Jewish environment, encountered wonderful models there and had his house built in Jodenbreestraat: Rembrandt's House. The 17th century also saw the start of an influx of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe to Amsterdam.
The city became their 'makum' - the second Jerusalem - and to the present day Amsterdam is referred to affectionately as "M˘kum" by its older inhabitants. At the most Jewish point in the city, around the Jonas DaniŰl Meijerplein, stand four former synagogues dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, which since 1987 have together formed the Jewish Historical Museum, and the 'esnoga' (synagogue) of the Sephardic Jews from 1671-75, which is still lit by candles on the eve of the Sabbath and on feast days.
The village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel has since 1641 been home to the picturesque cemetery of the Sephardic community.
Sephardic Jews from Amsterdam emigrated to Surinam in the 17th and 18th centuries, where they established sugar plantations. Others founded the first synagogue in the New World, in Willemstad on the island of Curašao.
Amsterdam holds the largest collection of Jewish books in Europe, the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana. The books were donated to the city in 1890 by the heirs of the German scholar Leeser Rosenthal (1794-1868); they were stolen during the German Occupation, but were rediscovered almost undamaged after 1945. They constitute a "treasure of Jewish booklore", which forms part of the University Library.
The policy on homosexuality
The Municipality pursues an active policy to combat discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians. Gays and lesbians visiting Amsterdam find the atmosphere of tolerance there like a breath of fresh air. At the foot of the Wester-kerk church is a memorial consisting of three pink granite triangles. It is the only monument to the victims of persecution and discrimination of homosexuals in the world. The city is listed by the International Gay Travel Association as one of the top destinations in East and West for homosexual travellers. 80% of American gays who visit Europe call in on Amsterdam, and 6% of all foreign visitors to the city centre visit places which are favourites with homosexuals.
Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, was the registrar at the first same-sex civil marriage ceremony at the Town Hall, held in the early hours of 1 April 2001. Four same-sex couples said 'I do' and placed their signatures on the Register, for the first time enjoying the same legal status as a different-sex married couple. In his previous post as State Secretary for Justice, Mr. Cohen was instrumental in ensuring that this legislation reached the statute book. The opening of civil marriage to same-sex couples was approved by the Dutch government in December 2000. The Netherlands had already introduced registration of same-sex partner-ships, another legal landmark, in 1998.
Article written by Ines Van Den Born, Ines'Gloves.