Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland , IPA: [ˈne:dərlɑnt]) is the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which consists of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, located in Western Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east.
The Netherlands is often called Holland. This is technically incorrect, as North and South Holland in the western Netherlands are only two of the country's twelve provinces (for more on this and other naming issues see Netherlands (terminology)).
The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying and densely populated country. It is popularly known for its windmills, cheese, clogs (wooden shoes), delftware and gouda pottery, dikes, tulips, bicycles, and social tolerance. A liberal democracy, the country is also well-known for its liberal policies toward drugs, prostitution, gay rights, abortion, and euthanasia.
The Netherlands has an international outlook; among other affiliations it is a member of the European Union (EU), NATO, the OECD, and has signed the Kyoto protocol. The country is host to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the EU's criminal intelligence agency (Europol) at The Hague. It is also one of three member nations of the Benelux economic union, along with Belgium and Luxembourg.

Naming conventions

Main article: Geography of the Netherlands Geography
About half of its surface area is less than 1 metre (3.3 ft) above sea level, and much of it is actually below sea level (see map showing these areas). An extensive range of dikes and dunes protects these areas from flooding. Numerous massive pumping stations keep the ground water level in check. The highest point, the Vaalserberg, in the south-eastern most point of the country, is 322.7 metres (1,053 ft) above sea level. The Vaalserberg is a foothill of the Ardennes mountains. A substantial part of the Netherlands, for example, all of the province of Flevoland (largely consists of the largest man-made island in the world) and large parts of Holland, have been reclaimed from the sea. These areas are known as polders. This not only explains why The Netherlands is called "A land won from the sea" but has also led to the famous Dutch saying "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands".

Below sea level
In years past, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably as a result of human intervention and natural disasters. Most notable in terms of land loss are the 1134 storm, which created the archipelago of Zeeland in the south west, and the 1287 storm, which killed 50,000 people and created the Zuiderzee (now dammed in and renamed the IJsselmeer — see below) in the northwest, giving Amsterdam direct access to the sea. The St. Elizabeth flood of 1421 and the mismanagement in its aftermath destroyed a newly reclaimed polder, replacing it with the 72 square kilometres (28 sq mi) Biesbosch tidal floodplains in the south-centre. The most recent parts of Zeeland were flooded during the North Sea Flood of 1953 and 1,836 people were killed, after which the Delta Plan was executed.
The disasters were partially man-made; the people drained relatively high lying swampland for use as farmland. This drainage caused the fertile peat to compress and the ground level to drop, locking the land users in a vicious circle whereby they would lower the water level to compensate for the drop in ground level, causing the underlying peat to compress even more. The vicious circle is unsolvable and remains to this day. Up until the 19th century peat was dug up, dried, and used for fuel, further adding to the problem.
To guard against floods, a series of defences against the water were contrived. In the first millennium, villages and farmhouses were built on man-made hills called terps. Later, these terps were connected by dikes. In the 12th century, local government agencies called "waterschappen" (English "water bodies") or "hoogheemraadschappen" ("high home councils") started to appear, whose job it was to maintain the water level and to protect a region from floods. (The water bodies are still around today performing the same function.) As the ground level dropped, the dikes by necessity grew and merged into an integrated system. In the 13th century, windmills came into use to pump water out of the areas by now below sea level. The windmills were later used to drain lakes, creating the famous polders. In 1932, the Afsluitdijk (English "Closure Dike") was completed, blocking the former Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) off from the North Sea and thus creating the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake). It became part of the larger Zuiderzee Works in which four polders totalling 1,650 square kilometres (637 sq mi) were reclaimed from the sea.

After the 1953 disaster, the Delta project, a vast construction effort designed to end the threat from the sea once and for all, was launched in 1958 and largely completed in 2002. The official goal of the Delta project was to reduce the risk of flooding in the Zeeland to once per 10,000 years. (For the rest of the country, the protection-level is once per 4,000 years.) This was achieved by raising 3,000 kilometres (1,864 mi) of outer sea-dikes and 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) of inner, canal, and river dikes to "delta" height, and by closing off the sea estuaries of the Zeeland province. New risk assessments occasionally show problems requiring additional Delta project dike reinforcements. The Delta project is one of the largest construction efforts in human history and is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Because of the high cost of maintaining the polders some have argued that maybe some of the deepest polders should be given up. Additionally, the Netherlands is one of the countries that may suffer most from climatic change. Not only is the rising sea a problem, but also erratic weather patterns may cause the rivers to overflow.

Delta Works
The country is divided into two main parts by three rivers Rhine (Rijn), Waal, and Meuse (Maas). These rivers not only function as a natural barrier, but also as a cultural divide, as is evident in the different dialects spoken north and south of these "Large Rivers" (de Grote Rivieren) and the (former) religious dominance of Catholics in the south and Calvinists in the north. The south-western part of the Netherlands is actually one river delta of these rivers and two arms of the Scheldt (Westerschelde & Oosterschelde).
The predominant wind direction in the Netherlands is south-west, which causes a moderate maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters.

The Netherlands Rivers
See also: List of national parks of the Netherlands


Main article: History of the Netherlands History
After gaining formal independence from the Spanish Empire under King Philip IV of Spain, the Dutch grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers of the 17th century during the period of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In the so-called Dutch Golden Age, colonies and trading posts were established all over the globe. (See Dutch colonial empire)
Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalist country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and the first full-time stock exchange. The inventiveness of the traders led to insurance and retirement funds as well as such less benign phenomena as the boom-bust cycle, the world's first asset-inflation bubble, the tulip mania of 16361637, and according to Murray Sayle, the world's first bear raider - Isaac le Maire, who forced prices down by dumping stock and then buying it back at a discount.

See also: Kingdom of the Netherlands and Monarchy of the Netherlands
After briefly being incorporated in the First French Empire under Napoleon, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1815, consisting of the present day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition, the king of the Netherlands became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Belgium rebelled and gained independence in 1830, while the personal union between Luxembourg and the Netherlands was severed in 1890 as a result of ascendancy laws which prevented Queen Wilhelmina from becoming Grand Duchess.
The Netherlands possessed several colonies, most notably the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname (the latter was traded with the British for New Amsterdam, now known as New York). These 'colonies' were first administered by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, both collective private enterprises. Three centuries later these companies got into financial trouble and the territories in which they operated were taken over by the Dutch government (in 1815 and 1791 respectively). Only then did they become official colonies.
During the 19th century, the Netherlands was slow to industrialise compared to neighbouring countries, mainly due to its unique infrastructure of waterways and reliance on wind power.

See also: Battle of the Netherlands and History of the Netherlands (1939-1945)
The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I and intended to do so in World War II. However, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 in the Western European campaign of the Second World War. The country was quickly overrun and the army main force surrendered on May 14 after the bombing of Rotterdam, although a Dutch and French allied force held the province of Zeeland for a short time after the Dutch surrender. The Kingdom as such continued the war from the colonial empire; the government in exile resided in London.
During the occupation over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up to be transported to Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Czecho-Slovakia where they were murdered in the Holocaust along with significant numbers of Dutch Roma (Gypsies). Some Dutch e.g. members of Henneicke Column collaborated with Nazi occupiers in hunting down and arresting hiding Jews. Between 8,000 and 9,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up in this manner and consequently deported to German extermination camps and murdered. Several thousand Dutch men also joined the Waffen-SS to form the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Netherlands fighting on the Eastern Front. Dutch civilians were often treated brutally. Dutch workers were conscripted for labour in German factories, civilians were killed in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers, and the countryside was plundered for food for German soldiers in the Netherlands and for shipment to Germany.
The Allied 21st Army Group was given the task to conduct military operations to liberate The Netherlands after the breakout from Normandy. British, Canadian, Polish and American soldiers fought on Dutch soil beginning in September 1944. A first thrust, Operation Market Garden north from Belgium to Arnhem, failed. Canadian units fighting to liberate the Scheldt estuary liberated Zealand, and after March 1945 the east of the country but not Holland proper where German forces held out until the surrender of May 6, 1945, in Wageningen at Hotel De Wereld. The disrupted transportation system, caused by German destruction of dikes to slow allied advances, and German confiscation of much food and livestock made the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-1945 one in which malnutrition and starvation were rife among the Dutch population. The country suffered a similar "severe winter" in 1945-46 because of abnormal cold and the slow reconstruction.
After the war, the Dutch economy prospered by leaving behind an era of neutrality and gaining closer ties with neighbouring states. The Netherlands became a member of the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) cooperation. Furthermore, the Netherlands was among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union.

World War I & II

Main articles: Provinces of the Netherlands and Municipalities in the Netherlands Provinces and municipalities

Main article: Politics of the Netherlands Politics

Main articles: Economy of the Netherlands and List of Dutch companies Agriculture

Main article: Demographics of the Netherlands Demographics

Main article: Religion in the Netherlands Religion
The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by a large majority of the inhabitants, the exception being some groups of immigrants.
Another official language is Frisian, which is spoken in the northern province of Fryslân. Frisian is co-official only in the province of Fryslân, although with a few restrictions. Several dialects of Low Saxon (Nedersaksisch in Dutch) are spoken in much of the north and east and are recognised by the Netherlands as regional languages according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, as well as the Franconian Limburgish language in the South.
There is a tradition of learning foreign languages in the Netherlands: about 85% of the total population have basic knowledge of English, 55–60% of German and 25% of French. Courses in Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Ancient Greek, and Latin are offered in schools as well.


Main article: Military of the Netherlands

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