Clash at European Election Debate in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres and Rebekah Daunt

D66 accuses the SP of nationalist fear mongering, as an all-female candidate panel initially demonstrates solidarity, but ends up colliding on major policy issues facing the next European Parliament.

“Social Europe is too important to be left to the Socialists,” said D66 candidate Raquel García Hermida at a European Election Debate held last Monday in front of an international audience in the Aula Magna of the University of Groningen’s Academy building.

Ms. García Hermida, who is running for a seat in the next European Parliament under the banner of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, was joined in the richly decorated hall by three fellow candidates: Kati Piri (PvdA, Socialists & Democrats),Tineke Strik (GroenLinks, Greens/European Free Alliance), and Sara Murawski (SP, European United Left/Nordic Green Left). Major parties on the right side of the Dutch political spectrum failed to respond to the hosts’ invitation while the Christian Democratic Appeal party declined at the last minute, according to the event’s organisers.  

The all-female panel discussed pertinent issues, such as climate change, the labour market and the refugee crisis. While seemingly in accord on the necessity to tackle global warming, the four progressive candidates exposed gaping rifts between their positions on free trade and migrant workers as the evening drew to its conclusion.

The undermining of this apparent unity between left-wing parties adds another layer of complexity to the looming election. Voters in the Netherlands will choose 26 candidates from 16 parties to represent Dutch interests at the Brussels-based European Parliament on Thursday 23 May 2019. The Netherlands will be assigned three extra seats at a later date following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Locals First

“National solidarity trumps international solidarity,” said Ms. Murawski of the Socialist Party in her fierce critique of the “free market system” that she blames for “exploiting workers”. The SP wants more regulation of the labour markets to prevent exploitation by encouraging the hiring of local workers. “We want a system of working permits, that way companies are encouraged to look for local workers, so people in the neighbourhood [get priority],” said Ms. Murawski.

Ms. García Hermida of D66 challenged the socialist candidate and questioned the effectiveness of work permits as Europe already boasts the free movement of workers across state borders. In a passionate defense of the value of “individual liberties”, the D66 politician accused the Socialist Party of seeking to protect the rights of Dutch workers while disregarding those of international workers. “This identity based message of ´us against them´ only feeds into the discourse of the extreme right and that is why socialist voters are now voting for PVV [Party for Freedom] and Forum for Democracy,” concluded Ms. García Hermida.

Paying the Climate Bill

The implementation of an emissions tax on airline tickets was high on the agenda for GroenLinks on the night. “It is very strange that people pay tax for train tickets but not for flight tickets. We really want to create incentives for customers to make the right choices,” said Ms. Strik on the topic of climate change.

“Clean air is not a luxury, without it, we would all have a problem,” said Ms. Piri in agreement. But the Hungarian-Dutch politician was against the idea of enforcing an emissions tax. She emphasized that large corporations – rather than the customer – should pay for climate damage. “Airlines are the biggest polluters, it would be totally unfair not to tax them,” added the PvdA candidate.

Vote, Vote, Vote

Conflicts between the candidates underlined the debate’s central theme of setting the priority for the next European Parliament. Is it going to promote increased nationalism or increased globalisation? And what is the EU’s role in this unpredictable power field?

Ms. Strik urged the audience to be conscious of who they vote for next week. “It all depends on who is in the European Parliament, who has the power and what governments we are dealing with. So it is not about more of less [foreign policy within Europe] but whom you are voting for next Thursday,” concluded Ms. Strik.

The senate effect

By Anne de Vries and Hannah van der Wurff

The Dutch provincial elections of last Wednesday ignited a discussion on the political polarisation in the Netherlands. The Stand went out on the streets of Groningen to ask those who voted, for their thoughts.

In the elections on Wednesday, 56.1% of those 13 million people eligible, voted for the Provinciale Staten and waterschappen (provincial states and regional water authorities). Some view voting as their civic duty, some don’t. The other group is comprised of those who have no idea what voting on the provincial states and regional water authorities actually means.

The provincial states, of which there are 12 in the Netherlands, have seven core tasks to execute over their four year period. These core tasks range from urban planning, regional economy, transport and climate regulation, as well as electing the Dutch senate.

The elections for the regional water authorities, the regional institutions that decide over water management, were linked to the provincial elections in 2014 in the hope the voting percentage would increase.

The results

The outcome of the recent elections shocked left-wing Netherlands, as political newcomer Forum for Democracy (FvD) collected 14.4% of all votes nationally. This unexpected political surge led to a tie in senate seats between FvD and VVD, the neoliberal conservatives who have been heading the government since 2010.

“I wonder where this is going to take us,” says an elderly woman when stopped in front of the Groninger Museum. Holding back tears she says: “We had a very important period of peace after the war [WWII] and for me that feeling is fading.”

The crossing in front of the museum is crowded with trainloads of people passing into the centre from the central station. Even with all the noise, the woman’s message is clear. When asked what she wanted her vote to mean, she says she wants “peace, human connection and integration.”

FvD’s new prominence on the Dutch political stage didn’t go unchallenged. Some call their standpoints on the political system, race, climate change, the EU and immigration ‘controversial’, while others laud them for nestling between the conservative and globalist VVD and the radical anti-Islam PVV.

In Groningen, a miscalculation cost the green party PvdD one seat, after the FvD managed to manifest five provincial seats instead of the preliminary four, when the polls closed. While the greens GroenLinks dominate the municipal council in Groningen’s last election, the recent provincial elections granted them a mere one seat advantage over FvD.

The turnout

This year, just like the years before, the turnout for the provincial elections is low when compared to that of the national parliamentary elections. This isn’t unusual, and it’s rather a trend that doesn’t only go for the provincial elections but all elections, as the figure below shows. For the past 10 years the parliamentary elections have drawn out most voters.

What is especially interesting, as visualized below, is the difference between the national turnout, and those of the province and municipality of Groningen. While this follows the general trend, it overtakes national numbers on occasion.

“Turnout is an indicator for the importance the electorate attaches to certain levels of government,” says Eddy Habben Jansen, the director of the political educational institution, ProDemos. He predicted that the turnout for last Wednesday’s provincial elections would be relatively high compared to previous years because “there is quite a bit of focus on the cabinet majority in the senate,” which are in turn elected by the provinces.

When we consider the turnout for the Provincial Elections in Groningen this year and those for the past ten years, this does show. It’s a small increase, but it’s there.

Habben Jansen introduces the ‘senate effect’ as an indicator for sudden higher turnouts for provincial elections. Political tensions and a near cabinet majority show how these abstract elections can in turn “be transformed into national elections instead”.

On the Gedempte Zuiderdiep in Groningen, these sentiments were affirmed by a young man, who told The Stand that the electoral power of the provinces was the precise reason he went to vote to begin with. But, the elections “felt less important than the parliamentary elections”.

This senate effect, in combination with FvD’s growing supporters-base of dedicated voters frustrated with the current political climate, prompted the current senate construction.

“An excellent opposition party”

In front of Groningen’s synagogue on the Folkingestraat, The Stand speaks to a FvD supporter. He considers the election’s outcome “outstanding” and embraces the “countermovement against recent years of political foul play.”

Although he wouldn’t want to see Thierry Baudet, the highly controversial party leader of the FvD, behind the prime minister’s desk, he says “Forum is an excellent opposition party, as they call out the elephant in the room for what it is.”

Criticising the VVD’s vision for “managing the country as if it were a company” he calls out VVD’s stable voter-base for “structurally giving the rest of the Netherlands the finger.”

“That is why I think it’s good that someone like Baudet stands up. But still, I wonder if anything will change, because people like him aren’t wanted in the Netherlands.”

Oss Tragedy Flowers

A Tragedy of Errors | Ministry Mistakes Responsible for Oss Deaths?

William Macmaster

Over a month on from the deaths of four children at a level railway crossing in the sleepy Dutch city of Oss, there are still serious questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure.

On September 20 2018, four young children travelling from their nursery were struck by a train when their “stint” failed to stop at a level crossing. For days after the crash, people were still travelling from miles away to visit the site, with the sole purpose of paying their respects. The area dedicated to the victims was covered with flowers, and mourners walked up and down the road wondering how this tragedy came to be. To this day, there are still no answers. Investigations into the incident are still ongoing, but two factors seemingly contributed, stints and level crossings in The Netherlands.

The investigation has primarily raised questions surrounding child transportation methods in the Netherlands. Specifically stints, electric-powered wagons driven by a standing driver with space to carry medium-sized loads. Formerly used to transport goods, they have been used since 2011 to transport children to and from day-care centres.

In a telephone interview with The Stand a week after the incident, the then-spokesperson for the Minister of Infrastructure, who oversees the use of stints, Emrys Dijkhuis-Reuvers, (who is no longer in this position) stated, “We sent a letter to parliament stating that we don’t have information that would force us to forbid the stint, it has been accepted on our roads since 2011, and we don’t have information now at would indicate otherwise” she explained.

This policy was reversed on the 1/10/2018, when Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen ordered stints be taken off the road. This backtracking raises new concerns about the safety of stints, their involvement in the events in Oss and general confusion in the ministry overall.

Edwin Renzen, the owner and founder of the stint slated the decision as “premature”. Speaking to Dutch news organisations, NOS, he doubled down on comments made The Stand, stating, “No research has been carried out on the wreck, they are based on a working hypothesis, but that should not be a reason to prohibit immediately all stints on the public road.”

He had previously explained to The Stand that stints are fitted with three separate brakes, including an emergency brake, emphasising that the main break is connected to the throttle, so letting go of the throttle would bring it to a stop. He also found fault with the idea of electrical interference that was sighted as the cause in the early investigations into the incident.

“If there was radiation going on, I think every person with a pacemaker would die immediately over there”. He said. “To think there was enough radiation to take over the vehicle that has driven for over one and half years across the same track almost sounds like wishful thinking. Why would it only be the throttle? Why were the lights not flashing when they are all wired to the same system?” It is Mr Renzen’s belief that the “The commercial parties are looking for someone to blame.”

While he admitted that there have been some incidents with stints in the past due to gradual wear and tear, he believes the accident cannot be solely blamed on the stint itself. Noting that since stints have been legalised on Dutch roads, the amount of money paid out for insurance claims due to injured children is zero.

Meanwhile, questions also remain over the safety of level crossings within the Netherlands, a longstanding issue in the country.

A report from July 2018 by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS), established that level crossings in The Netherlands were fundamentally unsafe prior to the tragic incident in Oss. The report highlighted issues with both guarded, such as the one in Oss, and unguarded level crossings in The Netherlands. The report followed on from another report published 15 years earlier raising similar issues. Level Crossing Oss

A member of the DBS, Marjolein van Asselt, who oversaw the report, spoke to The Stand discussing these new findings in relation to the previous ones. “The Ministry should have taken the lesson from that first investigation and they didn’t. Maybe due to time, money, or other choices in policy.” She explained. “The parties involved in railroad crossings should have safety at the top of their minds because 11 dead (per year on railway crossings) is not something to deny.”

The Oss crossing is certainly a busy one, located adjacent to the Oss South train station, serving as the middle point between Oss and nearby stations such as Arnhem and S’Hertegenbosch, with around 5-10 trains passing every hour.

René Vegter, a spokesman for ProRail, who looks after the maintenance of Oss railroads defended the level crossing at Oss, saying, “The level crossing functioned the way it should be, we drew that conclusion almost immediately. There doesn’t seem to be an issue on that part.”

However, despite the Oss level crossing being the site of one of the most deadly rail incidents in Dutch history, he also stated that “it was not a big priority on our list and was not known as a very dangerous one.” When questioned about how the Stint managed to go underneath the barrier, as it reportedly did, he mentioned that while “at some locations in the Netherlands we do have something below the barrier to avoid people drive under, that’s not always the case.”

Mr Vegter went on to confirm that the situation with level crossings in the Netherlands is not ideal. “We have a saying here at ProRail that ‘the safest level crossing is no level crossing.’ We would like to get rid of them, but you have to be realistic as it takes a lot of money.” He stated. “We don’t have money on our own, everything we do is paid by the government, so what we can do about safety is limited to how much money we get from the government.”

Vegter declined to comment on the fact that the DBS report identifies the Ministry of Infrastructure as chiefly responsible for the maintenance of level crossings.

While a substantial sum of around €400 million has already been spent on renovating level crossing since 1999, it has seemingly not been enough. According to information provided by Carlijn Van Donselaar, the spokeswoman for railroads in the Netherlands, a further €200 million from the government budget has since been announced to be invested before 2028 to eliminate the remaining issues. However, this figure was announced just two weeks prior to the publication of DBS’s report, which was far too late for the victims in Oss.

While the incident in Oss remains under investigation from several parties, including the Dutch Safety Board and Pro Rail themselves, it seems there are still more questions to be asked of the Ministry of Infrastructure. This new information about stints combined with the on-going doubts over the level crossing points the finger of liability to those responsible for ensuring a harmonious flow of traffic within the Netherlands.

Meet the Man Who Nearly Overturned Italian Democracy

By Gabriele Cruciata

In 1970 a fascist coup failed at the last minute in Italy. The man who was instructed to put a bullet in the president’s head tells his story to The Stand.

Angelo is 77 years old, and wrinkles pass all through his face. He lives in Cittaducale, a small village in central Italy, where he was born. He spent all his life here. His home is an old-fashioned flat filled with old knick-knacks. “Would you ever imagine I was about to kill the Italian President?” he asks.

During the night of 8th of December, 1970, in Cittaducale it was raining heavily. Junio Valerio Borghese, a fascist Italian aristocratic with a past in the naval force, organized a golpe for that night. The wildlife police were his closest partners in crime. At that time, Angelo was part of the wildlife police, whose main barracks was and still today is in Cittaducale.

“They ordered us to get prepared” he said, speaking in Italian. “We all thought it was a training, and we were so pissed off! After all, why do you organize a practice session during such a rainy night?”. Angelo remembers all the details from that night. “Our superiors organized a group of four trucks for a total of about 120 wildlife officers. I was in the leading truck, and this allowed me to have a good view of what was going on”.

When Angelo is asked to talk about how they felt inside the truck, a ghostly expression immediately appears on his face. “We were angry, of course. But as we spent lots of time on Via Salaria following signs for Rome, we progressively felt a sense of anxiety. Trainings were supposed to last for 30 or 40 minutes, no more. We were worried, we were in the heart of the Cold War”.

After some hours driving, the truck reached Rome. “We were seven or eight Kms from the national TV headquarters, while anxiety was growing. We didn’t have a clue of what was going on, and at some point my truck stopped. One of the Commanders rashly got out of the truck and approached two strange guys in the dark”.

Who were they?

“At first, I thought they were two frocioni having secret sex in the car, they were so strange!” he laughs. Frocioni is an Italian word for “fags”.

Did you manage to look at them?

“No, it was so dark, it was raining. But we really weren’t understanding why our Commander decided to stop for a pair of frocioni. When he came back into the truck, he wanted us to come back to our station. We made a U-turn and went back to Cittaducale. In that moment I realized they weren’t frocioni and that something serious was going on”.

In the following weeks and months, his life went back to its everyday routine. “Once, it was Sunday and I was at my parents’. My dad started to call me: “Angelo! Angelo! – he screamed – C’mon, c’mon, come here!”. When Angelo entered the room he found his dad in front of the TV. “He asked me “what the hell did you do? What did you do that night? Look!”.

TV news was reporting on Borghese’s Golpe, and I was involved in the story. I was there that night. I was involved in a fuckin’ coup, you know what I mean?”. It was March, 1971.

The next day, Angelo arrived at the wildlife police station. His workplace was surrounded by Carabinieri. They wanted to investigate on the coup d’état and question all the officers who worked that night. “When they called me – Angelo says – I was afraid. I remember a white, empty room with a desk. An officer was standing right behind it. When he started questioning me, he took a violent attitude. He screamed, he wanted to convince me to tell the truth about that night. He was furious, he tried to punch me in the face”.

When Angelo talks about the interrogation he gets nervous. It was at the end of his questioning that he discovered something he did not yet know: the role he would have had if the coup attempt had gone ahead.

“At the end, I was standing up to go away while he loudly told me You know what? You were expected to kill the President. I got a chill. “I was about to change our history”.

Still today nobody knows why the coup failed that night. Prosecutors know for sure that Angelo’s Commander phoned Junio Valerio Borghese immediately after meeting with the guys in the dark, and he was told to come back to the station. In 2004, thanks to the American Freedom of Information Act, Italian journalists discovered the “frocioni” were two American secret agents who ordered Borghese to stop the coup. Sicilian mafia was aware of the plot, as well. Borghese died in mysterious conditions in 1974.

“Sometimes I wonder how I saw two American secret agents deciding about a coup d’état during the Cold War. I’ve always been a simple person, my world is this small village, but my life intertwined with a coup in which America, secret services, fascists and mafia were involved. I still don’t know the word to describe it”.


The Day that Changed Greece Forever Through the Eyes of a Boy

The Day that Changed Greece Forever, Through the Eyes of a Boy

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

“The military has taken over the governance of the country,” stated an early morning radio announcement in the year 1967. Themis Karapanagiotis was only nine years old when these words transformed the political scene of Greece and the lives of the whole nation. The 21st of April would be a day he would never forget.

On that day the people of Athens came across a bizarre sight: military tanks were positioned all around the city and in the perimeter of the parliament. Uniformed men carrying guns were on the streets and it was clear for every passer-by that democracy was now a thing from the past.

In fact, that was the beginning of the Greek military junta, the dictatorship that would last seven years and polarize the nation. The regime aimed to crush communism and bring back the traditional values that would make the country the “Greece of Greek Christians” (ΕλλάςΕλλήνωνΧριστιανών) once again.

During those years human rights were violated, suspected communists were jailed, tortured and exiled, while people all around the country lived in constant fear of a possible arrest.

This situation was obvious since the first day of the dictatorship, as Themis recalls.

“I was only nine back then so I couldn’t understand much. I remember that I went to school and they told us to go back home,” Themis says. “We were just happy not to be at school, we didn’t know how serious the situations was.”

But after going home he soon found out that something was wrong. The radio, the main source of information for rural Greece at the time, kept playing military marching music instead of the usual songs, while official state announcements kept being broadcasted every few minutes.

“Those announcements were scary and confusing. They listed all the laws and articles that were no longer valid, I couldn’t understand a thing. They kept saying all the things that were forbidden. No more than three people in a group, no going out at night, no this and no that – nothing was allowed anymore!” he exclaims with frustration.

Kimmeria however, was not just an ordinary Greek village. Known as the home of the communists and nicknamed among the locals as “Little Moscow”, the village immediately became the target of arrests.

“The police came and arrested people that were known to be communists. They didn’t say where they were taking them, not even their families knew where they were. We only found out about the exiles and all the other atrocities when the dictatorship was over, years later.”

These arrests were truly traumatizing for the young boy as many of his friends’ parents and his neighbours disappeared, but they also created a fear that was more personal.

“I lived with my grandparents back then. My grandfather was a communist, he fought during the civil war. He used to have trouble with the law and was even in exile for years before the dictatorship, so he just stayed quiet, he didn’t want to get arrested and leave us alone,” Themis says.

What he distinctly remembers from the 21st of April is the quiet. “People were numb. No one said a word, they were all afraid that someone will tell on them if they said something negative. I now understand that they must have been terrified.”

Today, Themis can still remember everything that happened during the seven years of the Greek military junta. “Growing up during that time, it changes you,” he says bitterly. “But these experiences made me believe in democracy and freedom. I could never support such a regime.”

Although the Regime of the Colonels, as it was known, ended by the year 1974, the wounds it left behind remain. “That period changed my country, it divided the people and it still does.”

In fact, the regime has supporters even today. With the economic crisis and the current political state of the country, many people idealize the regime as the only way for the country to truly recover.

Although such authoritarian beliefs are widespread across the country, Themis remains optimistic that the dark times of the dictatorship will never come to be again. “I can’t imagine how this could happen again. Things are very different now.”


Red light Groningen

Window of Opportunity | Business in Red Light Groningen

by William Macmaster


While some cities, such as Utrecht, have removed them due to safety concerns, Red Light Districts can be found in nearly every major Dutch city, including Groningen, where it’s business as usual.

Down a narrow road off of one of Groningen’s most bustling streets, Folkingestraat, tourists may not have realised it was even there. In comparison to the likes of Amsterdam, it is a very modest set-up, with 30 to 40 windows, some of which are being renovated, where you will find girls working night and day.

On the street, “maintenance” men are looking after the day to day operations. One of these maintenance people, TJ (50), openly spoke about the situation. For TJ, who operates a significant section of the Red-Light District, his windows are a family business that he inherited from his parents.

He explained how the girls hail from South America or Eastern Europe and claimed they all asked him to work, with no coercion on his part. If he didn’t accept, “they would go just somewhere else… Everywhere is safe in Holland, so it doesn’t matter.” When asked if he thinks he is helping the girls, smiling slightly, TJ said, “Of course,” but he refused to talk about money.

Businesses in close proximity have no concerns either. Redmar Schoen, the assistant manager of popular fries outlet Frietwinkel, situated on the corner of the Red Light District, explained that they “don’t really notice it. Sometimes the girls come and buy fries or some shady guys, but during the day, no, and I don’t think it bothers tourists.”

Public opinion in the city, however, seems split.

“The women get treated badly, so for that reason, I don’t agree with it. I’m not sure if they really know what they get themselves into and don’t make a lot of money,” explained Simon Rapp (27). While Ella Gapp (18) said, “I like it because it’s easier for people who are struggling to make money. I don’t think it’s nice to have sex for money, but I understand why people do it.”

For the municipality, it’s a moot point.

“There’s no question about ending the Red-Light District.” The mayor’s Press Spokesperson, Niko Bwett, explained, “It fits well and there are hardly any problems, so why should we? It’s like anything else, also with taxes, it’s just a business, it’s a part of city life, it’s no question of morality.”

Regardless of social opinion, sex sells, so while taxes are paid, and other businesses aren’t affected, it’s here to stay.

*None of the workers were willing to comment.

French protest witness Aden

The City Breaks in Aden and Paris, 1968

By Benjie Beer

After a brush with trouble in the Middle East, Andrew Cowan couldn’t resist a
journey to the troubled French capital.

In November 1967, twenty-three-year-old Andrew Cowan was on a Swedish oil
tanker fleeing the British withdrawal from Aden. The ‘Aden Emergency’, as it came to
be called, had turned violent just as his ship arrived: a glance over the deck walls
was to see explosive skirmishes between British troops and the Yemeni National
Liberation Front.

“It was chaos,” says Cowan, speaking from a care home in Ely, Cambridgeshire. “We
couldn’t step foot in the town for fear of our lives.” But, he adds with a wry chuckle, “it
was also very exhilarating.”

The sense of adventure Cowan gleaned from such experiences was the reason why,
at the age of just sixteen, he had run away from his home in Glasgow and joined the
navy. “I’ve lived my life with itchy feet,” he reflects, “and I was never that content at
home, really.”

But the flight from Aden led to some unexpected consequences. After many long,
unplanned months in Cape Town, the decision was made to try and flog oil in Iran.
It was now April 1968, and the long weeks onboard ship were weighing hard. On
arriving in Iran, the young man felt compelled to venture out alone – and was
immediately arrested, for no better reason than that he looked British. A fortunate
twist of fate led to a speedy release, but, with his ship now gone, he had no choice
but to fly back to London.

Now seventy-three, Cowan is nonetheless fluent as he finds the words to describe
what happened next.

“I felt relieved on getting back to British soil, but I didn’t want to settle down. It’s
boring settling down! It was almost as if, having seen the madness in Aden, I wanted
to see some more…”

And, as it happened, April 1968 was also the month in which anti-establishment riots
were beginning to fire up in Paris.

“So, first thing I did when I got off the plane at Heathrow was head into London and
meet some pals of mine. There were three of us, two blokes I’d known in the Middle
East, and we were sitting in this café in Piccadilly, looking at the papers, and we saw
this stuff about riots in Paris. All three of us had been on the road for at least two
years and we were pretty spontaneous. I can just remember that all three of us were
thinking the same thing — so we decided to head over and have a look.”

On the very same day he had arrived home after several turbulent years abroad,
Cowan, with two friends in tow, jumped straight on a plane for Paris.

The question is: why?

“It’s interesting, I’d seen some pretty unpleasant confrontations in the Middle East
and it seemed small in comparison. I had no political motives, I just thought I’d see
how serious they were.”

The riots had begun in March, when students in Nanterre occupied a university
building in protest at their living conditions. A vein of discontent that ran across the
country was instantly tapped into, and before long Paris was churning with students
protesting primarily against the basic principles of capitalism.

On arriving in Paris, it became evident that there was indeed trouble afoot. Riot
police patrolled the airport and taxi drivers were reluctant to drive into the city centre.
After finally finding a cab willing to take them, the three friends were confronted with
an odd scene.

“At first,” says Cowan, laughing intermittently at the memory, ‘it looked like a
significant-looking protest, and I thought, “Blimey, it’s going to be a good one!”. But
then it became clear that this wasn’t so much a protest as a disorganised rabble.”

The protesters, mostly aged from eighteen to twenty-five and the majority of them
male students, were being held in the streets by lines of policeman. Cowan insists
there was no sinister feeling in the air, but more the general, unconcentrated
discontentment of youth. On the few occasions they did manage to speak to a
protester, they could discern no consistent narrative from them.

Three days passed, and ultimately nothing came of it for the three friends beyond
watching a few students irritate policemen in the street.

But is there anything to take from the experience a full fifty years after it happened,
whether or not there were any immediate answers?
Cowan takes a moment to think.

“Yes,” he says slowly. “Yes, I think there is – but I say this as a very old man,
remember – it’s just about seeing things. At that point in life, I was just in it for the
entertainment. And entertained I suppose I was.”