Window to Europe a treat for Dutch

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende (L) and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Amsterdam on June 20, 2009 (AFP Photo / ANP / RVD pool / Frank Van Beek)
What are the images that come to your mind when you hear the word “Amsterdam”?

Believe it or not, but most of the time people would name the frivolous red light district, the variety of the cannabis menu at the coffee shops, or the right to die through euthanasia. Perhaps there will be those who also name tulips, clogs, and windmills. A lot of this reputation comes from us – the media. Sadly these stereotypes have eclipsed the fact that Amsterdam granted the world an amazing cultural legacy, and is home to some of the world’s greatest museums. Now it has another dazzling addition to its collection – a $55 million branch of the Hermitage.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the project. And the opening ceremony went off with the bang as guests of honor – Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and President Medvedev among them – watched the grand “fireworks” finale of the celebrations (notably, fireworks are banned in the city, but the authorities made an exception for this occasion).

“Peter the Great would be happy with this,” the head of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky, told the journalists who attended the event.

By bringing its most renowned museum to Amsterdam, Russia’s returning the favor.

The close connection between the two countries dates back centuries. In fact, it was the city of Amsterdam that inspired Russian tsar Peter the Great to build St Petersburg, perhaps the most European-style city in Russia. The list of famous Dutch imports is much longer. Russians are still buying Dutch cows, as well as savoring butter and cheeses from Holland and, of course, admiring the tulips. While the world is thanking and cursing Columbus for bringing tobacco to Europe, we owe that one to the Netherlands.

These days, it’s Russia's second biggest trading partner after Germany, and first in the scope of direct investment.

The place was perfect for Medvedev to discuss European energy security. The Netherlands ranks fourth in the world’s gas reserves.

Cooperation in the gas industry has been long and steady. The Dutch are Russia’s partners in the Sakhalin-2 project. And Gazprom might work with Royal Dutch Shell on a LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant on Yamal.

“We can advance on Yamal projects”, Medvedev said at a news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Blakenende.

In 2008, the Dutch Gasunie acquired 9% in the Nord Stream pipeline. Medvedev praised the support and called it a “positive example” for other European countries.

“We can do more”, encouraged Balkenende. They want to expand their cooperation in future but the leaders also found time to remember the past.

“During the rule of the Russian tsar, the authorities purchased a large amount of light bulbs, that helped the Dutch businessmen a lot, and laid the groundwork for the electrification of our country,” Medvedev recalled.

In 1898, the Dutch company Philips sold 50,000 thousand light bulbs to light the Imperial Winter Palace. Last March, the Hermitage signed a new contract with Philips for energy-efficient bulbs that will save up to 55% of power. During Medvedev’s meeting with Dutch businessmen, Philips’ CEO Gerard Kleisterlee presented the Russian leader with two original bulbs similar to those that illuminated the Winter palace more than 100 years ago.

Energy, though, is not the only field of cooperation between the two countries – there is also a football field. Prime Minister Balkenende said he was frustrated with the loss to the Russian team at the European Cup last year. “But we know Russians have the nose to choose a right guy to do the job,” said Balkenende adding that the only thing that helped him cope with the loss was that the Russian team is coached by a Dutchman – Guus Hiddink. “I do hope we’ll meet again in the final of the World Championship in South Africa”.

Aleksandra Kosharnitskaya, RT