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Interview with Peter Both – Project-leader New Metropolis Nieuw-West

For more than two years now The Hague Peace Projects has been working with New Metropolis Nieuw-West on the program Toerkoes in Nieuw-West. Project-leader Peter Both is the driving force behind that relationship. Who is Peter? What is he doing at New Metropolis? And what more can we expect from him in the coming period? A quick interview.

Peter Both

What is your function at New Metropolis Nieuw-West?

I am the project-leader at New Metropolis Nieuw-West, which is part of the debate center Pakhuis de Zwijger where I used to work as a program-maker. Every day is different, but in general I’m responsible for all of the programs and their orderly execution. So, depending on what our partners need, I help with the programming, communication and production. An all-rounder, so to say.

That’s a ‘bit difficult’ now, with the outbreak of the Corona-virus, isn’t it?

Yes! We had to cancel all of our events, but we’re adjusting to this step by step. One way is to go online with LIVECAST. We’ve already done that with the program ‘Stories from Nieuw-West’ which is normally performed at New Metropolis Nieuw-West. Soon, LIVECAST will be performed at New Metropolis Nieuw-West itself.

Why was New Metropolis founded?

At Pakhuis de Zwijger we are interested in everything that has to do with the dynamic city that we live in, Amsterdam. Creative people, culture, city-development and much more. When we focus on Nieuw-West, one can say it’s changing really fast. It’s growing and developing into a place with many newcomers. All of these things don’t just happen. It leads to a lot of questions within the communities who have lived here for many years, and it felt wrong to always have those discussions in the city-center at Pakhuis de Zwijger. These should really take place nearby the people who undergo those changes. Another thing: if you look at cultural life here, you only have one theatre in Nieuw-West. I think that’s offensive for a place with a population of 150.000.

What are your goals in Nieuw-West?

When we came here we didn’t have hard goals or a settled agenda. The most important thing was that there should be a quality venue for the people of the neighborhood to come together to work and create programs.

Is that working?

Well, I really can’t complain. If I look at the number of programs that we have in one week and the attendance figures, it looks like it’s working. For instance, in the weeks before the Coronavirus-outbreak we had three or four fully-booked days. What really pisses me off is the whole image of Nieuw-West as a slum, and that people shouldn’t go there. This really is bullshit. I’ve met the most capable people of my life in Nieuw-West. If you don’t show any interest, and don’t invest in a place, then you are, I think, part of the problem.

Have there been any learning moments in this period, things that can be improved?

Not so long ago, an MBO (vocational education) class visited New Metropolis. One student had some serious doubts about New Metropolis and Pakhuis de Zwijger as a ‘white organization’. I had a discussion with her and said that of course it can be much more diverse, but I also told her that all almost all of the things that we do here in New Metropolis come from the neighborhood and their own organizations.

Yes, during one of our Toerkoes in Nieuw-West events the documentary-maker Sunny Bergman welcomed this place, but also made a point about another white man being the project-leader of it. She was talking about you.

Yes, that was interesting. Also, because if you look at the population you see that none of the groups in Nieuw-West actually form a majority. But still, we have to diversify more. I also said that to the student and offered for her to become an intern here. But I couldn’t convince her.

Well, maybe if she’s older. We have already started to talk about our cooperation. How do you evaluate the partnership with The Hague Peace Projects. Be critical please!

We have made nine programs together, and it was diverse in all of them. There is also a growing trend in the attendance-level. The last event about Ahmed Aboutaleb was fully packed, so yes, I’m glad about our cooperation. The form with food also works fine. What more can I say? I like the flexibility, and content-wise it’s one of the few programs here that hooks up with the actual debates that we have nationwide.

So nothing wrong with it?

Well, sometimes I have the feeling that we have talked enough and now we should actually make something. But I immediately have second thoughts about that. For instance, we had a debate about city-development with professionals and residents. It’s good to bring the people who make houses together with the people who have to live in them. But there are limits to realizing what everybody wants. Not everyone can have a villa at Sloterplas. It doesn’t work like that.

How can we put human rights and dialogue more on the agenda?

These issues cannot be solved with one event. The problems regarding human rights issues really require long-term involvement. It’s very interesting to experience how conversations about the same issue can vary so much between speakers. They all have a right to voice their own analysis and opinions of course. So my answer is that we need to continue having these discussions on a long-term basis, especially here at New Metropolis Nieuw-West. On the other hand, the things that we discuss here shouldn’t just stay in Nieuw-West. The project ‘Women of Nieuw-West’ is a good example of this. The photographs of these women on pillars are not only shown here but are now on tour, connecting different parts of Amsterdam. That should happen more!

Interview by Tayfun Balçik

Interview with Parvez Alam – Part 1

Dear Parvez, could you first introduce yourself to the audience?

Photo credit Baki Billah

Photo credit Baki Billah

I am from Bangladesh. I am a writer and activist. In Bangladesh, I have been writing regularly in different blogs, newspapers, magazines and I wrote a few books. Most of them are about history of knowledge and more specifically about the intellectual history of Islam and also the political history of Islam. I have been working with several non-governmental organisations and activist groups in Bangladesh. We had a community library there, where I worked for 9 years. As well I was working with several human right groups focussing on minority rights mostly. I came to the Netherlands during 2015.; I had to flee my country because I was seriously threatened because of my writings, like many other critical thinkers from Bangladesh.

How did you get involved in The Hague Peace Projects?

When I came here I came into a project of the NGO Justice and Peace. A friend of mine worked for the NGO and for HPP at this time and we have spent a lot of time together because she was really interested in Bangladeshi bloggers in exile in Europe. So, I connect her with some Bangladeshi bloggers and together we developed the idea of the book fair for HPP and I was involved for the first time in a HPP project in February 2016 when the first book fair took place. In Bangladesh, there is an annual book fair in February as well, but many writers and publishers can´t be there as now they are in exile. In 2016 there was the chance that Avijit Roy’s (who was murdered a year before in front of the book fair) book so we wanted to do a symbolic book fair in The Hague. It was kind of a protest against the attacks, censorship, book bans and exile of publishers or writers. Another intention was to bring the exile writers of Bangladesh together. And from September 2016 I am working more intensively together with the HPP.

How would you describe the development from the first book fair in 2016 to the second in 2017?

When I look back I can say that the development was enormous. In 2016 we have had a half day of book fair without selling any books. Only couple of publishing house was officially involved, and we just displayed some banned books and also books written by Avijit. We had one panel discussion. It was a start and this year we planned everything for months. The result was a book fair with several publishers being present, from and for different countries like Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Netherlands. Moreover, we had several events, books were sold and it lasted for 4 days.

Did you promote the opening for other countries where writers are banned as well?

Yes, I did. The expansion was one of the first things we decided during the planning process, because the situation in Bangladesh is not unique. It is connected to developments in other countries as well. The rise of censorship and the decline of freedom of expression are similar to many other parts of the world. We thought we should bring more countries, more publishers together and have discussions about freedom of expression. Maybe this can be the foundation concept for future book fairs in The Hague, city of Peace and Justice.

The Interview is continued in Part 2 with some more information about the coming book fair and Parvez´s political opinions.

Parvez was interviewed by Miriam Reinhardt.