The Power of Culture

The price of marriage

In the large cities in Turkey more and more young unmarried couples are living together. Not because they have anything against marriage. Simply because rents are so high and a wedding is expensive.
In Kenya cohabitation without being married carries a penalty of ten years in prison. Even though this law, a holdover from the British colonial period, is no longer enforced, an unmarried man was recently arrested for cohabitation. However, more than three-fourths of the Kenyan population is not officially married; for them as well, marrying is too expensive.
In Saudi-Arabia a marriage is also becoming more and more expensive. The dowry is sometimes five times the average annual salary. Because many men cannot or will not pay this, one and a half million women in this kingdom of 22 million people remain unmarried.
A wedding may soon become costly in the Netherlands as well. Three-fourths of the Moroccan and Turkish Dutch citizens marry someone from their country of origin. The Dutch government may soon require that they pay for this privilege; the same may apply to autochthonous Dutch people who marry a non-European partner. A proposal for this has been submitted because of concerns about the failure of the Moroccan and Turkish Dutch population to integrate into Dutch culture. The government wants to use the money collected to help fund a part of the course to help integrate citizens of foreign origins into Dutch culture. The proposal must still be approved by the European Parliament.

Plug pulled on Critical Russian Broadcasting Station

The last independent Russian broadcasting station has lost its broadcasting license. TV6 was the only broadcaster that still issued reports that criticised government policy. According to the official version, the license was revoked because of a business dispute among the shareholders. But people generally assume that president Vladimir Putin himself is behind the shutdown. The broadcasters ORT, RTR and NTV had already been placed under Kremlin supervision.

Timeline of the history of mankind

The Belgian philosopher Tom Schoepen has drawn up a timeline of the biological and cultural evolution of mankind. In three square meters he provides an overview of fifteen billion years of the universe and five thousand years of culture. It took Schoepen four years to decide what prominent movements and people to include on the timeline. He had no doubts about people such as Shakespeare, Aristotle and Darwin, but for the rest of the names any one of them could have been replaced by ten others. Schoepen has attempted to take milestones in non-western cultures into account as well as marginal movements and important women who have faded into oblivion. The ultimate overview, which was created under the supervision of fifteen professors, must be open to discussion. With this objective in mind, the philosopher has initiated an Internet forum where proponents and opponents of the current selection can discuss the pros and cons with one another.
Information and discussion: World History Timeline

Turkish fort in Mecca to be demolished

A difference of opinion about cultural legacy has prompted Turkey to request the help of the UN organization UNESCO. Saudi-Arabia wants to destroy a historical Turkish fort in Mecca. The Ottoman castle, called al-Ajyad, is to be torn down to make room for new flats and hotels. Turks have called on their countrymen to boycott the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina this year in protest.

Haggadah of Sarayevo restored

The Haggadah of Sarayevo has been restored. This fourteenth century manuscript describes the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, a story that is retold during the Jewish Passover. The book originally came from the Jewish community in Spanish Catalonia. It came to Bosnia via Italy. There it survived both German attempts to confiscate it during the Second World War and the civil war in the early nineties. Thanks in part to donations from the United Nations Trust fund and the World Bank, the richly illustrated book has been restored to its original condition.
More information and illustrations: UNMIBH and

More visitors to free museums in England

Tony Blair's Labour Government wants to make national art treasures accessible to a broader public. In this spirit, national museums in England have had free admission since December 1, 2001. The twelve museums involved have received fifty million euros as compensation. So far the program seems to be successful. During December the number of visitors doubled. London's Victoria & Albert Museum had four times its normal number of visitors.

Leni Riefenstahl releases new film

For the first time in 48 years, Leni Riefenstahl is releasing a new film. The 99-year old German photographer and filmmaker was boycotted after the Second World War because of her work for the Nazi regime. At Hitler's orders she made films about NSDAP party days and the Berlin Olympic Games (Sieg des Glaubens, 1933 and Triumph des Willens, 1934). The films were used as propaganda material. According to Riefenstahl, she had already distanced herself from Hitler before the beginning of the Second World War. Her new film, which will commemorate her hundredth birthday, deals with the undersea world in the Indian Ocean.

Designer Yves Saint Laurent says farewell

The French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is retiring after forty years. At the end of January he launched his last haute couture collection. The 65-year old designer did not give a reason for retiring; however, it is no secret that he is disgruntled about the lack of influence his personal brand has enjoyed. Fashion experts say the couturier is simply the latest victim of commerce. Haute couture is under pressure from companies whose shares are traded on the stock market, which are recruited as investors.
Saint Laurent's creations are known for their emancipatory character. He freed women from austere two-piece suits and dressed them in pants and tuxedos. He is famous for his declaration: "I give women the same self-confidence in their clothing that men have."

El Al no longer flies over cemetery

Planes belonging to the Israeli airline El Al will no longer fly over the cemetery near Holon. An El Al pilot recently revealed that planes en route from Tel Aviv to New York sometimes fly over a neighbouring cemetery shortly after takeoff. Cohaniem, orthodox Jews from the priestly tribe, are not allowed to enter cemeteries. A prominent representative of the religious sect said that the contamination could be prevented by using the type of plastic bags in which bodies are transported. However, El Al has forbidden this for security reasons.

Does the Implementation of the Euro reflect the national character?

Five days after the introduction of the Euro the Dutch and the Greeks were using the new currency for nine out of ten of their transactions. The French, Spanish and Italians were still primarily paying in their own currencies. But the Belgians were the most stubborn when it came to paying with their trusted currency: two-thirds of the population still paid in francs. These differences led the media to speculate about the different national characters. According to these characterisations the Dutch are supposed to be obedient, the Belgians rebellious and the Southern Europeans chauvinistic.

Sources: Algemeen Dagblad, NRC Handelsblad, het Parool, Trouw, de Volkskrant, Washington Post, UNMIBH,, World History Timeline


foto: World Vision/Kai Uwe Gundlach, Hunger-kampagne, 2000, City Light Poster

Images of World Trade

'World Trade' is the theme of the photo exposition Trade, which will be on display starting on 3 March 2002 in the Dutch Photo Institute in Rotterdam. Sixty photographers offer their vision of the influence of contemporary world trade on culture and daily life. Most of the photos emphasise the negative aspects, depicted in beautiful images. Also check out the site of the Dutch Photo Institute.

You can find more exhibitions, cultural events and gatherings in 'World in action', the schedule on the International Collaboration web site.


february 2002