Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Black Fish Scandal of Urk

There's a town in the Netherlands called "Urk." That's its name.

Urk is an ancient fishing village _ so ancient, in fact, that it used to be an island, until the Dutch sealed off part of the North Sea with a dike to create a massive inland lake, and filled enough of that lake with so much land that it created a whole new province, surrounding Urk. They still speak their own language in Urk. They also believe that children come from a giant rock in the lake that was once the sea. But those are stories for another time.

Urk is a heavily Christian place. There are only three political parties that win votes in Urk, the Christian Unie (a Christian values party that emphasizes charity), the Christian Democrats (the basic conservative Christian party in the Netherlands) and the SGP (the fundamentalist Christian party).
Of all the cities in the Netherlands, Urk had the highest percentage of voters who rejected the European constitution in 2005 _ because it didn't mention Christianity as its ethical basis.

So it came as quite a shock in 2005 when it emerged that there might be something rotten in the village of Urk.

(photo: smeerch)

Prosecutors said there was a conspiracy between the fish regulator, the fishermen and the fish-shops, to avoid European quotas: for instance, to report a catch of Dab in place of Plaice.

The mayor, Dick Schutte, who had tipped the director of the Fish Regulation Office, Teun Visser ("Fisher") a raid was coming, was forced to resign.

In all, 48 Urkers were accused of involvement in the conspiracy, good men, Christians all, and true. One town councilman, Jan Koffeman _ a member of the SGP _ was accused and also resigned.

He was re-elected last year though, with 900 write-in votes. Urk's not very big. It has only 17,000 inhabitants, making it the smallest municipality in its province. All the Urkers knew what was going on at the fish markets, or so they say.

Charges were dropped against ten of the suspects, and 11 more confessed to minor charges, but this month, the remaining 27 came before the judge.

And the first 19 denied everything. But the 20th _ the 20th, Evert van Diepen, the owner of Van Diepen Fish Trading, whose phone had been tapped at the start of the investigation _ he confessed it all, in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Now things don't look good for the other suspects.

Especially the director, whose standard refrain throughout the trial was "I didn't know and I wasn't involved."

Judgment day is coming, Oct. 10.

Why do I find this so amusing? Do I delight in seeing the reputation of the sanctimonious city of Urk besmirched?

It's childish and yes, yes I do.


Norma said...

There's more going on in Urk. Some time ago quite a few Urker youngsters were arrested on drugscharges. The police was shocked about the amount of Urker people involved in cocaine-trade and use.

Funny enough kickboxing is quite popular in this religious little town and Urk produces some very good fighters. This small town has several kickboxing gyms of which Challenger Gym is the most well-known (in kickboxing circles).

Toby Sterling said...

Thanks Norma. I think someday I may do an "official" story about Urk. I had a whole discussion with my wife about whether it was Volendam or Urk that had the problem with cocaine abuse, and in the end we decided (wrongly I now see) that it was Volendam.

But I had no idea about the kickboxing!

In all seriousness, I think Urk seems like an interesting place (well, maybe just to visit...)


Anonymous said...

Behold! The miracle of loaves and fish! Praise Jesus, who feeds the multitude! ( I suspect another scheme with the local breadquotas)