The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

The Netherlands, an outsider's view.

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Bijlmerramp: 26 years after, Zuidoost still cries for its victims

Translated from Italian

Bijlmerramp, that forest of glass and concrete that winds through the Zuid-Oost has long been synonymous with ‘social error’: today row houses proliferate and the process of gentrification does not spare what was once the most neglected of capital’s districts. Yet, despite this, the soul of the area still survives.

Its bad reputation has long been a toxic mix of discomfort and prejudice: a neighborhood born in the ’60s following failed architectural principles became a ghetto in the 70s and served the municipality as accommodation for thousands of citizens of Suriname fleeing the civil war.

Bijlmer’s story began at the end of the 1970s when Suriname became independent: the largest colony in the Netherlands after Indonesia’s violent revolution, it officially cut its ties with the Netherlands in 1975. More than 100,000 people fled the civil war that followed: many found refuge in nearby French Guyana, others arrived in Holland. To them, descendants of slaves, the country offered nothing more than a space in the south-east that everyone else wanted to forget.

Social tensions were not enough and on October 4, 1992, fate battered the Surinamese community of Amsterdam with particular ferocity. At 6.32 p.m. a commercial plane of Israeli company EL AI crashed into one of the hives that still make up a large part of the urban landscape of Bijlmer, officially causing 43 deaths.

In the ghetto of Zuidoost lived hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undocumented immigrants. How many of them died has never been clarified with precision, but the numbers speak of at least 100 from Ghana and Suriname.

The dynamics of the disaster were then ascertained by a parliamentary inquiry committee: the two engines on the plane’s rightwing, according to the reconstruction, detached immediately after takeoff when the aircraft was still within walking distance of the airport.

In a desperate attempt at an emergency landing, the pilot lost control in one of the least densely populated areas of the capital, but the adverse fate was that the plane broke down in a perimeter where the population concentration was higher. Bijlmer was built just like that: human settlements gathered in the hive-apartments next to large green spaces. The impact of the Groenveen block was so violent that it wiped out an entire segment of the long “serpentone” that still winds through the area: 10 of its floors went up in smoke.

On the site there is now a monument created by architects Herman Hertzberger and Geroges Descombes with the names of the victims engraved on it; next to the monument there is a tree, the only living form that survived the disaster and was given a name: “De boom die alles zag”, “the tree that saw everything”.