UCU Gedogenhood

By Elena Butti

Twelve – I counted them. This is the number of Student Handbook rules you are likely to have broken today.  Without even realising it. 

10:00: wake up, warm up your breakfast in the oven you brought from home (“ovens are not allowed for safety reasons”) and meanwhile check email through your wi-fi connection (“individual private wireless routers are not permitted on campus”).

12:00: time to feed your unit cat (“students are not permitted to keep animals inside college residences or on college grounds”). Just to clear out any doubts, in this case our beloved handbook remarks that “requests for exceptions to this rule will not be considered”.

14:00: tutor meeting, you manage to sneak into that course you don’t have the prerequisite for but you really want it badly.

16:00: chill-afternoon in your lovely living room decorated with posters and stickers (“nothing may be driven into or attached to the walls, furniture or woodwork”).

20:00: romantic candlelight dinner with your date (“no open fire, including candles, is allowed in the residence units”).

23:00: unit pre-party with at least half of your year (“[parties with] more than 30 people … are not permitted in the units”). The mess will of course become part of the living-room furniture for the months to come (“students are expected to clean up after their parties immediately the next day out of consideration for their unitmates”).

01:00: the party turns a little wilder, the light a little bit softer, the music quite a bit louder (“the hours between 23:00 and 8:00 are considered quiet hours, and students are requested to respect these as such”).

02:00: you finally head towards the bar (“opening hours of the bar are 22:00 – 02:00”).

03:00-05:00: you don’t quite recall what had been going on for the past two hours (“students are free to enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation”).

05:00: to conclude your “criminal” day, you go to sleep in a king-size bed which has replaced your UCU one (“under no circumstances should any furniture be removed from a room without authorization”).

AnarchUCUers? No need to bother Proudhon and Bakunin. UCU just seems to be the perfect example of that non-translatable, Dutch gedogen – beautiful (and convenient) concept which means illegal but tolerated. The rule is there (what parent would send his kid to a place where formal bar opening hours are 12:00-05:00?), but… well, nobody really feels a need to enforce it.

706Dutch gedoden means more than passive “toleration” – it is an active policy not to prosecute. And it seems Dutchies have a well-known long-standing tradition for closing an eye. While formally forbidding drugs, the State abstains from bringing criminal charges to those possessing “small amounts” of marijuana. At some crossroads signs allow cyclists to ignore the red lights (“Rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij”). And while “streetwalking” (prostitution outside a red-light district) is not formally allowed, in the so-called “tippelzones” around large metropolis it is in fact gedogen – illegal, but well, not really. The concept is even translated into politics, with politicians stating their willingness to give “gedoog” support in order to form a coalition with parties they do not formally agree with, but well, actually they do.

Similar attitudes are applied to some cases of abortion, euthanasia, polygamous marriages – that is, to very sensitive matters. Rather than trying to eradicate problems, or ignoring them (both very impractical alternatives), the Dutch will simply “gedoog” them, allowing flexibility in their enforcement. This pragmatic attitude might even be rooted in the Protestant thought, since the Sunday sermons are only seen as a guide, leaving their practical application in the light of God’s teachings up to the individual conscience.

Next time you pass in front of the Domkerk, remember to thank Luther. After all, it might be thanks to him that you are still allowed to sleep in your king-size bed.

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