The Bridge – March 2021

The Bridge is a platform created and administered by our student party to connect with the students of UM and form a spirit of community and contribution. Each month, contributors write a text to tell you about their opinion, an event they have found interesting, … It is pretty free! If you too would like to share your texts, contact us 😉
All views expressed in these articles are the writers’ own and do not represent NovUM’s official or unofficial position.

Wake up!

During lockdown we became lazy. We spent much of our time in the house and, during the cold, dark winter months some people even enjoyed the time indoors. The corona crisis has shaped our daily lives for over a year now and the fight against the pandemic became the top policy priority, which makes sense considering it is an unprecedented threat to human life.

In mid-February, the outside temperature suddenly hit 20 degrees and it seemed like people woke up from their winter hibernation. The citizens of Maastricht enjoyed walking in the warm spring sun and students were sitting on blankets in the park again. For a few days, it felt like the sunny weather would give us hope and new energy amidst the long fight against Covid.

Yet, just one week earlier, it was -10 degrees at night and it was possible to skate on frozen lakes and canals for the first time in years. In other words, Europe and other parts of the world experienced weather extremes in February. You do not have to be a meteorologist to realise that this is unusual for the region, hence the local people were not prepared for the snow and cold.

You do not have to be a climate expert either to recognize that extreme weather changes are going to hit us repeatedly in the future. Humans are both perpetrators and also victims of climate change. People will die of extreme heat and cold and natural disasters. Therefore, we must awake from our winter cosiness to the remembrance that the climate crisis did not disappear just because we are facing another global threat.

The Covid-19 crisis will not be overcome in the near future, nor will the climate crisis. They both need urgent attention and action; one cannot be neglected in favour of the other. Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, politicians and the media went quiet about climate change and we seemed to distance ourselves from unpleasant climate discussions for some months. It is high time to leave behind our comfortable laziness and reopen conversations about the climate crisis and, in particular, spread awareness about its urgency, as many people still lack it.

Some experts argue that we are already too late, that we overslept. Nevertheless, we can try to achieve some damage control if we finally get up. Although we are tired, we must speed up and be determined. We have the advantage that we now already know to a certain extent how take action in a global crisis. But we also know how disastrous it can be if we are underprepared. So please, get up, talk, with like-minded people but also with climate sceptics. It is vital to keep the conversation going and remind people of our second crisis. Only then can we apply public pressure to decisionmakers- whether they are lazy or still asleep, I am not sure.

Paula Nörr

Staying sane during the year of Covid-19

Today, March 15th, 2021, marks a year since Dutch universities closed their doors and switched to online education, in accordance with government regulations. For the last 12 months, Maastricht University, too, has adopted online educational methods, except for a couple of months of hybrid tutorials were provided, meaning a mixture of virtual and on-site education. The tuition fees have remained the same as they were before the pandemic.

The intensity of the courses, the financial troubles and involuntary isolation due to the Covid-19 measures, resulted in numerous students experiencing frustration, sadness and most importantly, a lack of meaning in their lives.
According to Frank Sowden, a historian who spent 40 years studying pandemics at Yale University, “all pandemics affect societies through the specific vulnerabilities people have created by their relationships with the environment, other species, and each other”. Furthermore, he believes that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic will be followed by the start of a psychological pandemic. This is because when “people perceive a threat, abstract or actual, they activate a biological stress response, which later on affects the function of the brain, making people more sensitive to threats and less sensitive to rewards.’’
Therefore, this article puts forward individual and community solutions, destined to inspire others on how to tackle these natural stress responses.

Without beating my chest in the public square, I implemented a few measures which represented my lifeline in the last months. They might seem outdated, but they have proved themselves to be extremely efficient.
Firstly, I go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Afterwards, having a big breakfast is a must, whether I am hungry or not. Being an anxious person, drinking a lot of coffee in the morning and not eating is a recipe for disaster. Low blood sugar from lack of food together with a lot of caffeine increases stress levels, resulting in negative thoughts and procrastination. Subsequently, I have two more meals and two snacks throughout the day at reasonable times. It might seem banal, but creating a routine matters tremendously in times of chaos.

At community level, the university tackled this issue by providing different support systems. For instance, on the UM walks, students can connect with each other by going for a walk and having a chat, in line with Covid-19 measures. “Wellbeing Evenings” and “Wellbeing Wednesdays” are also organized year-round, providing (online) activities, like lectures, workshops and sports for students and staff. The next “Wellbeing Wednesday” takes place on April 21st, themed around necessary study skills. In conclusion, how do we tackle the effects of the pandemic on our mental health? Will a psychological pandemic follow the current one, as Professor Snowden predicts? From a personal perspective, the best thing to do is try to stick to a routine and maintain social interactions while respecting social distancing. Last but not least, the solutions provided by the university are also useful, and, if they feel insufficient, professional help is the best alternative.

Ioana Petrescu

ANOTHER Rutte Cabinet?! We must continue to keep a critical eye on the Dutch government

At the time of writing, the Dutch election came to a close 24 hours ago, with the highest voter turnout in 3 decades- a pleasant surprise, given the pandemic. What is less surprising is the headline result- the fourth consecutive electoral victory of the centre-right VVD was predicted months before election day. With it comes Mark Rutte’s re-election as Prime Minister, an office he has held continuously since 2010. Whilst predictable, this tenure is extraordinary for a few reasons.

He will be the longest serving Dutch Prime Minister to date. There are now Dutch teenagers who have no memory of having any other Prime Minister. Not only that, but Rutte has survived two government crises in his decade in office. In both 2012 and 2020 his government resigned, first over a rift in the coalition over budget negotiations, and then over a scandal in which it was exposed that the government had wrongly accused and penalised thousands of families for child benefit fraud. Furthermore, the Rutte administration has not dealt smoothly with the coronavirus pandemic, starting off with an exceptionally relaxed approach before doing a sharp U-turn in the autumn when cases began climbing. Yet on both occasions, Rutte was promptly reinstated by Dutch voters- clearly, their faith in him was unwavering. Not only that but in 2021 the VVD is projected to sit higher in the polls than ever before.

Even disregarding the rough seas Rutte has braved, it is impressive to last more than one full decade. Most frequently, before this much time has passed, there will come a public feeling that it is ‘time for a change’, and the pendulum swings in the opposition’s favour.

‘But why?’ one might ask. What is it about Rutte that propels people to put their faith in him after two government collapses, 10 years and a messy Covid-19 strategy?  He seems like a fairly ordinary Dutchman- you might even say just like the rest of us, and VVD’s ideological stance- centre-right conservative liberalism- is far from world-shaking.  It seems almost boring- why should this man and this party be the one that seems immune to scandal and to the short attention span of media outlets and public opinion?

But perhaps that is precisely it. People have got comfortable. Rutte is an everyman hero. He seems as though he could be your neighbour- after all, he cycles to work, just like any other Dutch person, and stays grounded in mundane reality by teaching Dutch and Civics to high school students once a week. He does not have lofty airs or an overpowering aura like some politicians. Meanwhile, the moderate VVD platform, whilst not everyone’s favourite, are relatively unlikely to be abhorrent. Perhaps this leads people to a mindset of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’? It will be interesting to see how commentary develops.

In the meantime, whether or not you are happy with the results of the election, I urge everyone to stay critical. Fight against the tendency to shrug and say ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’- even if it is not broken, it is worth asking how it could be improved. Even if your favourite candidate won, it is crucial to hold them to their promises and not slip allow them a free pass for being likeable individuals. Put those critical thinking skills developed in PBL tutorials to good use!

Rose Cooper

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