Word of welcome by Jan van Zanen on the occasion of the visit of the Mayors of the Strong Cities Network, 8 November 2021


Welcome colleagues,

Welcome to The Hague. You and some twenty Lebanese and Jordanian Mayors are here visiting us in the framework of the UN Strong Cities Network. An initiative intended to enable cities to take the lead in responding to hatred, polarisation and extremism.

Extremism is a global fact – but its consequences and impact on our cities differs all over the world. In some of your cities, extremist violence is much more frequent and more intense than it is here in Europe. Perhaps it is precisely because our society is relatively peaceful that it is more exposed to the threat of extremism and the impact of extremist violence.

I have unfortunately witnessed its impact in Utrecht, the city of which I was previously Mayor. Four people were killed and six injured in a solo attack carried out in a tram on 18 March 2019. Compared with events in some of your cities, this may well seem to be a relatively minor incident. But for us it was huge. We were confronted with the vulnerable nature of an open and democratic society. It made us think about safety in relation to freedom. We have not given up our freedom.

Here in The Hague, the issue has an added dimension. For more than a century now, we have been the city of peace and justice. A beacon of non-violent dispute resolution through the application of international law. The Peace Palace, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice are all found here. Elsewhere in the city you will find the International Criminal Court and many non-governmental organisations, all actively working to bring about peace, justice and security. The Hague is further the Royal residence, the Netherlands’ seat of government and home to many international organisations and representations.

You will hear more in the analysis later about the special position of The Hague and the shifts taking place in the greatest security threats. You will be given a presentation by our radicalisation department and will have the opportunity to exchange views with our experts. Our insights will undoubtedly be useful to you. Just as your contributions will add to our understanding. Because, although there are differences between us, there are also many similarities in the challenges facing our cities.

I wish you an informative and pleasant stay in our city, The Hague.