Holland? Gedogen

June 10, 2008

Gedogen is a Dutch verb that cannot be properly translated.

It roughly means ‘tolerated,’ but in a wider and different sense of the word. It is used of a situation or activity that technically is illegal, but which is actively tolerated as a matter of government policy — since everyone knows the issue (say, prostitution or the use of soft drugs, can not be legislated away).

In short, gedogen is used in reference to something that is illegal, but not illegal.

Prime example: coffeeshops — where soft drugs can legally be bought and used.

Technically, however, it is illegal for a coffeeshop to buy soft drugs. As the saying goes, “the front door is legal, but the back door is illegal.”

That it happens anyway is one of those peculiar contradictions that make ‘gedogen’ necessary.


Demise of Pillarization

The Netherlands has a long tradition of social tolerance. In the 18th century, while the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism and Judaism were tolerated.

In the late 19th century this Dutch tradition of religious tolerance transformed into a system of ‘pillarization,’ in which religious groups coexisted separately and only interacted at the level of government.

Pillarization (verzuiling in Dutch) organized society into several smaller segments or “pillars” according to different religions or ideologies, which operate separately from each other in a non-racial form of apartheid.

In many respects, these pillars formed the building-blocks of a tolerant, relatively diverse, non-confrontational society.

At the same time this approach unintentionally also led to intolerance. For instance, your religion influenced which supermarket or bakery you frequented. You wouldn’t want your purchase of sugar to financially aid the wrong religion.


Amsterdam i think is the most “free” town in Europe.
Cannabis and prostitution are “gedogen” but all the dutch i’ve know are diffident with cannabis.I didn’t ask about prostitution but i can imagine…

People i’ve know are beetween 16 and 20 years old and it was very strange for us (italian) find 40 boys and girls of this age that didn’t smoke and were very diffident about cannabis:only the boyfriend of a girl was a smoker and the girl hated his passion for smoke.

Italy has the most repressive law in Europe against cannabis,but more young are smoker and drug-users.

One Response to “Holland? Gedogen”

  1. “gedogen” can be properly translated into English.

    It is the Dutch word for de-criminalise. It is based on the same principle of legal precedence that is also used in UK legislation.

    Another thing that might interest you 😉 Prostitution is legal in Holland. They even pay taxes 🙂

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