‘In those days you could learn as much as you wanted at university’
Having flirted with Egyptology and Italian, Dieuwertje Kuijpers found her true calling in the Master’s in European Union Studies. She is now a freelance journalist specialising in politics, security and defence. But she is also at home writing columns for ThePostOnline and hard-hitting articles for De Groene Amsterdammer.
‘Hey, my alma mater wants to know what I’m up to,’ is Dieuwertje Kuijpers’ cheerful response when we call. It doesn’t take much to convince her to tell us.
Seven years in Leiden
Kuijpers is disappointed to see how universities today try to force students into a strict regime of four years of study before sending them on their way. She spent seven years in Leiden. She started off doing Egyptology, hence the decision to study in Leiden – it was the only university to offer the programme at the time. But Egyptology wasn’t her thing, so after her propaedeuse (‘I could read hieroglyphics by then’) she switched to Italian and did a bachelor’s degree in that. But the eureka moment came when she began a master’s in European Union Studies. It was the security issues specialisation that ignited her passion, and she wrote her thesis on the efficacy of military operations. She has no regrets about having tried out different programmes. ‘The good thing about universities is that there’s so much to learn, and I made good use of that.’
In love with Leiden
Kuijpers loved Leiden and thought it was a fantastic city. However, she initially carried on living with her parents in Beverwijk, mainly because of the close proximity to the beach, where she still goes a few times a week. And, says Kuijpers, Beverwijk is a lively town. At some point she moved into her own place, in Velsen-Noord. ‘It was perfect because at the time there was still an intercity from Beverwijk to Leiden.’ Student associations didn’t appeal to her, but she made friends for life in Leiden nonetheless. ‘I met my best friend in Leiden. We’re such good friends that we’ve even lived together twice. The first time was during our Erasmus year at the University of Udine in Italy, from 2005 to 2006. And then when I was working in The Hague after graduating and he was still a student we lived together for a while on Rapenburg.’
Kuijpers is a bundle of energy now and apparently as a student too. ‘I always had part-time jobs as a student, and I did voluntary work, for Young Art for instance, a local art festival for and by young people.’ She even became a volunteer firefighter when she had been unable to find a job straight after graduating and was working in a bar to earn some cash. And it was her doing that the master’s programme in European Union Studies got a study association: Concordia.
VVD Defence Committee
After she graduated, Kuijpers kept in touch with one of her lecturers, Wim van Eekelen. This People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) politician had held posts such as state secretary for defence and foreign affairs in the 1980s. Kuijpers had graduated during another recession, and jobs were hard to come by. ‘Van Eekelen knew how difficult it was for me to find a job in the field – I sent out a hundred job applications – and thought it was a real shame. He advised sending an open application to Telders Foundation, the VVD’s scientific office.’ It was the well-known politician Frits Bolkesteijn who hired her. Kuijpers also became a member, and later secretary, of the VVD’s Defence Committee, where her knowledge about security came in good use.
But academia beckoned: in 2013 Kuijpers saw that VU Amsterdam was looking for a PhD candidate in her exact field. She applied for the post and got it. Her research was into military intervention and why some governments take electoral risks while others don’t. She spent some time doing research at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and was awarded her PhD in 2018. Along the way she had discovered a talent for writing and decided to become a freelance journalist. And for now she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Kuipers’ niche is security and defence in international politics. She writes for various publications including De Groene Amsterdammer, Vrij Nederland, De Correspondent and Follow the Money. Her name crops up all over the place, also on the radio, where she sometimes appears as an expert. ‘Although the subject is topical and will be so for the foreseeable future, there’s a limited appetite for articles about it,’ she says. So she also writes about other topics, and often pitches ideas for articles.
Kuijpers: ‘I always try to find a new perspective in my pieces. International security is often led by hypes and buzzwords. I’m more critical. Take drones: they were supposed to change the entire strategic playing field. I’m not so sure. A drone is flown by a pilot just like an F16, but then remotely. And terrorists still prefer to run around with a Kalashnikov. The skills that I learned during my studies help me question new developments as a journalist: what really is new and what is new wine in old bottles?’
‘There are two areas where you have full freedom to think for yourself: academia and journalism.’
Kuijpers is also a member of SPIT , a cooperative of investigative journalists, and writes catchy pieces for ThePostOnline, with attention-grabbing headlines like #Diversityday is a subsidised whiners club to train citizens and On the long Lefty arm in the media. Elsewhere she writes in all earnest: ‘There are two areas where you have full freedom to think for yourself: academia and journalism.’
Long live academia
Kuijpers now lives in the Amsterdam area: ‘It’s more practical for my work.’ Her much-loved beach is no longer within walking distance, but is still only a 15-minute drive away. Which is fine, she says. ‘It’s not my ambition to do anything else while I’m still enjoying what I’m doing. And I am still enjoying it,’ she says. Kuijpers taught a course on security at Radboud University Nijmegen in 2019. She loved it. ‘I would like to do more in academia.’ Academia still beckons it would appear.
Dieuwertje Kuijpers can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter as @traumabeertje.
Text: Corine Hendriks
Header photo: Bianca Toeps