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There, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, the Dutch tradition of social tolerance is readily encountered.

Prostitution, “soft-drug” (marijuana and hashish) use, and euthanasia are all legal but carefully regulated in the Netherlands, which was also the first country to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Dutch reputation for tolerance was tested in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when an increase in immigration from non-European Union countries and a populist turn in politics resulted in growing nationalism and even xenophobia, marked by two race-related political assassinations, in 20, and the government’s requirement that immigrants pass an expensive ‘‘integration’’ test before they enter the country.

The Netherlands is bounded by the North Sea to the north and west, Germany to the east, and Belgium to the south.

Initially, man power and horsepower were used to drain the land, but they were later replaced by windmills, such as the mill network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The largest water-control schemes were carried out in the second half of the 19th century and in the 20th century, when steam pumps and, later, electric or diesel pumps came into use.

This relative independence of outlook was evident as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Dutch rejected monarchical controls and took a relatively enlightened view of other cultures, especially when they brought wealth and capital to the country’s trading centres.

In that period Dutch merchant ships sailed the world and helped lay the foundations of a great trading country characterized by a vigorous spirit of enterprise.

Along the coasts, land was reclaimed from the sea, and, in the interior, lakes and marshes were drained, especially alongside the many rivers.

All this new land was turned into polders, usually surrounded by dikes.

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