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Two Leiden academics nominated for Person of the Year

Leiden academics Remco Breuker and Auke-Florian Hiemstra stand to win the title of Person of the Year. According to the Leidsch Dagblad newspaper, they and eight others from the region made a difference in Leiden and the surrounding area in 2022.

Leidsch Dagblad has held its annual Person of the Year poll since 2017. The paper’s readers can nominate candidates they believe have made a positive contribution to the Leiden and Duin- en Bollenstreek region or society. The editors make a shortlist of the best candidates, and the public can then vote for their favourites. This year ten people are fighting for the honour.

The academic conscience Remco Breuker

For Professor of Korean Studies Remco Breuker, the nomination came as a complete surprise. ‘It was a real surprise and honour to hear it. I hadn’t expected it at all.’ Breuker was nominated for his wide-ranging activities for the academic community, in Leiden in particular. With his political party on the University Council (Leidse Academische Gemeenschap), his regular column in the University weekly Mare and his leading role in WOinActie as an activist Breuker, says Leidsch Dagblad (in Dutch), has become the academic conscience of the University.

Breuker’s ideal is a university that is in the midst of society and helps the city and surrounding area. ‘The University makes a significant contribution to the city of Leiden. I hope that my continued emphasis on the importance of the academic community and democracy at the University does the same and reduces concerns in the city and the surrounding area about democracy, representation and the gap between the powers that be and the community. Concerns and issues that are at play at the University also affect the region.’

Environmental activist Auke-Florian Hiemstra

For Auke-Florian Hiemstra, an external PhD candidate at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the nomination also came as a surprise, although he already suspected that something special was about to happen: ‘Journalists had already subtly hinted that I would soon be hearing some good news. But I had no idea it would be this. I feel incredibly honoured.’ Hiemstra was nominated for his environmental activism. According to Leidsch Dagblad (in Dutch), the biologist is a tireless ambassador for Leiden, among others because he has written a children’s book about the animals in the city and together with his girlfriend Liselotte Rambonnet and a team of volunteers takes up the fight against plastic in the canals every week.

Hiemstra is also focusing on plastic in his research at Leiden University and Naturalis. ‘I’m studying how animals use plastic in their nests and whether that can be bad for them. I also set up the Plastic Spotter citizen science research project together with my girlfriend Liselotte, where we clean up the canals and gather data about waste with the help of volunteers. Each and every volunteer who devotes their time to a clean city should really also be “person of the year”, but I’m happy to share my nomination with them!’

You have until 15 January to vote for Remco Breuker or Auke-Florian Hiemstra. You can also see the interviews with the other eight nominees.

Text: Sabine Waasdorp

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