Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's 2013: Time to Abolish the Dutch Monarchy?

Queen Beatrix (Frozenimage/CreativeCommons)

Some time ago I reported on the upcoming abdication of the Dutch Queen Beatrix after 30 years as Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its' head of state. She will be resigning on April 30, 2013. April 30 has been celebrated annually as Queen's Day, celebrating the Queen's birthday - and the original birthday of Queen Beatrix' mother, the former Queen Juliana. Queen Beatrix will be succeeded by Prince Willem-Alexander, who will be the first King of the Netherlands in 123 years. The Queen and the Dutch Royal family are generally very popular and are considered an intrical part of Dutch society, as Dutch as the dykes, Amsterdam, wooden shoes and the Dutch national soccer team. However, different, more critical, opinions about the Dutch monarchy have been expressed.  In 1996 the "Republican Society" or "Republikeins Genootschap" was set up, consisting of a number of independent thinkers and well-known Dutch personalities, that supported the restoration of the Dutch Republic from 1581.  The Netherlands's history is one of a mercantile republic that only in the 19th century became a monarchy, first in 1806 as the Kingdom of Holland with Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Louis as the King of this "country" which was then part of the French empire. Then in 1815, the Netherlands became the United Kingdom of the Netherlands with (Dutch) William I as its' King, and consisting in the north of the current Netherlands and in the south of the current Belgium. In 1839, Belgium separated and became an independent Kingdom, and the northern part continued as the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Now in April 2013, a Dutch journalist Max Westerman, a TV correspondent living in the U.S. for 30 years, wrote a controversial article in the Wall Street Journal, calling for the abolishment of the Dutch monarchy. In this article, "It's 2013: Abolish the Dutch Monarchy" he says:

".... I am one of many Dutch citizens who think it is time for us to do what America and most other countries did long ago: take leave of our monarchs. The United States made me a republican. (With a small R, that is.) Having lived there for 30 years, I can no longer tolerate a system that has just one requirement for the top job: being from the right family. Most republics select their heads of state based on merit, but in Holland no special talents are needed to become king..........

...........there is evidence that the Dutch increasingly have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Opinion polls show that 25% are in favor of a republic and another 20% "wouldn't mind" a change. The Orange family's popularity has been somewhat undermined by its refusal, in this time of economic crisis, to cut back on tax-free salaries that dwarf the pay of the U.S. president. Despite its immense wealth, most of it amassed on the job, the family also enjoys enormous allowances that make the Dutch monarchy Europe's most expensive. Its €39.4 million in expenditures last year exceeded even those of the British royal family.

............Republican government seemed eminently suitable for the egalitarian, no-nonsense temperament of the Dutch. It was firmly in place when the Netherlands was the world's most powerful country in the 17th century...........................I hope that one day we Dutch will fully embrace our republican tradition. In a nation of equals, I shudder to hear fellow citizens addressed as "your royal highness."

Dutch blogger Steven de Jong writing in the leading Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, vehemently disagrees with Westerman and claims that the Dutch monarchy is the last symbol of Dutch unity. This symbol is worth €39. million and Westerman should leave them alone, de Jong says.

I'd say that at this moment it's not clear how many Dutchmen really agree with Westerman. What is clear, however, is that apparently it takes a Dutchman living abroad to stir up the pot of tradition. Time will tell how the new Dutch monarch Willem-Alexander will fare and whether this is something that would divide the Dutch citizens. However, why abolish the monarchy, the new Dutch King himself might call it quits, isn't that something typical for the 21st century: from General David Petraeus, and Pope Benedict XVI, to the Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati, and the Australian Bishop William Morris, and last but not least Queen Beatrix?



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