Dutch republicans target king's throne

2013-04-25 13:06
A cake with a picture of Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima on it in Dutch confectionery in Amsterdam. (Remko De Waal, AFP)

A cake with a picture of Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima on it in Dutch confectionery in Amsterdam. (Remko De Waal, AFP)

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The Hague - While the Netherlands parties in gaudy orange as the new king takes the throne on 30 April, a small group of defiant republicans will protest the monarchy's very existence by wearing white.

Anti-royalists are surprisingly few in a country that fancies itself as egalitarian but where the national colour comes from the royal family's name - the House of Orange-Nassau.

And in these economically sluggish times, they say it's time for regime change from an overpaid and over privileged family.

"The monarchy is something from another century that no longer fits with democratic values," Anjo Clement, head of the Netherlands Republican Association (NRG), told AFP.

His group, founded in 1998, says it has over 1 600 members.

When Beatrix signs her abdication in favour of her son Willem-Alexander next week, the republicans will stage what they call a "good humoured" protest in downtown Amsterdam, all dressed in white.

"The white will contrast with the orange fever that is invading our country and it's also a neutral colour, uniting the hues of all political parties," said Clement, who, failing abolishing the monarchy, wants at least to reduce their salaries.

"He [Willem-Alexander] will earn more than 800 000 euros a year and not pay any tax, that's not normal," said the 67-year-old former civil servant.

40 000 signature petition

If his "citizens' initiative" petition to reduce the king's salary gets more than 40 000 signatures in the country of 17 million it will be debated in parliament.

While that petition has garnered 20 000 signatures in just over a week, another petition against the official King's Song for the enthronement scored over 40 000 signatures in the space of a few days.

The song's unlikely mix of rap and traditional music, combined with fawning regal lyrics was considered simply to be in bad taste in the image-obsessed Netherlands.

Nevertheless, an opinion poll by Protestant daily Trouw published on Saturday said that three-quarters of the Dutch do not question the monarchy's existence.

But when asked about the royal family's importance to national identity, respondents placed the royals only in 10th place, below skating, national dishes such as pea soup and the national football team.

The royal party of the annual Queen's Day tellingly came in at third place.

 ‘Geen woning, geen kroning’

Unbowed, Dutch republicans will protest next Tuesday, shouting "Ik Willem niet", a play on the new king's name that also translates from the Dutch as "I don't want him."

Amsterdam authorities have learned the lesson of violent protests when Beatrix inherited the throne from her abdicating mother Julianna in 1980.

Those protests, mainly against a housing crisis under the slogan "Geen woning, geen Kroning" [No Housing, No Crowning], saw 200 injured and a rubble-strewn Amsterdam compared to a war-zone.

This time around, Amsterdam has offered six locations for protests on enthronement day.

But, apparently proving that the Dutch are more inclined to party than demonstrate, just one of the locations have so far been booked.

The Dutch monarchy is relatively young, dating from Napoleon's defeat in 1815, and its role has evolved since then. The monarch no longer has any role in the government's formation, although he or she does meet with the prime minister once a week and must sign laws.

"It's not right for someone who happens to be born into a certain family to have political power," said Clement.

‘Archaic' oath

The Netherlands has historically spent much longer as a republic than as a monarchy, said historian Joost Rosendaal.

After an abortive call to revolution in 1918, the Orange-Nassau family launched a comprehensive PR campaign, helped by the Nazi invasion of 1940.

"Queen Wilhemina reconquered Dutch hearts, especially during the Second World War, when she became the symbol of resistance to the enemy," said Rosendaal.

Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill reportedly described Wilhemina as "the only real man" among the governments exiled to London.

When Willem-Alexander is sworn in on Tuesday before a joint session of the houses of parliament, 16 lawmakers will refuse to take their oath again in front of the king.

Labour senator Ruud Koole said swearing such an oath does not fit with a modern monarchy and would be "archaic".

Read more on:    winston churchill  |  netherlands

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