Today is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. It’s also the last day on the job for the reigning monarch, Beatrix, who’s stepping down after having been on the throne since her own mother, Juliana, abdicated in 1980.
I’ve been in every kingdom in Europe, but in none of them, I think it’s fair to say, are the people as enthusiastic about their sovereign as in the Netherlands. Take Queen’s Day itself: it’s the Dutch equivalent to the Fourth of July, but the focus is not on the people and their history but on the head of state, whose birthday it celebrates. Go on a pub crawl in any Dutch town and you’ll encounter – guaranteed – one framed (and, quite frequently, enormous) portrait after another of Beatrix, usually over the bar, sometimes with a big vase of fresh tulips in front of it. One grows accustomed to hearing Brits complaining about the Windsors’ luxurious lifestyles, and in Norway the levels of cynicism about and indifference to the royals is surprisingly high. But don’t ever say a critical word about Beatrix to a Dutchman, unless you want to end up with a bicycle frame wrapped around your neck.
This high level of affection for Beatrix is rather surprising, given the fact that her ride hasn’t always been a smooth one. Start with her 1966 marriage to Claus von Amsberg, who before marrying her was a German diplomat, and, before that, a member of the Hitler Youth and Wehrmacht. In a country where the anti-German sentiment engendered by World War II is still palpable to this day – probably higher than anywhere else in Western Europe – the match didn’t go over well, and the wedding day was marked by massive protests.
Then there’s her wealth. Everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth II is rolling in dough, but so is Beatrix. When Forbes claimed in 1999 that Beatrix (who is exempt from taxes) was worth tens of billions of dollars, scandal erupted in the egalitarian Netherlands – not only over the amount but over the secretiveness surrounding the royal estate. (“She’s very, very clever at making sure no one can trace her money,” one expert told the Guardian.) More recent estimates of Beatrix’s wealth have been far lower, but even after reportedly being taken to the cleaners by Bernie Madoff (a claim the palace denied), her family fortune is still said to amount to something in the vicinity of a billion dollars. Last year, with Europe hurting economically, Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who isn’t especially rich and lives modestly, voluntarily returned some of his paycheck to the government; when asked if Beatrix would contemplate doing the same with her annual salary, which is in the million-dollar range (she also receives several million a year to cover expenses, and the 300 employees at her various residences, not counting security personnel, cost Dutch taxpayers about $50 million), her spokespeople replied with a quick, succinct nee. Yet the Dutch people still love her.
Fine. But for anyone who sincerely cares about the Netherlands, the defining day of Beatrix’s reign was November 12, 2004. On November 2, the Dutch movie director, author, and TV personality Theo van Gogh had been slaughtered in open daylight in an Amsterdam street by a Dutch-Moroccan jihadist. The murder was payback for van Gogh’s forthright criticism of the illiberality of Islam. But it was also a warning to Beatrix and her subjects. A knife thrust into van Gogh’s corpse held in place a note by the killer, Mohamed Bouyeri, declaring that, just like van Gogh, America, Europe, and the Netherlands would “go down.” It was a time at which any responsible head of state would have felt compelled to make a powerful symbolic statement about her country’s dedication to its freedoms and its determination not to yield to jihad.
Beatrix failed the test – ignominiously. She turned down the van Gogh family’s invitation to his funeral, saying she had other plans. Many Dutch people longed for her to speak to the nation about the atrocity, but she rejected that idea, too. What she did instead, apparently on the advice of Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen (a loathsome dhimmi of the first order), was to pay a visit to a Moroccan youth center in Amsterdam. There she spoke with a number of young Dutch-Moroccans, made remarks about the equality of all Dutch citizens, and was presented with a gift book about the history of Morocco. (One wonders how familiar these kids were with Dutch history.)
The center was in the city’s Oud-West neighborhood, and if Beatrix insisted on going there, it might at least have been useful had she found some way to bring up the tyrannical domination of Muslim families in that part of town by local religious authorities, who are their rulers in a much realer sense than she’s ever been. She might have expressed some concern about the countless Muslim wives and mothers in the neighborhood who don’t speak Dutch, rarely if ever get out of the house, and don’t even know where their children’s schools are located. She might have tried to acquire insights into the neighborhood’s sky-high levels of crime, unemployment, and welfare dependency. But no: Beatrix didn’t want to address reality. Look, after all, where a determination to face up to reality got van Gogh.
In an open letter addressed to Bouyeri, a group of van Gogh’s friends sarcastically posed as so many perfect dhimmis: “How terrible that everything went as it did. We had no idea that this was such a sensitive issue. We have learned our lesson….Could you soon give us guidelines showing us what are allowed and not allowed to say?…We will make it a point to study your religion to prevent further misunderstandings….That we brought you into such a difficult position is surely our own fault.” Alas, Beatrix, in her interactions with the Dutch-Moroccan youths that day, seemed to be following a script that was very much alone those disgraceful dhimmi lines.
As for Beatrix’s successor – well, let’s just say there’s no reason to dance in the streets. Beatrix’s son Willem-Alexander, who becomes king today, is a colorless dimwit who, in 2007, in an obvious reference to Geert Wilders, criticized politicians who use strong language when speaking of Islam and integration. “Not for nothing,” said the prince, “do we have the saying: ‘Speech is silver, silence is golden.” In other words, a guy who was born into a extremely well-paying job – the only requirement of which is that he keep his nose out of public affairs – was putting down a guy whose job, into which he had been placed by the Dutch electorate, obliges him to speak up. Don’t expect, then, that the new king of the Netherlands will do anything but hinder his most courageous subject’s efforts to rescue their country from disaster.
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