A royal headache from too much Margarita

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

A royal headache from too much Margarita


Forget everything you have been told about the Netherlands being a small, but happy and tolerant, multicultural constitutional monarchy.

There are some fundamental changes taking place in the Netherlands. Whether the changes will be good or bad depends largely on society here itself. Many things held to be self-evident have turned out to be pipe dreams and Dutch society needs to redefine itself if the Netherlands is to remain a vibrant and fun place to live.

Over the past 12 to 18 months, we have learned that the native Dutch don't understand or particularly like newcomers and vice versa, consensus-style politics has been abandoned as former allies savage each other and the Left is accused of complicity in murdering the doyen of the new right-wing populism, Pim Fortuyn.

The Netherlands' once proud record for business is badly tarnished by revelations of endemic price-fixing and fraud within the building sector.

The Dutch military tradition is no better off, as a series of reports have shown how dithering from the political and army leaders led to the massacre of some 7,000 Muslim men and boys supposedly under the protection of Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia in 1995.

At least the royal family was a pillar of strength; we have had two royal weddings, one baby and a funeral for Queen Beatrix's much-loved German husband Prince Claus.

The House of Orange has been one of the enduring bastions of Dutch sobriety while the British monarchy mired itself in embarrassing-after-embarrassing scandals.

The reputation of the Windsors in Britain has been crippled by repeated blow-by-blow revelations of infidelity (Charles and Diana); failed marriages (Charles and Diana, Prince Andrew and Fergie); Diana's death in Paris and insensitive racially tinted remarks (Prince Philip).

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most recently, we have had the prosecution and subsequent acquittal of two butlers incorrectly accused of theft. Not to forget allegations of male rape and bullying among the staff.

The Dutch royals, in comparison, have been saintly, apart from one or two old unproved scandals.

There have been allegations that Queen Beatrix's German father, Prince Bernhard, the eldest son of Prince Bernhard von Lippe and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm, was a member of the Nazi SS in his youth.

It was also suggested, but never proven, in the 1970s that a certain member of the royal family was mixed up in a bribery case involving US aircraft maker Lockheed (Bernhard); allegations of affairs and children conceived out of wedlock (Bernhard); and allegations of general wild living (Bernhard).

One might say there appears to be something of a pattern here. Queen Beatrix, on the other hand, is portrayed as a fun-loving, but responsible head of government, mother, wife and all-round caring person.

The nation's heart went out to her when she had to cope with the death of her husband, Prince Claus, in November 2002 just as the coalition government collapsed.

There is no denying that Queen's Day (actually the birthday of Beatrix's mother, Queen Juliana) is one of the high points of the Dutch social year as everyone takes to the streets to celebrate.

In light of this, we really know something is up in the Netherlands when we read headlines about how the Queen and the royal family have been accused of mounting a smear campaign against the husband of the Queen's niece, Princess Margarita.

Princess Margarita and her businessman husband, Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn, have given a lengthy interview to magazine HP/De Tijd, which if true, casts serious doubt over Queen Beatrix's suitability to be head of state.

Margarita and her husband claim the royal household monitored his finances, the couple was bugged and attempts were made to prevent their marriage.

The couple apparently is getting ready to sue the royals for EUR 35 million for allegedly messing up Edwin's multi-million euro business deals.

And the Queen, Princess Margarita says, also tried unsuccessfully to stop her son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, marrying Argentinean Maxima Zorreguieta.

The Dutch AIVD secret service has not been spared and it has had to deny — possibly the first time it has ever answered a straight question — that it spied on Edwin.

Suggestions that the House of Orange is more dysfunctional that the Simpsons of Springfield could not have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

The Christian Democrat CDA leader wants to return the Netherlands back to the path of righteousness after years of what he would see as wanton indulgence under the two-term centre-left government that ruled from 1994 to May 2002.

The regime's emphasis on consensus in everything and tolerance of just about everything (cannabis, sex and porn, euthanasia, petty crime) has led to a lot of problems.

Many people think even the most basic laws do not apply to them and think nothing of littering, speeding, being abusive, cursing and fighting. The country has lost its quaint innocence and concern for your neighbours and the environment is out of style.

Balkenende wants to remedy this by re-injecting 1950's style norms and values back into society. His first attempt failed as his centre-right coalition imploded in acrimony and unchristian-like infighting.

But just as it looks like he has a second chance at promoting his vision of a modern, multicultural, orderly society, his best roll models, the multicultural House of Orange, has fallen from its lofty perch.

Balkenende must be wondering if the entire country is a lost cause.

February 2003

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