Queen Beatrix celebrates her 70th
The front page of De Volkskrant immediately catches your eye this morning (31 January). It is almost covered by 70 mini-portraits of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. One from each year of her life: she is 70 today. However, the paper says it's not all celebration.
It suggests her position as part of the government and her (quite considerable) powers under the constitution are under attack as never before. It lists some of her earlier problems, for example, her marriage to a German when the Second World War was a fresh memory. Then, there was her coronation, marred by protests from the homeless, typified by the slogan "No crowning without housing!"
Now, however, the paper believes the monarchy is sailing in uncharted waters. Her pro-European stance, not contentious before the Dutch 'no' in the EU constitution referendum of 2005, is now being criticised. And her most recent televised Christmas address in which she called for "tolerance and respect" for other cultures in society was attacked by a populist right-wing MP as being too political.
However, it's not all black for the House of Orange. The AD, also on the front page, runs the results of a survey of what the Dutch think of their sovereign. She gets a "more than satisfactory" 7.5, scoring particularly high when it comes to her professionalism and how she represents the country. The mass-circulation De Telegraaf is more traditional: "Happy Birthday Your Majesty" reads its headline below which is seen her official 70th-birthday portrait photo.
The image the Queen portrays
Queen Beatrix has a business-like and regal image — a portrait the Dutch public appreciated when she ascended the throne on 30 April 1980.
The new monarch was considered a fresh change given the friendly, but somewhat untidy rule of Queen Juliana (1948-80). But Beatrix has also attracted repeated criticism for being too distant from the public, while others have even asserted that she is the Queen of the Dutch elite.
In private, the Queen is warm and friendly, insiders say, but she has poorly presented this image onto the public stage — at times, she even appears 'cold'.
And she sometimes goes missing at important moments, such as the turn of the millennium when Beatrix and her family celebrated New Years Eve in India. This was in stark contrast with the majority of Europe's royal families, who considered it fitting to share the extraordinary moment with their people.
Beatrix also appears out of touch, such as when she celebrated her 60th birthday. This 'private party' forced the closure of various public areas and museums because she wanted to celebrate with guests at these locations.
Queen's Day on 30 April is the only uncomplicated occasion for both monarch and people, when Beatrix enthusiastically watches cultural acts and exudes warmth and charisma. The cities and villages she visits overflow with people.
Beatrix can always expect praise and warm welcomes. She prepares thoroughly before visiting new regions and ensures that no one is missed.
The Queen is also known for her sympathies in times of tragedy. Unforgettable images show her dismay when she visited the site of a plane crash in the Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam in 1992 when 43 people were killed.
She was also a visible presence at the site of the Enschede fireworks disaster in May 2000 as she comforted those affected by the explosion.
Such appearances remind the nation of when her mother, Queen Juliana, waded in gumboots to survivors of the great flood in 1953 when the Zeeland dikes gave way.
And Beatrix telephoned Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen last year after the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh to ask what she could do to sooth the ensuing tension between native and immigrant Dutch residents.
The Queen acts the way she thinks she should, instead of what good PR insists.
Gladly seeking contact with immigrants, Beatrix has focused greater attention on minorities in the past decade and helps immigrants feel a part of the nation, the director of the Inspraak Orgaan Turken in Nederland (IOT) says.
"Earlier, the Queen placed primarily a lot of attention on Surinamese and Antilleans, but now other groups of minorities are really important for her. And we are happy with the work of Maxima for immigrant women," the director of the Turkish lobby group, Hatice Can-Engin says.
The secretary for multicultural institute Forum, Chris Huinder, points out that the Queen clearly changed the manner in which she approached immigrants at the start of the 1990s.
She became much more interested in backgrounds and different cultures — an important step given the intensifying ethnic tension felt in the Netherlands, particularly in the past few years.
Despite a reluctance to reveal personal beliefs, the Queen has demonstrated in Christmas speeches that she sees a powerful moral appeal in religious faith. It is "a power that motivates people beyond their own interest to rise above and strive for a just society", she said in 1992.
Year after year, the Queen has said religion must lead to humanity, tolerance, care for ethnic minorities, and respect for the creation.
Left-of-centre Catholic theologian and poet Huub Oosterhuis recently said the power of the Queen's speeches were their "strong ethical appeal".
Amid Islamic extremism, the Queen has spoken out in recent years against religious radicalism. "Religion can never be a justification for irresponsible behaviour. People may call upon God for guidance and encouragement in life, but never call upon Him to defend impermissible acts," she said in 2003.
Beatrix is a member of the Dutch Reformed Church (NHK), which merged with the Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church to become the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). She attended a special church service in December 2003 when God was thanked for the merger.
Her presence at Roman Catholic occasions has been more difficult because Beatrix is not allowed take communion. She did, however, demonstrate her wish to maintain good relations with the Catholic Church in a pioneering visit to Pope John Paul II in 1985.
Controversy surfaced though when the Dutch royal family did not attend the Pope's funeral on 8 April. Former prime minister Dries van Agt said the absence was an insult to Catholics.
Nevertheless, historian Jan Bank asserts that Beatrix is on the liberal side when it comes to religion. However, on that basis, the royal liberalness has also been criticised by Catholic priest Antoine Bodar.
In the public eye
A spokesman from the Government Information Service RVD claims that no other family in the Netherlands commands as much media attention as the Dutch royals.
And he says that over the years of Queen Beatrix's rule, the media attention directed at the House of Orange has only intensified. Both gossip magazines and 'serious media' consider the royals a valid news subject.
The RVD has adjusted its policy over the years and now forthrightly corrects misrepresentations in the media.
Queen Beatrix and her family have often clashed with the press, starting when Prince Claus won a legal action against gossip magazine 'Prive' in 1985 after it ran a report claiming that son Crown Prince Willem-Alexander had spent an erotic night in a hotel. The victory opened the door for legal cases to follow.
A widely accepted rule among royal reporters is that the Queen may not be directly quoted on things she says at official functions. This is because the prime minister is responsible for all royal family statements.
But when Queen Beatrix let slip at the 40th anniversary of the Society of Editor-in-Chiefs in 1999 that "the lie rules" in the media, she was prominently quoted by news services. Former prime minister Wim Kok asserted that the statement was taken out of context, but the quote flew around the world.
And yet Beatrix still gives the press the opportunity to enter into discussions with her at the end of State visits. Journalists draw up questions together and the monarch prepares answers with her advisers. She gladly discusses the objective of her visit and requests attention be focused on it.
But if a question becomes too personal, the Queen or the RVD quickly dismisses it. Responses such as "that is the private life of the Queen", is a statement not altogether unfamiliar for royal reporters.
31 January 2008
[Copyright Expatica + ANP + Radio Netherlands]