Commemorating war’s end
Bush's visits to the Baltic states and Georgia may annoy wartime ally Russia
The southern Dutch province of Limburg goes on a virtual war footing this weekend as George Bush arrives to commemorate the end of World War II.
The Dutch authorities have mobilised 1,600 police officers, 1,000 soldiers, 200 military police and 300 support staff.
The A2 from the Kerensheide junction to Geusselt and the A79 from Hulsberg to Geusselt will be closed to traffic in both directions from 7.15pm to 8.45pm on 7 May.
The following day, the same road closures apply from 9.30am to noon. There will also be restrictions on provincial roads in and around the southern part of Limburg on 7 and 8 May.
The regional police chief in southern Limburg, Wim Velings, has said the costs of the security operation have extended into the millions of euros.
All this to guarantee the security of the US President and guests attending the US military cemetery and memorial at Margraten as part of commemoration services to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The bodies of 8,302 American soldiers, killed fighting to free the Netherlands, lie in Margraten, almost 10km east of Maastricht. The walls on either side of the Court of Honour section of the memorial contains tablets that record the names of a further 1,723 missing Americans whose final resting place is unknown.
A dignified remembrance or a “political puppet show” for Bush?
Margraten is just one of many such graveyards dotted around the world that bear testimony to the terrible sacrifices and serve as a warning about the carnage humans are capable of.
As the ranks of those who took part in, or even remember, the dark days of 1939-45 (1940-45 in the Netherlands) thin, it is fitting that on the 60th anniversary most people agree it is important to mark the occasion.
One could argue therefore that it is fitting that the current US president, George W. Bush, has chosen to come to Margraten as one of the stops in Europe to commemorate what the US embassy in The Hague described as “the shared sacrifice of millions of Americans and Europeans to defeat tyranny and mark the growth of democracy throughout the continent”.
There is more to the trip though than simply remembrance.
Building on his last European trip in February, the White House hopes the president’s trip will underscore the “common commitment of the United States and our European allies and partners to work together to advance freedom, prosperity and tolerance in Europe, its neighbours and beyond”.
This entails visits that won’t necessarily go down so well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.
In a pointed gesture, Bush is using the commemorations to hold talks with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the Baltic states grabbed by the Russians after the German troops were forced out in the latter stages of the Second World War.
President Bush will then meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and take part in war commemorations in Moscow, before dropping in on Tbilisi, Georgia, where people-power recently ousted the pro-Russian leader.
In between, the Baltic States and Moscow, Bush is having lunch with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende before the ceremony at Margraten. He will also meet with Queen Beatrix.
The Dutch leg of his trip is probably the least contentious, but it is not without its controversy.
Protests and a court battle
Two left-wing members of Limburg’s provincial legislature turned down their invitations to attend the Margraten ceremony. Labour PvdA’s Jos Zuidgeest and Helma Gubbels of the green-left GroenLinks cited the invasion of Iraq as the main reason for refusing to attend what they called the “reprehensible puppet show”.
And no visit by a US president would be complete without