End of the cycling monarchy?

End of the cycling monarchy?

4th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

A queen going places on her bike and allowing herself to be kissed by a passer-by when she is among her subjects: outside of the Netherlands people thought that a bit strange. So will the Orange family finally become an "ordinary" royal family?

Try to explain to an Englishman, a Peruvian or a Malay what Dutch Queen's Day consists of: party-goers nationwide allowed to do about everything that is out of bounds during the rest of the year. It's anarchy in honour of the monarchy.

After a car in Apeldoorn tried to ram the royal family, killing five spectators in the process, the question is how much will remain of that informal atmosphere on Queen's Day. And more particularly, what will remain of the queen's presence and that of her family on the day.

Royalty watcher Ben Kolster observes,

"Those people came to see you. And they die, just 25 metres away from you, while you are being driven past. The queen won't forget this for the rest of her life."

On the bike
"Remaining ordinary" was almost a mantra for Juliana, the mother of the current queen. When visiting the northerly island of Terschelling, she took her family into the countryside, on the bike. Pictures of the event went around the world.

Even though Princess Beatrix used to keep her distance, there are pictures of her cycling to school. Even more memorable is the spontaneous kiss the monarch was given in 1988 on a visit to an Amsterdam neighbourhood. She even patted the kisser on the shoulder. And then there was her husband, Prince Claus, who with similar sportsmanship allowed a girl from the crowd to hitch a lift on the luggage rack of his bike.

British media in particular called it a shame. "I don't want a bicyling monarchy, just a pottering one," notorious Daily Mail columnist Keith Waterhouse wrote.

But the Netherlands have never seen situations like in 1997, when the British Queen Elizabeth was all but lynched for her cold reaction to the death of the much-loved Princess Diana.

Orange feeling
The Dutch, according to historians, are no monarchists at all, but orangists. They need the pomp and circumstance that the British thrive on like a hole in the head. But the Orange family has always been a symbol of national individuality, particularly when that was being threatened by foreign rulers like Napoleon or Hitler.

In Ben Kolster's view,

"The bond was always very strong. Also, they were a very social sort of monarchs who stood side by side in difficult times such as the Second World War. It's highlighted on that special day, the Queen's Day on the 30th of April, when we like to see the Queen and her family talking to the people and joining in with some games. They celebrate this national feast as if they were one of the Dutch public, so to speak."

A note and flowers are left by visitors in Apeldoorn on 2 May 2009 in memory of the people who were killed during the Queen's Day after a car slammed into Dutch festival goers. The man who tried to ram his car into the Dutch royal family, killing six onlookers at a parade, died in hospital as details emerged of how he lost his job and was about to lose his home.

After the tragic events in Apeldoorn, Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst warned: "We have lost the innocence of members of the royal family, and of the people looking from behind the barriers." She reckons it will be at least ten years before spectators feel as relaxed as in the past. Also, the royal family, she says, will have to reconsider what to do. Yet Ms Ter Horst thinks the essential qualities of Queen's Day should be preserved as much as possible.

A shocked Queen Beatrix addressing the nation after attack

                 A shocked Queen Beatrix
           addressing the nation after attack

Meanwhile more people are calling it a miracle that serious incidents have not happened before. But that is ignoring earlier experiences. Dutch Queen offering her cheek to passer-by, 1988  Through the years more than enough smoke and paint bombs have been thrown, and the fear for the one madman acting in despair has always been present.

In the past there have also been moments when the monarchy was exposed to danger. For instance in 1898, after an anarchist had stabbed and killed the queen of Austria. Queen Wilhelmina, who had ascended to the Dutch throne just a few days before, was urgently advised to cancel her coach ride. She didn't.

That too is part of the cycling monarchy.

Perro de Jong
Radio Netherlands


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