02 May 2013

A king

Change the wallpaper in your house, and it will create a whole new atmosphere. Does wallpaper make a fundamental difference? No. But still, it is impossible to ignore when it changes.

In a way, I see the Dutch monarchy that way. Do I really value a monarchy? No. Is it massively outdated? Well, yes. Does it serve a purpose? I do think so! Whether you like it or not, people will have nationalistic feelings, and these need a target. And a royal family makes a good one. Other possible targets are football teams. Or politicians (consider the USA). And veneration of football teams is somewhat prone to involve alcohol, noise, vandalism, and sometimes violence. Not necessarily my favourites. And I think people should not get too much sentimentalism involved in their political views. So in a way, a royal family is a sort of lightning rod for patriotism.

And they are just there, like the wallpaper. I've now mentioned it several times here: I grew up in the assumption that the Netherlands were ruled by Lubbers, the USA by Reagan, Germany by Kohl, the UK by Thatcher, France by Mitterrand, and the Vatican by John Paul II. And on the Dutch throne we had Beatrix, and on the English throne Elisabeth II. That was it. That was their function for eternity. Nothing would ever change. And it did! And it's a sort of sign of universal transiency. Of me getting older. Of nothing being certain. If Belgium ever falls apart into several countries, it will hardly affect me, but I will be shaken by it. Some things are just not expected to change. Ever.

I made sure I saw Beatrix sign away her reign, and Willem-Alexander sign his way into the first kingship in living Dutch memory. And I smiled when I heard the "Bea, bedankt" (Thanks, Bea!) from Dam Square reaching Beatrix's ears, and her smiling too. I smiled when Willem-Alexander started his first regal public speech with "lieve moeder" (dearest mother). Something that just was there for as long as I can remember is now gone, and it did affect me. Kids that are now the age I was when Beatrix ascended the throne will grow up with our new king as a given. My guess is, many of them will make sure they witness it when he steps down in his turn, and they will smile too!

The new king and his family on the river pageant. Picture: Jos de Moor

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