April 27th saw the third edition of King’s Day, a national holiday in honour of the reigning monarch — King Willem-Alexander — celebrated on his birthday. It’s the successor of Queen’s Day, which saw the light of day as early as 1891 (back when Wilhelmina was still queen) and ran until 2013, when Beatrix abdicated and her oldest son — the first male monarch in over a century — took over.
A privileged family
This year saw the royal family pay a visit to Zwolle (a city in the province Overijssel, in the east of the Netherlands), where they were welcomed with the usual festivities. Admittedly, I could’ve done something more fun than watch these live on television, but what do you do, eh? Here I was, sat in front of my television, watching people dying to shake the hand of this one man guarded by an army of police officers. Okay, I suppose he’s a celebrity, but what for? The answer is as simple as it is unfathomable: he was born into the right womb, nothing more. That’s why he got to shake all those hands (not that I envy him), that’s why he earns a million euros per year (okay, there I might), and that’s why he doesn’t have to fight himself into society like everyone else has to. I’m not saying that our king (or any other monarch, for that matter) does nothing all day long; in fact, I quite like Willem-Alexander as a person. However, that takes absolutely nothing away from the fact that he gets to live a luxurious life solely for being the son of a supposedly ‘royal’ mother. I mean, just think about it: what does it even mean to be ‘royal’ anymore? It seems to me that traditional media (as well as social media more recently) have completely demythologised whatever was left of the royal family. (To illustrate: they have their own Facebook page.) This can ultimately only be a good thing, since it makes people realise that they’re just people who go to the toilet every day — much like you, if I’m not mistaken. On a more serious note, though, I think it’s highly unfair that there’s still such a thing as a privileged family — one that has more privileges than yours! — in a democratic country like ours. The monarchy is a severely outdated regime that clearly doesn’t rhyme with ‘democracy’, so it’s high time that we went back to our 17th century republican roots — hard-fought roots that we eventually lost.
This 17th century, often noted as the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, was a very successful time in history for the early Dutch state. During this time, the Dutch Republic — consisting roughly of present-day the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg — overcame its Spanish rulers and became a major economic force in the world. The two westernmost coastal states — Holland and Zeeland — were among the most influential states, largely because of their location. Sitting right by the seaside, they explored and exploited the possibilities of overseas trade to the fullest, using its two most important fleets: the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company. The latter was the most successful of the two (in fact, it was one of the world’s most successful fleets altogether), bringing home exotic spices from the East that sold for very high prices due to their scarcity. As trade boomed, Amsterdam became an important economic hub in Western Europe, but it wasn’t just economic opportunities that brought people to the Republic; it was also known and renowned for its religious freedom — a unique and extremely hard-fought right, let me tell you. This brought religiously suppressed minorities (often from very different cultures) to the Republic, adding their sometimes very different skill sets to the knowledge that was already present there. This diversification of society proved to be a very important impulse — not just economically.
Another thing that was unique about the Republic was its political structure. In the 16th century, when we still belonged to the Spanish empire, the Netherlands consisted of eight strictly independent provinces. However, as the 16th century saw a rebellion unfold against our Spanish rulers (who were very unpopular due to high taxes and suppression of religious freedom), it was argued that cooperation was required in order to defeat them. This saw the birth of the Dutch Republic. Despite the union, all states were very autonomous regions that cared a lot about their independence — a rare situation in a part of the world that was otherwise dominated by monarchies. Logically, this early democratic system also had its drawbacks, as the slow decision-making that resulted from this development meant that the Republic couldn’t react to changes as quickly as it could before. This would cost them in situations that required quick decision-making, such as wars.
The Republic eventually lost its hegemony, primarily due to continued attacks from neighbouring countries, which recognised that the Republic had become a serious threat to their own livelihood. This forced the Republic to spend more money on its own defences, but it didn’t have enough to continue to invest in all of its departments. For instance, the North Sea department of its marine was neglected, causing the Republic to lose ground to the British in wars fought out on the North Sea. As trade stagnated and expenses increased, the Republic fell into a deep recession, and it was forced to raise taxes in order to pay off its increasing debt. A once mighty nation had fallen, and the call for a strong leader got louder again. As more and more power got concentrated around one person, the Republic already started to look more like a constitutional monarchy, and this process was ‘finally’ completed in 1806, when the French — led by Napoléon Bonaparte — imposed a monarchy on us by crowning his very brother (Louis Napoléon Bonaparte) the first king of Holland. This title then passed on to the wealthy Orange-Nassau family in 1813, where it has been to this very day.
Four good reasons
And so we fast-forward to the present day, where just about everything has changed dramatically, but not the monarchy and its royal family. I suppose it’s just a matter of time, but it’s still frustrating. My main reason for favouring a republic over a monarchy is very simple: it’s a much fairer system. In fact, you could even say that the Dutch monarchy — with its royal family — violates Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution, which states that all citizens of the Netherlands ought to be treated equally in equal situations. I don’t mean to be petty here, but this is not at all the case right now. One good example of this is the fact that the king, who already earns a million euros per year, is exempt from paying certain taxes that nobody else is exempt from paying. How in the world can that be the case? As said, I find it unfathomable (and completely unacceptable) that members of the royal family have more privileges than me, solely because of their last name. It’s depressing to see how many Dutch people seem to simply accept this fact; my guess is that most of these people have never really thought about it. This presumption is supported by the figures, which show that a large group of people within the Netherlands — an estimated 80% — don’t really question the monarchy at all; these are the people that simply take it for granted, “since it has always been there” — cough. As we’ve just seen, nothing could be further from the truth, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Next up: exorbitant expenses. This is the one thing that, as far as I can tell, does seem to be getting some media attention every once in a while, probably because it sparks outrage among the public, and for good reason at that. The royal family is a notoriously big spender, and can you blame them? The money is there for them to use, and we’re doing nothing to stop them, so why wouldn’t they? Personally, I’ve never understood why the Golden Coach, for instance, needed to go into a four-year restoration spell. What are you going to do with it, send it to Pimp My Ride? It’s a goddamn coach!
Maintenance of palaces is another one that’s hard to swallow, not lastly because I don’t understand why those palaces aren’t made public property to begin with.
Third, there’s no use for a royal family anymore. Some people seem to think that the king still has an important representative function as the ambassador of a country, but let me ask you this: when you think of François Hollande, do you think of him as the Co-Prince of Andorra — which he is — or as the President of France?
And finally, it’s not fair towards their children, or that’s how I feel. Even if they grow up in great wealth and the choice seems simple, they were never given a choice to begin with. Wealth is fun, but what about privacy? What if Amalia wanted a boyfriend right now? I’m not too sure how this would pan out, but for some reason, I just can’t imagine her bringing back some random dude to her house — err, palace — very easily. In a time when social media have taken over the world, the myth around the royal family has completely ceased to be, while Amalia is still expected to act ‘royally’ — whatever that means. I feel sorry for the little girl, and I’m not even being cynical there.
Luckily, the public opinion on the matter is gradually changing. Just before King’s Day, new figures concerning support for the monarchy were released into the world, and these showed that support had dropped from 78% in 2013 to just 65% in 2016 — an annual decrease of a good 4%. Assuming a (perhaps too optimistic) linear function, this would mean that support would drop under the 50% mark by 2020, still well into Willem-Alexander’s reign. A constitutional amendment would require a bit more than that (a two-thirds majority in both Chambers), but it’s still a very important mark, at least symbolically speaking. I’m afraid I won’t live to see the downfall of the Dutch monarchy, but when that day finally comes — and I think that this will be after Amalia’s reign — the world will be a fairer place yet again.