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Sep 15, 2021
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The king of the Netherlands was robbed of his golden carriage. This is not a revolution, this is worse

© AFP 2021 / ANP / Remco de Waal

On the following Tuesday, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, with the greetings of his subjects, is to travel in a golden carriage to the parliament in The Hague and present a budget there. This happens every year on Prince’s Day. However, in recent years, many traditions have been destroyed by the “culture wars” raging in the West. Contrary to previously announced plans, the king will not be able to ride the golden carriage that has split the Dutch society. Willem-Alexander is now forced to look at his luxury carriage through the glass in the Amsterdam Museum and is not sure if he will ever be able to sit in it again.

We all remember how a year ago the struggle against the past reached its climax in the United States, where activists of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began to dump one landmark after another, not sparing even the monuments to commemorate the abolition of slavery. And although the desired results of the presidential elections have somewhat reassured the radical supporters of the Democrats, having reduced the intensity of passions, American society is now torn apart by controversy over the fate of this or that monument.

Last week’s barbaric dismantling of the grandiose statue of Confederate leader General Lee, which has adorned Richmond since 1890, unwittingly drew comparisons with the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban (members of a terrorist organization banned in Russia). Twenty years ago, the entire world angrily condemned the “destruction of history.” Now the democratic community silently looks at events in America – it is not customary to condemn the actions of BLM supporters in a liberal environment.

However, “culture wars” are by no means an American phenomenon. British professor Bobby Duffy, who heads the Institute of Politics at King’s College London, recently conducted a study, which led to the conclusion that the export of this phenomenon from the United States to Europe has already taken place. In particular, he points to an indicative fact: in 2015, the mainstream media devoted 21 articles to “culture wars” in Britain, and in 2020, 534 publications were devoted to them. The trend is gaining momentum.

The Dutch society, which not without pride considers itself the most liberal in the world, of course, could not stay away from these processes. For decades now, every Christmas, there have been exacerbated disputes around the appearance near their Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) of his dark-skinned assistants, called the Black Pits (Zwarte Piet). Referring this tradition to racism, liberals are increasingly and more aggressively demanding to ban it. Conservatives, on the other hand, defend custom. As a result, a rare holiday now dispenses with skirmishes between the first and the second.

It even got to the point that social networks block black Dutchmen for appearing in a Black Pete costume, considering this a manifestation of racism. Think about it: a Negro is accused of racism for being a Negro.

The exacerbation of the “cultural war” in the West led to the fact that, at the suggestion of the Amsterdam Museum (the very one where the king’s golden carriage is now located), a campaign began to abandon the term “Golden Age of the Netherlands”, as well as the renaming of paintings with “racist” signatures and whole galleries containing the names of slavers. The royal carriage, which has become one of the symbols of Dutch colonialism, also fell into these millstones.

The fact is that on its left door there is a colorful panel “Adoration of the Colonies”, on which dark-skinned loyal subjects kneel and present gifts to a white lady, symbolizing Holland. In return, the white gentlemen give the half-naked natives the Bible.

In principle, you cannot throw out words from the song: there was also a period of greatness of the colonial power (the same century that is now forbidden to be called Golden), and there was the slave trade. And on the royal carriage, moments of the history of the state are simply captured, which also cannot be erased from a historical work of art without prejudice to it. When the first disputes over the panel appeared, it was decided to place the carriage for restoration. Since the absence of this symbol of royalty on Prince’s Day caused a storm of negative emotions among supporters of the Dutch monarchy, they were promised that after expensive (1.2 million euros) restoration work in September 2021, the carriage will return to its usual route.

However, last year, in the midst of the BLM protests that swept across the Netherlands, the crowned couple with mourning faces was forced to announce that the golden carriage would be in the museum for the time being, and its fate would be determined later. Willem-Alexander found himself in a difficult situation: on the one hand, the liberals are collecting signatures for petitions demanding to leave the carriage in the museum, on the other hand, the conservatives, whose opinion the king cannot ignore, demand to immediately return the symbol to the traditional route of Prince’s Day, stating that it is different the scenario would mean “surrender to the extremists.”

© AFP 2021 / ANP / Jerun Jumelet

BLM protests in Almere, Netherlands

The controversy over the fate of the carriage also split the parliamentary parties. In fact, three equal camps were formed. Some advocate the “museum” option, others – for its traditional use, and the third camp insists on the most inconvenient option for Willem-Alexander: the fate of the carriage must be decided by the royal court. Acceptance of any of the options will cause a storm of protests from one side or the other.

As a result, a temporary compromise solution was found: on the current Prince’s Day, the carriage will not appear on the streets of The Hague, but it will be transported to various museums in the country, inviting Dutch citizens to look at this historical monument themselves and decide on its future fate. Although everyone understands that this Solomon decision will not reconcile the opposing sides and will only postpone the inevitable scandal. Passions in society are heating up, some especially hotheads in general already believe that the carriage, symbolizing the period of slavery, should be burned.

The radicalization of protests a year ago led to acts of vandalism against monuments, museums and various institutions in the Netherlands, bearing the names of historical figures who were associated with a slave past. There is even an underground group that periodically takes responsibility for such acts.

A public apology for colonialism is demanded from the royal family and government. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that this would only intensify the polarization of society. But some municipalities have already made such an apology. For example, this summer, the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, repented on behalf of the city for his role in the slave trade.

© AP Photo / Peter Dejong

Prince’s Day in The Hague

And this is clearly not the limit. A group of advisers specially created under the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently submitted a report, the main conclusion of which was that the government is obliged to publicly apologize for slavery and annually on July 1 (on this day in 1863, slavery was abolished in the Netherlands) to celebrate as a national day of remembrance for victims of the slave trade.

As usual in such cases, activists are not limited to demanding an apology. The question of reparations to the descendants of slaves has already arisen. And although the commission did not find a legal basis for this, the issue is being raised more and more often, especially by people from Suriname and the Caribbean possessions of the Netherlands.

The amounts that the Hague must pay to individual countries are also announced. For example, an economist from Suriname Armand Zunder created the National Reparations Commission, calculating that the Netherlands are obliged to pay his country 50 billion euros in compensation for colonial exploitation.

At another time, such an idea would have been scoffed at by the Dutch. But in the era of BLM, nobody laughs anymore. This topic will surely be updated as the 150th anniversary of the prohibition of slavery in Suriname itself approaches (to be celebrated in 2023). And if at least some compensation is paid to this small country, the larger former colonies will catch up. Indonesia alone can claim colossal reparations. Last year, the Hague court already ordered its state to pay compensation to the relatives of Indonesians executed by the Dutch military during the colonial wars. If you follow the path of reparations for the slave trade, Indonesia can enrich itself at the expense of the Netherlands treasury.

A fierce struggle with its past is literally tearing apart Western society. And it seems that many, like the aforementioned Professor Duffy, understand: “No one can win a culture war, at least for a long time.”

Well, we also went through these painful stages more than once, fighting with our memory, with our monuments, with our history. The West has learned nothing from our mistakes. Now is the time for us to learn from the mistakes of the West without repeating them in the future.

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