Queen’s Day, May Day: Tonight the Wilhelmus, Tomorrow the Internationale
Posted by Stephen Lewis on April 30, 2008
Tonight, I will attend the annual reception at the Netherlands Consulate in Istanbul (housed in the palatial former residence of the Dutch Ambassador to the Ottoman Court) in honor of Konninginedag — Queen’s Day — the symbolic Dutch national day linked to the springtime birthday of the country’s former queen, Juliana. I travel on a Dutch passport and Konninginendag receptions broad lend a way to catch up with friends, associates, and potential new acquaintances and contacts. Yet I do not feel fully comfortable at such events. People who are ethnically Dutch — a category, like most nationalities, based on an artificial identity shaped over the course of the 18th through the 20th centuries — can at times be condescending or even sharply hostile towards those of us who are Dutch by passport and conviction alone, especially if we hail from the country’s ethnic or religious “minorities.” An added discomfort in that I am not a monarchist (this despite my personal respect for the late Queen Juliana, who I met several times in connection with charitable projects).
It was only in the post-war period that identification with and loyalty to Dutch society and the Dutch state came to be fully conflated with support and identification for the Dutch monarchy. Prior to the war, enthusiastic support of the Dutch monarchy was far from universal. In republican, labor, and leftist circles, the monarchy was viewed as transitory and few people sang the song that became the country’s official national anthem, the Wilhelmus, a tortuous composition sung in near-falsetto and with the gruesome opening line: “William of Nassau, I am of Germanic blood; I will remain faithful to the fatherland until death”). The Dutch cult of monarchy was solidified with the polishing of the image of Queen Wilhelmina, the grandmother of the present queen, who fled from the Netherlands to Britain with her immediate family in advance of the German invasion of 1940 without consulting her government. Elevation of the monarch was part and parcel of the general clean-up of the Netherlands’ wartime record of passive and active collaboration and its post-war record of colonial brutality. A single example of an oft-bowdlerized statistic: Approximately 1,200 Dutch soldiers died defending the country against the Germans whereas approximately12,000 Dutchmen died fighting on the Eastern front as members of SS volunteer battalions. (I’ll save the complicity of the Dutch police and bureaucracy in the deportation and murder of two-thirds of the country’s Jewish population for a future posting.)
Tomorrow is May 1, the international day of Labor. In Istanbul the atmosphere in advance of May Day is tense. Last week, the Turkish prime minister and leader of the country’s ruling party, the Islamic AK Party, announced that May Day should not be an official holiday, cavalierly adding that Turkish workers have too many days off as is. In fact, Turkish workers work one-third t one-half more hours each year and receive salaries far lower than of most of their European counterparts. Soon after, the governor of Istanbul issued an order that May Day marchers from the country’s labor unions and parties of the left not be allowed to march and assemble at Taxim Square, Istanbul’s main open space. The unions have announced that they will march and assemble nevertheless. Their May Day gathering promises to be a magnet for groups and individuals that support secularism in Turkey and oppose the present government and ruling party and suspect it of advancing a radical Muslim agenda and back-peddling on reforms requisite to EU membership. The gathering will also attract an army of baton-, machine-gun-, tear-gas-, and water-cannon-equipped helmeted and masked riot police and, many people fear, a sufficient number of provocateurs of whatever stripe to precipitate violence. In 1977 in Istanbul, more than 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes between police and marchers; last year’s May Day was marred by tear-gassings and beatings.
For a bit of May Day spirit go to my alter-ego weblog Bubkes.Org to listen to two arcane recordings of the one-time international working men’s anthem, the Internationale.