Today we have a new king in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is a ‘sea of orange’, the whole country has become ‘one huge orange party’, say the press. Yet in this corner of the country it takes some effort to detect the enthusiasm.
Before the great day – a holiday, as was the previous day being a Monday for many – I did not detect much enthusiasm among the locals at work. ‘I’ll go shopping in Belgium’, ‘I’m taking a holiday to escape’, ‘I won’t watch it on television’, were typical reactions, coupled with the cautious ‘I might watch some on television’. People seemed to almost fall over each other to demonstrate their indifference, a very few even their opposition.
To gauge the enthusiasm today I took a walk around my block and counted the houses with flags: 37 houses with flags hanging out of 172 houses in the streets I wandered. Quite an unscientific survey. But only one house in five has a flag blowing in the wind. And of those 37 only three had orange streamers. So much for the ‘sea of orange’ here.
Why could this be so in this patriotic corner of the Netherlands? Is everyone here a republican? When I first came to live here, a long time ago now, there were people who would tell me how it was simply a trick of the upper classes, the elite, to make this place part of the Netherlands, and not part of Belgium. Some even said we should be linked to Belgian Limburg – it was wrong to split the province. Others said that the government had always looked down on Limburg, and taken decisions at a distance: the closure of the mines was often cited – several of my neighbours at the time were ex-miners. Still others would say it’s the language: we speak a different language in Limburg – they even have to subtitle it if it ever appears on Dutch national television. Yet others said it’s religion: this is 90% catholic, even if the figures are wrong – witness the vast numbers of yellow papal flags that go up each time there’s the first communion locally. And what about carnival? The whole city and province shuts down – now that’s what I call a celebration. Moreover, the ‘Oranjes’ are protestant, they said – and still say. Yet the people are not incipient nationalists, eager for an independent Limburg state. There’s no Limburg National Party vying to take over the provincial government. The people are most definitely strong Dutch – witness the vast display of orange whenever there’s football World Cup or European Champioship. And there are plenty of comments about the Belgians. But don’t call this part ‘Holland’.
Perhaps then it is just indifference to the royal family. So King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will have their work cut out if they are to generate the enthusiasm of the north, ‘above the rivers’, here in the south, where people look more to Carnival, ‘our’ Amstel Gold Race and the Alpe d’Huez of the Tour de France. Perhaps the king and queen should dress up in lycra for new year’s carnival.