The Hague has been experiencing a mini-heatwave, and most of this part of Europe has been unseasonably hot over the last week or so. I’m sure the weather will have a sting in the tail, but for the time being it has been perfect for doing some additional exploration of my new home. The Hague is a very walkable city. Smallish and compact, a leisurely stroll allows you to absorb the sights and sounds – even if cycling is by far the preferred form of transportation.
The city seems to have sprung into life with the good weather. People have been packing the street-side bars and restaurants, and the two old squares in the city centre, Plein and Grote Markt, have been full of people taking advantage of the sunny weather. All this human activity has been matched by nature; flowers are coming out in glorious colours, trees are sprouting bright green leaves. There has also been a notable surge in the number of tourist groups roaming around in packs. Spring is definitely here and summer on the way.
My walk took me through the winding streets and small squares in the historic old town, passing the Noordeinde Palace of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, where people stop and pose for photos in front of the gates. The monarchy are surprisingly popular in the Netherlands; with an approval rating of around 85%, it seems unlikely that regicide will be on the cards any time soon. This is despite some fairly public gaffs from the reigning monarch, and the fact that the queen is the daughter of Jorge Zorreguieta.
Zorreguieta is a former minister in the government of notorious Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla. Under Videla’s regime, the Dirty War released a wave of terror across Argentina and saw thousands of people ‘disappeared’ and murdered. Videla himself was found responsible for the systematic kidnap of babies and children and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Throughout this period widespread human rights violations and multiple crimes against humanity were perpetuated by the Argentine government.
Zorreguieta stepped down from his government post the year before the fall of Videla’s government. Although he has never been prosecuted, it is hard to imagine that Zorreguieta was unaware of the atrocities that his government were inflicting on the Argentinian population; in fact a Dutch Parliamentary inquiry stated as much.
Consequently he wasn’t allowed to attend the wedding of his daughter, which I doubt was much consolation to the families of those murdered during his time in office. The wedding was allowed to happen because the Dutch Parliament decided that Queen Máxima couldn’t be held responsible for her father’s actions. Something else unlikely to console those whose family members were kidnapped, tortured and murdered.
Opposite the royal palace stands a rather grand statue of William the Silent (1533-1584), Prince of Orange. William was the main leader fighting for Dutch independence from the Spanish and was largely responsible for starting the Eighty Years’ War. Eighty years might seem like a long time, but Europe didn’t do war by halves in the 16th Century; this is, after all, the continent which invented the Hundred Years’ War.
William the Silent’s statue stands in stark contrast to a statue across the small square. When I first saw this I assumed it was commemorating the role of peasant women in national life (possibly national life from a few centuries ago). It is actually a statue of Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962), who is remembered fondly as the Queen who ‘led’ the nation during German occupation in World War II. Obviously, she did this from London where she was reasonably safe from Nazi reprisals. Still, that seems a pretty poor reason to make her look like she’s wearing a potato sack.