Sunday, September 12, 2021

Colonial-Era Royal Carriage Stirs Up Modern Backlash in Netherlands

So lame. *Eye-roll.*

At the New York Times, "The “Golden Coach,” built for Queen Wilhelmina of Holland in 1896, is emerging as a new focus of debate over slavery, colonialist oppression and history":

AMSTERDAM — In 1896, the city of Amsterdam decided to build Queen Wilhelmina a very special gift: a carriage covered in gold. The “Golden Coach” was designed to represent the entire kingdom and its resources, with leather from Brabant, cushions filled with flax from Zeeland and teak from the Dutch colony of Java.

A prominent Dutch artist of the era, Nicolaas van der Waay, was commissioned to make panel paintings on all four sides. One of them, “Tribute from the Colonies,” depicts a virgin on a throne. On the left, Africans in loin cloths bow down before her. On the right, Southeast Asians in colorful batiks present her with gifts, as representations of the Dutch East Indies colony.

All of these component parts glorifying the empire would have been appreciated by most Dutch people in that era. But it is precisely these elements — reminders of slavery and colonial oppression — that make the carriage a source of pain in the Netherlands, particularly for descendants of formerly colonized people.

In the context of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, the coach has become a focus of anti-colonialist and antifascist protest. The controversy is an echo of similar debates in the United States over Confederate statues and other monuments, and in Europe over monuments honoring colonialists and slave traders.

An online petition to retire the Golden Coach has received more than 9,000 signatures.

The coach was first used in 1898 to carry Queen Wilhelmina to what the Dutch call her “inauguration,” eight years after she became queen at age 10. In recent years, the Golden Coach has been used primarily for the ceremonial opening of the Dutch Parliament in The Hague, and occasionally for weddings and coronations. Since the 1960s, royal trips in the carriage have often been met with street protests.

It was last used in 2015, without incident, after which it underwent a five-year, $1.4 million renovation before it was put on display at the Amsterdam Museum, where it will remain through Feb. 27, 2022.

“We must finally end this practice of parading colonial images as displays of power,” Sylvana Simons, a member of Parliament and the founder and leader of an anti-racist political party, BIJ1, said in June.

Gideon van Meijeren, a lawmaker with the Forum for Democracy, a right-wing populist party, had no patience with that. “We must not allow ourselves to be emotionally blackmailed by a small group of pushy extremists who see racism under every stone,” he said.

His comment echoed the 2020 Twitter sentiments of a populist Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who characterized efforts to decommission the coach, known in Dutch as the Gouden Koets, as “left-wing, antiracism terror.” He continued, using a slang term for drop dead: “I say: Don’t bow, don’t kneel, let them all get the rambam!”

Last month, Emile Schrijver, director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter, wrote an opinion piece in the Amsterdam daily Het Parool, calling the coach “an outdated and unacceptable glorification of a colonial sense of superiority,” which should be decommissioned and permanently housed in a museum.

On July 16, King Willem-Alexander addressed the subject at a news conference, saying he was “listening” to public forums on the matter organized by the museum. “The discussion is ongoing,” he added. The carriage is scheduled to return to The Hague after the exhibition. “You will hear from us then,” he said.

The Golden Coach was hoisted over the top of the museum by crane in June for the grand opening of the exhibition, attended by the king, and is now displayed in a large glass box in the inner courtyard. The exhibition exploring its history from its 19th-century conception fills six rooms within the museum, with another room devoted to visual responses to the coach by 15 contemporary artists.

What will happen to it thereafter — whether to put it back in service to the king and queen; or keep it in the museum with lots of explanatory content; or store it somewhere out of sight; or destroy it — has become a matter of intense public debate. Ultimately, the decision will be made by the royal family...

Nine-thousand signatures, c'mon!

"Rambam" is right, sheesh.