Friday, June 24

The Netherlands exposes its Golden Chariot to its citizens, a complex symbol of the monarchy and colonialism | People

All monarchies have their symbols, those that reinforce their image of power, that give them pomp and pageantry before the world. Scepters, crowns, capes of ermine or, in the case of the Dutch monarchs, their famous Golden Carriage. A symbol that Queen Wilhelmina received as a gift from the city of Amsterdam in 1898, for her coronation. Then the sovereign was 18 years old and decided to release it shortly after, at her wedding in 1901. But in recent years, it has generated more displeasure and controversy than happiness to the Orange house for the colonial past it reflects.

The Golden Carriage is now coming to the center of Amsterdam to stay, even for a few months. Millions of eyes have already seen it, because it is in charge of taking the monarch to the inauguration of Parliament each year, or because Guillermo and Máxima de Holanda did the wedding parade in February 2002, but now they will contemplate it closer. A homonymous exhibition, The Golden Carriage, will be inaugurated in the Dutch city this Friday, June 18 and can be seen in the Historical Museum of the city until next February 27, 2022. After a restoration that has taken more than five years and that has cost two million Euros, Dutch and – still few – visitors will be able to see the jewel in the crown of the country’s royal family live. What they will not be able to do is touch it, because it is exposed inside an immense glass that protects it.

The heavy teak and gold leaf float has been in the spotlight for the past few years. It began to be restored in 2016, and there was already controversy to know who was going to take care of the bill. Then the royal house explained that it would pay for it with its more than 40 million euros of annual budget and that therefore its cost would not affect the taxpayer. Then the government of Mark Rutte claimed that its cost, being paid by the Orange, should not be made public, as they were personal accounts. The opposition explained that it feared that if the cost was too high, it would ultimately fall on the citizen. In the end, the cost has been made public.

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The left panel of the Golden Carriage, called 'Tribute from the Colonies', in the Historical Museum of Amsterdam.
The left panel of the Golden Carriage, called ‘Tribute from the Colonies’, in the Historical Museum of Amsterdam.Patrick van Katwijk / Getty Images

But his biggest problem came a little over a year and a half ago. In September 2020 it was announced that Guillermo de Holanda would not attend the solemn opening ceremony of Parliament on her. One of the excuses was that, being in the process of restoration, it could suffer some damage. Something that happened to the previous queen, Beatriz, in 2010, when a man attacked the float causing damage.

But the real problem was in one of its panels, located on the left side. One of them, painted by Nicolaas van der Waay, shows a figure of the so-called Dutch Maiden – an allegory of the country used for 500 years in many artistic representations – sitting on the throne. Several black men, half-naked, go towards her, who give her tributes from the colonies: from Indonesia, the Netherlands Antilles and Suriname. They are bowed, kneeling, showing submission.

Although in the 19th century, when watercolor was painted, the image did not generate debate, now it does. The royal house knows this, and it was one of the reasons for stopping using the carriage. And the museum also takes this into account, and gives good explanations about it in the exhibition brochure and on their website. “The Golden Carriage is much more than a vehicle, it symbolizes something greater: the house of Orange, democracy, the capital, Amsterdam, sure of itself, the fairy tale (or the golden cage) of real existence, the kingdom of the Netherlands and the colonial past ”, they assure, explaining that this“ polyphonic exhibition ”accommodates and discusses all these meanings.

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A moment of the restoration of the Golden Carriage.
A moment of the restoration of the Golden Carriage.Arthur van der Vlies/Amsterdam Museum

In addition, the museum recognizes the debate generated by that panel, called Tribute from the Colonies. “People from the colonies give products and various gifts to a young white woman representing the Netherlands. More and more people find this representation of colonialism out of place in national celebrations ”, they reflect. “Is it desirable that the carriage remains in circulation after restoration, and during Orange weddings and openings? Is the carriage worth adjusting [para circular] Or is it now owned by a museum? ”, the exhibition states, which states that throughout the tour it gives“ different perspectives on this controversial heritage ”and that invites the visitor to share their point of view on it.

In a writing in the specially created website For this exhibition, the museum’s press officer, Maurice Seleky, assures that “an exhibition about an inheritance with such emotional charge is a challenge”, and that the team always knew that they could not avoid the debate on the carriage, but rather In fact, they had to play an “active role in the public conversation, as moderators or opinion leaders”. Therefore, with this exhibition, they say, they want to “open a broad national dialogue about the Golden Carriage.”

The Netherlands’ colonial past is a recurring theme for its current sovereign, William. In March 2020, and for the first time by a Dutch head of state, the king publicly apologized. He did it on a trip to Indonesia (which was celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence) and also in front of the nation’s president. Then he apologized for “the abuse of violence” carried out by the colonial forces of his country “during the struggle for independence” of Indonesia, between 1945 and 1949. The governments of the country had apologized, but never the kings. In fact, his mother, Beatriz, was about to do it in 1995 but the gesture did not convince the Government. “The pain and grief of the affected families endure to this day,” said the king.

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A few months later, in his summer inn, in July 2020, following the restoration of the carriage, he already explained that “the Constitution prohibits discrimination, and we are not going to rewrite history during the restoration [de la carroza]; it is part of our cultural heritage ”. It does not seem likely that the Golden Carriage will continue to be used regularly, although the decision will be made in 2022, when the show ends. But the Orange will always be able to use the somewhat simpler Glass Float.

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