The Daily Herald reports that the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands kicked off on Saturday in the presence of King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima, a large part of the royal family and representatives of all parts of the Kingdom, including the prime ministers of the four countries, the presidents of the four Parliaments, the Governors of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, and the Island Governors of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
It was a full-day programme that started in the morning hours with a replay of the landing of Prince Willem Frederik, later Willem I, at the Scheveningen beach in 1813; the formal ceremony at the Ridderzaal in The Hague in the afternoon and the 2013 Kingdom Concert at Circus Theatre in Scheveningen in the evening. The events marked the start of festivities that will last two years and will take place in all parts of the Kingdom. The three events on Saturday were broadcast live by the NOS. More than two million people throughout the Kingdom watched the Kingdom Concert on TV.
The Dutch Caribbean dignitaries were given front-row seats at the formal ceremony in the Ridderzaal. They were Prime Ministers Mike Eman of Aruba, Ivar Asjes of Curaçao and Sarah Wescot-Williams of St. Maarten; Governors Fredis Refunjol of Aruba, Lucille George-Wout of Curaçao and Eugene Holiday of St. Maarten; Presidents of the Parliaments Marisol Lopes-Tromp of Aruba, Mike Franco of Curaçao and Gracita Arrindell of St. Maarten; and Island Governors Lydia Emerencia (who had stepped down one day earlier) of Bonaire, Gerald Berkel of St. Eustatius and Jonathan Johnson of Saba.
The overseas dignitaries also attended the Kingdom Concert, as did members of the Dutch cabinet and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Presidents of the First and Second Chambers of the Dutch Parliament, Members of the Dutch Parliament, heads and representatives of various Dutch Government organisations, private sector representatives and members of the National Committee 200 Years Kingdom chaired by Ank Bijleveld-Schouten. Most of the guests attended both the ceremony at the Ridderzaal and the Kingdom Concert.
Prime Minister Rutte performed the official opening at the Ridderzaal in the presence of the King, the Queen and Princess Beatrix. He said the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom, which he called a “joint milestone in the Netherlands, but also in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom,” was worth celebrating and commemorating. “We have built a society together that offers all citizens of the Kingdom an opportunity to make something beautiful of life, individually and jointly,” he said.
Not only the historical highlights of the Kingdom were mentioned at this gathering, but there was also room for the dark pages of the Dutch history – the trans-Atlantic slave trade – and the Black Pete discussion which has been a hot topic for months. Historian Niek van Sas referred to these black pages. He reminded the audience that the Dutch had been involved in slave trade and gross violence against slaves, and said that in 1813, the start of the Dutch Kingdom, the Dutch flag had been flying at the Gold Coast in Ghana from where several hundred thousand slaves had been transported to the Caribbean and South America.
Rapper Typhoon, of Surinamese descent, made quite an impression, especially on the Dutch Caribbean dignitaries, with his rap “From the rain to the sun” on the multicultural aspect of Dutch society (“Surinamese, Antilleans, Moroccans, Turks, Polish and Jews make us more colourful”), freedom and mutual respect. Dutch Caribbean artistes added a tropical, warm and swinging character to the lineup of mostly Dutch artistes at the Kingdom Concert. Izaline Calister of Curaçao sang in Dutch for the occasion. The barefoot Calister, accompanied by Carel Kraayenhof on the accordion, moved the audience with her song “The air is full of days.” Aruban rapper/singer Datapanik was a hit with his highly melodious and funny rap in Papiamentu and Caribbean English “Riba un seru” (On a hill) and many of the spectators, including the King and Queen, enthusiastically clapped their hands and moved in their seats. A very pregnant Caro Emerald of Aruban descent shone with her heart-rending song “I belong to you,” while Curaçao artiste Levi Silvani, described by MC Ruben Nicolai as “hotter than hot,” and his male and female dance couples amazed the audience with a fast rumba in Papiamentu.
Prime Minister Wescot-Williams said after the 11/2-hour show that she had liked the concert very much. She was highly appreciative of the Dutch Caribbean touch the organisers of the event gave to both the afternoon and evening programmes. “It shows that the Kingdom is more than the Netherlands. It is an important signal,” she said, also referring to the statements of the King during his recent visit to the Dutch Caribbean where he showed his deep appreciation for the islands and their people. Wescot-Williams will be going to Brussels today, Monday, for talks with the Association of Overseas Countries and Territories OCTA and the Caribbean OCT Council, among other matters.
National Committee 200 Years Kingdom Chairperson Bijleveld-Schouten looked back at a “terrific” day which she said had given the committee “even more inspiration and enthusiasm” for the coming two years for which several more large events are planned, including the Kingdom Youth Parliament debate on St. Maarten in May 2014. She said she was happy that so many people had witnessed the start of the celebration. “The celebration of 200 years Kingdom is a wonderful moment to look ahead positively at our joint future. At the same time, it is good to realise what we have built together and to be proud of what we have achieved. Our freedom and equal rights appear a given, but they are not. We should always realise that,” she stated on Sunday.