Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, 1909-2004

By Hylarides, Peter C. | Contemporary Review, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, 1909-2004


Hylarides, Peter C., Contemporary Review


QUEEN Juliana of the Netherlands, who reigned from 1948 to 1980, died at the age of ninety-four early on the morning of Saturday, 20 March 2004. Although she abdicated in 1980, when she assumed the title, Princess, and although she had not appeared in public since 2001, she was still well admired and loved. As Prime Minister Balkenende said in his commemorating speech: 'Many of us feel the death of Princess Juliana as a personal loss ... Our country has, in a sense, lost its mother'. One sometimes hears that the Dutch are not as much monarchists as they are 'Julianists'.

'Since yesterday, I was called to a task, which is so difficult that no one who had even contemplated this for a moment would desire it, but also so beautiful that I can only say: who am I, that I am allowed to do this'. These are words spoken by Queen Juliana when she was inaugurated as Queen of the Netherlands in 1948. (In the Netherlands monarchs are not crowned, as there is no state church and therefore no spiritual authority which can perform a coronation.) Looking closer at the exact wording, it shows the dilemma Princess Juliana was confronted with almost all her working life. Born into royalty as the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik, she had to learn from a very young age to live within the boundaries of a restricted environment. This, as we shall see, did not always agree with her personality.

It is sometimes hard to establish fact from fiction when it comes to the Dutch monarchy. This is particularly the case with regard to events that happened in the last sixty years, as many of the archives are not yet open to public scrutiny. In the case of Princess Juliana this is even more difficult as her personal archives will not be opened until 2104, a hundred years after her death. We can say that during her thirty-two years as monarch, Queen Juliana steered the country through good and bad times. She succeeded her mother in a time of reconstruction and conflict. It was three years after the Second World War, and the country had not yet fully recovered from hostilities, when it become embroiled in another war. In 1945, the Indonesians had, unilaterally, declared themselves independent from the Netherlands. An armed conflict broke out and the Dutch government sent troops to fight the insurgents. It proved to be a hopeless war. The international community, in particular the United States, was firmly against this military adventure. In fact, the Netherlands had the dubious honour of being the first country called to order by the Security Council of the newly founded United Nations. For Queen Juliana it had long been clear that the Dutch colonies deserved independence. Having pacifist views, she disagreed with military action in the Netherlands Indies. Little more than a year after her accession to the throne, she would sign the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of Indonesia.

In 1954, Queen Juliana signed a new 'Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands'. The relationship between the mother country and the remaining colonies, the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam, was to be put on an equal footing. From then on, they were considered partners instead of colonial subjects. Queen Juliana was always very proud of the fact that an end was made to the Dutch colonial empire during her reign. In 1963, Dutch New Guinea was finally returned to Indonesia. Twenty-two years later, the Republic of Surinam was established as an independent nation. In some of the former colonies, however, Juliana was still considered to be 'our Queen'.

The former Queen was always more internationalist than nationalist. Juliana had huge sympathies for the European Movement founded in 1948 and encouraged the creation of the European Community. She saw in it a renewal of European politics, which was previously based on narrow nationalist views. Her ideal was to see a strong and united Europe. A speech to students of the Sorbonne in Paris in 1950 summarizes her views: 'Do not look too much at the past, although it is interesting to know what not to do. …

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