Willem-Alexander looks back on 10 years as Dutch king; Would take back beer with Putin
April 30 marks the tenth anniversary of King Willem-Alexander taking the throne of the Netherlands. In the podcast series Door de ogen van de Koning with Edwin Evers, Willem-Alexander looks back at the first decade of his rule, touching on his inauguration, the MH17 disaster, and a controversial photo of him having a beer with Vladimir Putin a month before Russia invaded Crimea, RTL Nieuws and NRC report. “If I had known, it would obviously have been different,” the King said about that beer.
The announcement of Queen Beatrix’s abdication in January 2013 came as a surprise to many, but Willem-Alexander had known about her plans for about 18 months by that point. “Only three people knew until one month in advance: my mother, my wife, and I. A lot had to be arranged afterward. Under high pressure, the inauguration had to be prepared within three months. I think that’s wonderful,” the King said.
He described the inauguration as a beautiful day. “I can remember one moment very well. I stood there, the Wilhelmus was sung in the Nieuwe Kerk, and I had an out-of-body experience. As if I was floating above myself. What the hell are you doing? Who do you think you are? I saw myself standing down there, and I liked that.”
According to Willem-Alexander, those questions still occur to him every day. “Who do you think you are that you can do this? You have to answer that for yourself every day. That you can do such a wonderful thing: be king of this beautiful country. That gives an extra boost to put in the extra effort.”
The King discussed the MH17 disaster on 17 July 2014 in detail, finding ways to support the victims’ loved ones. The Monday after the disaster, he attended a meeting for the loved ones in Nieuwegein. “That was incredibly emotional, very raw too. I will never forget the emotions that flew through the room,” Willem-Alexander said.
He spoke with the relatives who were up for it and wanted to. “What struck me there is that people said: you know how this feels; you have lost a brother. We accept your feeling as genuine. I thought that was special,” the King said. At the time, he couldn’t agree. “Later, I came to realize I also received that phone call in February 2012 that my brother had ended up in an avalanche. Actually, that is the same thing they experienced. They also received that phone call individually. Only at that time a few hundred people got the call. But for the individual, that means no more or less than for everyone who ever gets such a call themselves.”
Willem-Alexander also touched on a photo of him and Queen Amalia having a beer with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Winter Olympics in Sochi early in 2014. A month after that photo was taken, Russia invaded Crimea, and the MH17 disaster followed a few months later.
The Kremlin asked whether Putin could join the Dutch Royals in the Holland Heineken House. It was not their first meeting with Putin, Willem-Alexander said. “We had the Dutch-Russian year of friendship the year before. It was also the policy of the Dutch government to rekindle a friendship with Russia,” he said. If he had known what would follow in the coming months, “it would have obviously been different.”
When asked whether it was a good idea to meet with Putin, who had already been controversial at the time, the Dutch King said: “Look, there are always things you need to keep talking about. Problems and differences of opinion must be open to discussion. Going everywhere is not always possible. Certainly not. Those boundaries must be viewed one at a time.”
Willem-Alexander gets a lot of criticism on social media, but he says it doesn’t affect him. “I had to learn to deal with it.” But his children also see everything that happens. “They are not blind and deaf, they see everything on social media, they read everything, they hear everything. We don’t cut them off from anything. And they talk about it. Also, with other people, because it’s pretty loud. Certainly, when you’re a growing child, it’s very annoying. Kids don’t have a filter in that regard, but it’s reality, and they have to learn to deal with that.”
Without giving examples, Willem-Alexander said that they’ve had “very open discussions” about this. “It affects them,” he said, adding that it is important that his daughters can express their feelings about it. “Also, to understand that it’s not personal and they shouldn’t take it personally.”
His mother, Beatrix, held the throne for 33 years. If Willem-Alexander does the same, crown princess Amalia would be 42 when she ascends the throne - the same age Beatrix was when she became Queen. Evers asked the King whether he ever thought abou that. “No, I don’t think about that. Governing is foresight, but there are a lot of factors that come into play. I don’t know what will happen to my health, you just don’t know. I don’t want to think about that kind of thing.”
“Of course, I wish Amalia a very long preparation time, also time for herself, time to start a family - or whatever she wants to do - and prepare well for her future. And then we will also, just like with my mother, choose a date together. But that is really a joint consultation between Amalia and me, and this is in a distant future.”