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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Wedding blues for Dutch monarchy
Crown Prince Willem
Prince Willem has become frustrated by the media
By James Coomarasamy

It was, if you'll excuse the expression, the crowning moment of the most eagerly awaited royal performance in recent Dutch history.

As a reporter asked the latest, taboo-breaking question, "How relevant is the Dutch monarchy in the modern world?", Crown Prince Willem Alexander, the future king of the Netherlands, was slow to react.

Instead, it was the woman sitting next to him, his new fiancée, who shot back: "Well, it's worked very well up until now, so I don't really see any need to change it."

If nothing unites a nation quite like a royal wedding, nothing unites the Dutch nation like a moral cause to agonize over.

So far, so trite - that is, if it wasn't for certain circumstances. For a start, this foreign bride-to-be was speaking Dutch in public for the first time - and flawless Dutch at that.

Not only that, but Maxima Zoregueta, future queen of the Netherlands, is the daughter of Jorge Zoregueta - Minister of Agriculture in the Videla regime, the military junta that ruled Argentina in the 1970s and which was, according to Amnesty International, responsible for up to 30,000 deaths.

Extensive coverage

If nothing unites a nation quite like a royal wedding, nothing unites the Dutch nation like a moral cause to agonize over.

And agonize it has, with acres of newsprint devoted to the rights and wrongs of the wedding - or, more accurately, of the bride's inconvenient relative - long before the engagement was made public.

Those acres can probably be distilled into one of the newspaper headlines on the morning of the announcement - "Maxima Yes. Daddy No".
Jorge Videla
Maxima's father was an associate of the infamous Jorge Videla

For, even before her rather successful attempt at speaking Dutch, the fun-loving blonde had already won over the hearts of her future subjects - mainly, it seems, by being fun-loving and blonde.

The country's chattering classes, meanwhile, had already made her father a persona non gratis. Even before the wedding plans were drawn up it was clear that his face would not be on any commemorative mugs.

So this news conference was, in fact, a diplomatic minefield for Maxima.

And she coped regally. She played the dutiful daughter, saying she would stand by her father but added that she regretted that he had put his misguided energies into a regime that was, well, wrong.

Low profile

A typical Dutch compromise - much like the one which had allowed the controversial engagement to go ahead.

It emerged that, after secret talks in a New York hotel, the royal father-in-law had agreed that a separate pressing appointment would sadly prevent him from attending his daughter's wedding - whenever it happened to be.

In fact, he went further. He wrote a letter saying that, much as it pained him, he didn't want to undermine his daughter's role as future queen.

So there'll be no awkward pictures of him waving from the royal balcony and no constitutional crisis which could have resulted if parliament had blocked the wedding - as they were perfectly entitled to.

So everything is OK then. Well, not quite. The House of Orange may not be about to fall, but it has lost its sheen of unsociability.

Bad press

The shield set up by the formidable Queen Beatrix has started to look vulnerable.
Queen Beatrix
Queen Beatrix has been able to limit the press in the past

For years she's been censor and spin doctor rolled into one - successfully ensuring that the Dutch press hasn't poked, pried, questioned or speculated about what's been going on behind the palace walls.

But now the torrent of righteous fury over Maxima's father's past has caused gaps to appear in this protective dam. Suddenly, there are no limits.

Consider this - at the height of the media frenzy a few weeks ago, serious news magazines were speculating that Constanijn, third in line to the throne, would be king.

They said that Willem Alexander, with his unwelcome father-in-law, would have to renounce his claim, and the middle brother, Friso - nudge, nudge, wink wink - wasn't really monarchy material.

It prompted the palace to put out an extraordinary statement saying that - contrary to the rumours - Friso was not a homosexual.

As if that wasn't enough, the future king - who'd been growing increasingly frustrated by the media - made a monumental gaffe.

Royal faux pas

In a bid to throw the hungry press pack off his scent, he referred them to a letter in an Argentinean newspaper that, he said, was proof of his girlfriend's father's moral credentials.

Unfortunately, the writer was none other than the former junta leader, Videla - hardly the objective support that would silence the journalists. Quite the opposite, in fact.

And so it was a nervous-looking Willem Alexander who shared his happy news with the nation in a live televised news conference, before curtly replying to a succession of reporters' questions as if swatting away a swarm of irritating insects.

And, as his wife-to-be looked at him adoringly, he stroked her back in strange, circular movements, his hands looking awkward and ungainly.

After the last few months, many Dutch people are wondering whether the monarchy is safe in these hands.

Maxima, in contrast, has displayed the diplomatic and linguistic abilities required. At the royal walkabout after the announcement, it was her name the crowd was chanting.

For a while, she looked like the woman who was going to weaken the Dutch monarchy. Now she appears the best chance of giving it a new lease of life.

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