Dutch parliament considers scaling back a law that makes it illegal to insult the King
In ancient Rome, when a General or Emperor won a great victory they were granted a triumph. A chariot procession through the streets of Rome, so the adoring public could celebrate its latest champion. Stood behind them on the chariot was a slave, whose sole job it was to whisper in the hero’s ear ‘remember you are a mortal’.
Long before modern democracy was born, the ancient Romans knew the importance of keeping their Lords and Masters humble, even at their moment of greatest triumph.
How far we’ve come.
Now, the remaining kings and queens of Europe live in a state of perpetual triumph. Every day waking to the euphoric realisation that somehow in the 21st century they can still lead their charmed lives, on the backs of the labour of others. That their houses, lands and unearned wealth haven’t been seized. That they can continue to pass the time walking their vast properties, dressed from head to toe in tweed while shooting any animal that crosses their path, all free from the intrusions of the unwashed masses.
The humpty dumpty Dutch King
In the endless victory parade that is the life of the Dutch royal family, as the triumphant King Willem-Alexander waves from his chariot ride, there’s a noticeable absence. The slave who once stood alongside the king, reminding him of his humility, is now forced to stand in the crowd clapping and cheering with everyone else, or worse is behind bars.
I speak of course, of the law of lèse-majesté, from the Latin laesa maiestatis, meaning injury to the majesty.
The Netherlands is one of the few European countries to retain a law that makes it illegal to insult the King, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Recently the seemingly medieval law, more at home in an era of witch trials and bubonic plague deaths than weed cafes and avocado restaurants, has created a divide in the Dutch coalition government over an attempt by one of the ruling parties to scrap it.
The Greens, socialists and Labour party are backing the initiative by the liberals in the D66 party, but they are facing opposition from the Christian parties in government, namely the CDA and the more conservative Christian Union.
But what is the reason for this law? Are our would-be rulers and social betters really so insecure, so vain, so precious, that their feelings must be protected at all costs, to the point of sending someone to prison?
Those lucky few whose very existence is an insult to fairness and equality cannot take a bit of name calling?
The centre-right liberal party, the VVD, led by the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, certainly thinks so. It has said it would not support a law that would force the king to file a formal complaint to get justice.
Sven Koopmans MP elaborated for the Guardian, “If the king himself has to file a report, we are not there for it … The king should not have to go to the police station on his bike for a declaration.”
So it seems the law is in place because the Dutch King cannot ride a bike or doesn’t know how to dial a phone, if someone hurts his feelings and he wants to file a complaint (he can fly a plane though).
The very real consequences of royal disrespect
This might seem comical, just a silly old royal tradition that’s part of the quirky fun of having an ancient institution in the 21st century, but two years ago, a 44-year-old man did hurt the King’s feelings and was sentenced to 30 days in prison. It was deemed he “intentionally insulted” the monarch on Facebook, accusing him of being a murderer, thief and rapist, doctoring images of executions online to include the king’s face in place of those of the actual victims.
While these insults are indeed excessive and gross, ask almost any female politician, activist, or public figure the sentence their online trolls and abusers were given for harassment, rape threats and unsolicited dick pics. The answer will most likely be a temporary ban from twitter at best, not a month behind bars – and I wager most of these women do not have a palace and a hundred government funded butlers to make them feel better about it.
Coming from the UK, a country so shamelessly patriotic about our monarchy that insulting them would be a gamble in any social situation, this might seem a somewhat hypocritical point to bring the Netherlands up on. But at least, should we choose to, we have the right to describe the our decrepit Queen as a cretinous leech, whose only notable service to the country was leaving her reinforced concrete bunker a couple of times during the war to lift the spirits of the ‘common folk’ who were actually dying.
The local take
With this in mind I looked to the opinions of the natives for some snappy one-liners on ‘the law of fragile royal egos’. For anonymity’s sake I’ll call them van A, van B and van C.
Van A, would you back getting rid of the laesa maiestatis?
“Scrap that law, treat him like any police officer or teacher.”
What about you Van B?
“Insulting Willem Alexander is ok, but he should be the exception.”
Van C, if you could say anything to the King, ‘hypothetically’ what would you say?
“I’d say Willy…why don’t you go to work you $●<>◇♡? !! (not to insult anyone)”
So it appears the will to insult dear willy is alive and well in the Dutch populous, but for now, at least until a broader political consensus is achieved, the King remains in his soundproof glass box atop his golden victory chariot, pulled silently by the slaves who might dare to humble him.
What do you think? Should it be legal to insult the King? Share with us in the comments!