It’s not often that the national 8 o’clock news in the Netherlands opens with the words “Fuck the king”. On the BBC it would be unthinkable – at least it would before the 9 p.m. watershed.
“Fuck the king, fuck the queen, fuck the royal house”
The reason the national news opened with this phrase on Thursday evening was because of the commotion caused by the Public Prosecutor’s announcement that a date had been set for the court hearing of anti-racism activist Adbulkasim al-Jaberi. Al-Jaberi was arrested when he spoke at a Piet is Racism demonstration back in November. During his speech he said: “Fuck the king, fuck the queen, fuck the royal house”. At this point, the police dragged him from the stage and bundled him into a police car.
The public prosecution had hoped to settle the matter out of court with a 500-euro fine, but al-Jaberi refused to pay. The authorities could have let the matter rest, but instead they set a date for the hearing. “Fuck de Koning” instantly became trending topic on twitter and numerous parodies made the whole matter look even more ridiculous than it already was. Indeed Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van de Laan said he burst out laughing when he heard about the arrest in the first place. The court hearing date was announced one day after Liberation Day in the Netherlands, when the Dutch celebrate their freedom, making it all the more topical. As a result, the issue was discussed in late night chat show Pauw. The next morning, “Fuck de Koning” was written in graffiti on the Palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam. The graffiti was promptly removed, but this time the authorities decided against prosecuting (or indeed finding) the perpetrators.
The hearing at the end of this month has now been cancelled due to the public reaction. And Dutch politicians are openly asking themselves whether it’s time to scrap the crime of lese majesty altogether. D66, Green Left and SP had already expressed their opposition to article 111 – 113 in the civil code. And by all accounts, the Freedom Party believes you should be able to insult whoever you like… or is that just reserved for Muslims? In fact according to Dutch daily Trouw, there is a majority of MPs who believe the law is no longer relevant. For years it had been a dead letter, but the lese Majesty legislation was resurrected by Christian Democrat interior minister Piet Hein Donner under Rutte I. Between 2010 and 2012 charges were brought in at least 19 cases, but only half of them were actually prosecuted.
“We are not amused”
In the Netherlands, insulting the king carries a possible 19,500-euro fine or a maximum of 5-year prison sentence, but it costs less to insult the queen. In Britain, the last time someone was prosecuted for insulting the monarch was in Victorian times, perhaps giving rise to the well-known quote “We are not amused”. In Thailand making fun of the king can cost you a lifetime in jail. All the other kingdoms that legislated against insulting the king have long since disappeared.
To old-fashioned Brits like me, the word fuck sounds quite offensive, however it is widely used in the Netherlands among young people and does not carry the same degree of coarseness as it does in England. Al-Jaberi’s lawyer explained in Pauw that according to the Van Dale dictionary “Fuck de koning” actually means “down with the king”. But I doubt whether the activist was aware of this when he said these words. So what does the king have to do with an anti-racism demo. Well, as al-Jaberi explained: his gilted coach unabashedly portrays black slaves on the side. That’s the one he rides around The Hague in on Prince’s Day (i.e. the Dutch Budget Day).
That the lese majesty law was introduced in 1881 under Willem III was no accident. He gained the nickname King Gorilla, because of his nasty temper and reputation as a womaniser. His un-kingly behavior often made him the royal butt of jokes. The Netherlands’ first prominent socialist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis spent six months in jail for satirising the king in his pamphlet “Rights for all”. In 1966, cartoonist Bernard Willem Holtrop was fined 200 guilders for portraying Queen Juliana as a whore after her income was increased at a time when everyone else was being asked to tighten their belts. By that standard, the present king and queen could be pictured behind row of windows in the red light district as their collective annual income is more than a million euros – up 6000 euros on last year and that is excluding expenses.
The case has been a field day for satirists. Far from making people think twice before they use expletives against the monarch, the decision to prosecute al-Jaberi has led to an explosion of Fuck the king columns, cartoons and videos. The public prosecution says even tweets with the hashtag #fuckdekoning are an offence. So writing this blog makes me punishable by law….
Three weeks after this post was published the case was dropped.