Today has been declared a National Day of Mourning, as the bodies of the victims of MH17 crash are returned to the Netherlands. Of the 298 people killed 193 were from the Netherlands. In a country of 17 million, that’s a lot, it feels like everyone knows someone who was on the plane. Many people are affected by the loss of a family member, friend or colleague. Impromptu memorials have been created around the country, for example by people leaving flowers at Schiphol – the plane’s departure airport, and outside the Asian Glories restaurant in Rotterdam which was run by victims of the crash.
The country has been horrified, first at the crash, and then at the treatment of the deceased and their possessions. News such as this is absorbing, but I had to turn it off when people at the crash site were showing the passports of those who died – I couldn’t imagine how upset someone would be if this was how you found out your friend, relative, classmate was killed – and some of those passports belonged to children.
The speech by Frans Timmermans to the UN summarises beautifully the emotion in the country, and the determination of the Dutch government and the Dutch people to do whatever is possible to bring back the bodies, help the families grieve and see justice done.
So today there will be a minute’s silence at around 4pm when the first plane carrying the victims’ bodies arrives in Eindhoven. Church bells will ring out for five minutes, flags will fly at half-mast. TV and Radio (at least the state channels) will run without ads and have a modified schedule with reduced entertainment. Even non-state channels are modifying their programme, with subdued music choices (currently Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven is playing on English Breakfast Radio) and all display references to the day of mourning.
Today I am Dutch; I’m going change my avatars for the day, and I’ll look for a memorial service outside a local church or go down to the Dam square before 8pm, there’s a silent march of remembrance which will end on Dam square where white balloons will be released followed by a minute’s silence.
I have been watching the coverage on the news of today’s day of mourning. In stark contrast to the early pictures from Ukraine, the Dutch have treated the bodies of the victims with great respect. Flags all over the country have been at half mast, on public and private buildings. People observed the one minute’s silence across the country – including in shopping centres, public squares and at the beach.
The planes landed at 4pm, there was a short ceremony at the airport in Eindhoven, and then the bodies of the first forty victims were taken, each in its own coffin and in its own hearse in a cortege from Eindhoven to Hilversum where the identification process will take place. The route was lined with people there to show their respects, some throwing flowers. Flags along the route were at half mast.
At the entrance to the army base where the identification will be done stood a row of flagpoles, each bearing a lowered flag from one of the countries of the victims.
I am impressed, the Dutch are not a sentimental nation in general, but with such simple symbols the Dutch have shown great feeling and given dignity to the deceased.