Open letter from Acting Mayor Johan Remkes to everybody in The Hague

Photo: Marijn Beekman

How can we remember and celebrate in The Hague in the coming time? In an open letter Mayor Johan Remkes offers a gesture of support to all residents of The Hague.

Dear members of The Hague international community,

For some time now the coronavirus has held the world, our country and our city in its grip. At the same time we are trying to carry on living our lives as best we can. With Remembrance Day (4 May) and Liberation Day (5 May) it will be time to remember and to celebrate. In The Hague we can also add 8 May when our city was liberated in 1945, and 10 May the day on which the Battle for The Hague took place in 1940. The measures which have been necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus mean that we cannot mark those days as we would have liked to. But that does not prevent us from taking some time to reflect on those different moments. Perhaps it is now more important than ever to do so. Not just because it was 75 years ago that the Second World War came to an end. Even now while we must stay at home, these days of remembrance and celebration reaffirm our connection with one another and with the generations before us. And we are even more keenly aware of that most precious gift: freedom. Freedom that can only continue to exist if we all feel responsible for defending it. Just as only by working together will we bring this corona pandemic to an end.

At the moment it is necessary for our personal freedom to be temporarily curtailed. That reminds many of us of the restrictions during the occupation of the Netherlands, even though most of us were born after the war and never experienced that lack of freedom for ourselves. But we know the stories told by our parents and grandparents, and all those who lived through the war. Then it was the occupiers’ boots, those of the Nazis, which made us compliant, took away our freedoms, wiped out our democratic and fundamental rights. Fortunately, we still have those fundamental rights, but now it is the stealthy coronavirus which has taken control of our day-to-day lives and dramatically limited our freedom of movement. Placing major constraints on the freedom which since 1945 has increasingly become the norm for us all. Freedom that we cherish. However serious the present situation may be, however much the present measures represent a curtailment of our personal freedom, our situation cannot be compared with the Second World War. When we remember that we also realise how relatively small the present incursion upon our personal freedom is relative to the lack of freedom then. And I am sure that we are resilient enough to be able to cope with this.

Remembrance Day, 4 May
Since 1946 in The Hague we have remembered those who fell during the Second World War. For the first time in history it will not be possible to come together to do that. Something which profoundly affects us, particularly those still living who witnessed the war, those close to them and indeed everyone who lost family members during the 1940-1945 period. We must therefore all do our best to show our support and ensure that they do not feel forgotten. To start with by hanging the flag at half mast (which can also be done during the day) and most particularly by observing the 2 minutes of silence at 20.00 hrs. The National Remembrance of the Dead ceremony broadcast from Dam square in Amsterdam where the King will give a speech can be followed on TV or the internet. As we do every year, the municipality will be placing wreaths or flowers at the city’s war memorials. The Children’s National Remembrance ceremony held at Madurodam can also be followed on livestream, during which today’s children pay tribute to yesterday’s victims.

Liberation Day, 5 May
Liberation Day will also be celebrated quite differently this year than usual. There will be no Liberation Festival and the official ceremony in The Hague to mark the national start of Liberation Day has been cancelled. What will still take place is the lighting of the Freedom Fire. Precisely at midnight on 5 May the fire will be lit in both The Hague and Wageningen simultaneously. This is intended as a symbolic gesture: despite the fact that we cannot celebrate Liberation Day together, we are keeping the fire of freedom burning. On this particular Liberation Day let us take a moment here in our international city of peace and justice to appreciate just how remarkable it is that we have been able to live in peace and freedom for so long.

And on 8 May too, the day on which 75 years ago The Hague could finally breathe again, we will also be suitably honouring our liberators of the day: the members of the Princess Irene Brigade and Canadian servicemen. And on 10 May we will be commemorating the men who 80 years ago courageously defended The Hague against the vastly superior German invading force, thus preventing the capture of the Royal Family.

We are not there yet
Despite the fact that the restricting measures have been in place for more than 6 weeks now, we are not there yet. For the time being the rules still apply in full, also on Remembrance Day and Liberation Day. Abide by them. You risk a huge fine if you do not.

Now we need to persevere and remain disciplined, otherwise the virus will have free reign with disastrous consequences. I am well aware that many people find this very difficult. Nevertheless I would like to impress upon you all: don’t stop, keep going! The better we stick to the rules now, the sooner they can be scaled back (step by step).

The time is not yet ripe for that however. I am thinking in particular of the many residents of nursing homes and their carers who have been infected as well as all the people who depend on home or informal care who have also been affected by the virus, just as many of their carers. They have all suffered greatly as a result of a very nasty disease, while those who were not infected have had to self-isolate and remaining care workers had to work in much smaller teams than usual. The toll, both physical and emotional, has been great. This is also why we must continue to observe the restrictions. Most of the people living in The Hague are well aware of their responsibility. I would like to thank you for your self-discipline, endurance and willingness to deny yourself and your loved ones all kinds of things. There will be a time when we can say: together we managed to get the coronavirus under control.

Happily, there is good news for parents with school-age children: from 11 May the primary schools, special needs and special primary schools will be open again. The same applies to childcare facilities. Children attending mainstream primary schools will go to school for half the time. The schools are now preparing and planning how lessons will be taught. This will vary from school to school. Secondary school students will have to wait until at least 1 June and until that time will have distance learning.

The government has decided that from 29 April children and young people up to the age of 18 may take part in organised outdoor sports under supervision. Teenagers between 13 and 18 however must maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from one another. There will be no official matches. The municipality is currently working closely with The Hague’s sports clubs, associations and other parties on the practical implementation of this decision. The aim of the municipality is to ensure that as many children and youngsters as possible can exercise and play sports again on a regular basis.

Top-level athletes will also be able to resume training sessions as dedicated training facilities under certain conditions. The municipality will examine how this can be achieved in The Hague together with the sporting centres and the athletes. These measures will be in effect until 20 May.

Finally, at the start of the coronavirus lockdown the prime minister spoke these words: take care of one another. In The Hague too, many people took his words to heart: in no time all sorts of great initiatives were launched to help one another and particularly to provide support to the elderly and those in need in this city. Something that has warmed my heart and I say to you honestly: I am proud of you!

Let’s not lose sight of each other in the coming period either. The Hague will eventually emerge from this difficult time as well.

I wish everyone the very best and, above all, good health.

Johan Remkes

Acting Mayor


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