The modernization of the monarchies

One of the strongest traditions of the monarchical institutions has been the steadfast view that a monarch reigns until death, unless exceptional political circumstances have forced the incumbent out prematurely. The only traditional exception to this rule has been the Dutch monarchy, whose reigning queens during the 20th century have not hesitated to take a step back and go into retirement when their successor has been deemed ready to take over. But that has been the quirky exception to the rule.

Now, in the 21st century, however that age-old monarchical taboo however seem to be regarded more and more as an anachronism in today’s world. In a sweep that started with the – actually even more unprecedented – stepping down of pope Benedict XVI and then continued with the abdications of both the Dutch queen Beatrix as well as the Belgian king Albert II and, latest, Juan Carlos I of Spain, it seems like a new precedent is forming. In the modern monarchy it seems the head of state are now seen as entitled to retirement. Or deemed unproblematic enough to have around as a retiree. Because it must also be noted that the other side of the coin with abdicated monarchs is that you will in such circumstances have an ex-monarch who theoretically can remain an influential power voice and a voice that is no longer as bound by convention and position. Such a person could theoretically be a problematic political problem, all depending on his or hers personal ability to slip into the new and in many ways undefined role given. With the diminishing actual political power of the monarchs in today’s European states that could be a lesser problem, but nevertheless it is still to be seen during coming years if this new tradition of handing over the crown “in advance” will prove to be a beneficial move or not for these very archaic institutions. For now, it seems to be functioning.

Centennial of the shots in Sarajevo

Sarajevo 1914 by Achille Beltrame in Domenica del Corriere (cropped)
The murder of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie as illustrated by Achille Beltrame.

Today it is exactly 100 years since the ill-fated attentate on the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The double murder is traditionally viewed as the event which started the First World War and even if its position in history as the unavoidable ignition of the war can be debated, there is no doubt that it was a turning point from which it had taken considerable effort and will to stop – a will that didn’t exist at that moment in time. Instead the hard demands put forward by Austria-Hungary on Serbia became an ultimatum and then the fire was unstoppable before it had spread and brought destruction to most of Europe and the rest of the world.

European borders: the curious case of Baarle-Nassau

European borders are the product of centuries of warfare, dynasty changes, trades and negotiations. This also means that they can over time become rather complicated, in particular in more populous areas. The small Belgian exclave town Baarle-Hertog in the Netherlands is probably one of the more complicated border constructions in the world in this aspect.

Baarle-Hertog is a piece – or several small pieces actually – of Belgian territory entirely surrounded by the Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau.

Map of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog
Territorial map of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog. Source: Wikimedia.

Malbork – A crusader castle at the Baltic Sea coast

Malbork Castle
Malbork Castle, Poland

Situated at the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in Poland is one of the largest medieval castles of northern Europe. Malbork, or Marienburg as it is known in German, once served as the headquarters for the Teutonic Order whose crusader knights once ruled a large swath of of land along the southeastern and eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopens

One of the most famous art museums in the world, the Dutch Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has reopened with a grand ceremony after several years of renovations and construction of new space for the multitude of art in its collections. Among the most famous in the long list of invaluable classical artworks are Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and works by Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Vincent van Gogh.

The museum now has 80 galleries, some of which – in very Dutch fashion – are located under the sea level which together contains more than 8000 objects of art, spanning 800 years of history.

Source: BBC News