Media: The Economist on flight MH17

Marietje
JULY 23rd was a day of national mourning in the Netherlands, the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina more than 50 years ago. Broadcasters dispensed with advertising and game shows; the windmills stopped turning, their sails set slightly off-kilter in a way that has betokened grief for centuries. At Eindhoven airport two Hercules transport planes were met on the tarmac by 40 hearses and over 1,000 relatives desperately hoping their loved ones were in one of the wooden coffins. The country came to a solemn standstill. The Dutch lost 193 of their fellow citizens on MH17. As a share of the Netherlands’ population that is greater than America’s loss in the attacks of September 11th. All the bodies, Dutch and otherwise, that have so far been taken by train from the crash site to Kharkiv will have been transferred to a medical facility in Hilversum by July 25th. It will take weeks, if not months to identify them. An unknown number, perhaps as many as 100, remain unrecovered. The nation’s grief did not, for the most part, break out into anger. The Dutch are pragmatic, and both parliament and people knew that an aggressive stance was unlikely to achieve their most pressing goal, the return of the dead. Ko Colijn, who runs Clingendael, the Netherlands’ leading foreign-relations think-tank, says that keeping discussions with Russia businesslike was a good way for Mark Rutte, the prime minister, to achieve the nation’s goals: “Let Washington, London and Melbourne do the shouting.” But faced with images of disrespect and looting, the calm demeanour of the Dutch was stretched to breaking point and, in the popular press, beyond. Another reason for an unwillingness to blame Russia openly and definitively is that, in 2003, then-prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende ignored his own intelligence services and relied on Tony Blair’s word when lending the country’s support to the invasion of Iraq. Since then the Dutch have been distinctly iffy about relying on American or British spies. And as home to the International Court of Justice the country takes some pride in seeing things done by the book. Once all the bodies are home, though, the mood may change. “People have a hard time matching balancing acts with atrocities,” says Marietje Schaake, a Dutch MEP for the liberal-democrat D66. The government has cuddled up uncomfortably close to Vladimir Putin in search of ever better trade relations; at the Sochi Olympics the king shared a cool Heineken and a photo-op with him while others offered only cold shoulders. There may be a backlash. With the Netherlands now leading the investigation into who is to be held accountable for the outrage Mr Rutte will have to keep balancing the need to channel public anger and the need for “justice to be served”. It will be a struggle for him and his country to keep cool heads when their hearts hurt so badly.