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World Perspective | The Netherlands

Crown Prince Awaits Nod to Say 'I Do'

Willem-Alexander's plans to wed require parliamentary OK. But his would-be father-in-law's ties to an Argentine junta have sparked debate.

April 20, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THE HAGUE — Whether love conquers all will be decided by the Dutch parliament soon when it is asked to approve the marriage plans of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Maxima Zorreguieta, the daughter of an Argentine official who served under his country's "dirty war" junta.

Although marriage is a matter of the heart for most Dutch, the uniquely influential role played by the monarch here gives lawmakers the power to say "yea" or "nay" on the nuptials of those in direct line of succession.

Queen Beatrix, the Netherlands' head of state and the groom-to-be's mother, has already signaled her support for Zorreguieta, calling her "a woman of intelligence, warmth and charm."

But in a country renowned for its staunch defense of human rights, the perceived sins of the father have stirred national debate about the royal fiancee's suitability as soul mate to the next king and potential mother of his successor.

Support for the monarchy remains strong in this nation of 16 million, but it has fallen markedly from its usual 80% level amid the "Maxima crisis," contends Rene Zwaak of the liberal weekly De Groene Amsterdammer.

"No one holds the daughter responsible for what her father did," Zwaak says. "But her child could be the next king, and if her husband died, she would be a queen [regent] over whom her father still has influence."

After national newspapers last year unearthed details of Jorge Zorreguieta's allegiance to the 1976-83 Argentine dictatorship of Jorge Videla, Prime Minister Wim Kok stepped in to ascertain the extent of the father's involvement and to allay fears of right-wing influence on the royal house.

Kok deployed University of Amsterdam professor Michiel Baud, a Latin America specialist. After an investigation, Baud concluded that the elder Zorreguieta, who served as agriculture minister during the Videla regime, was "morally culpable" for some of the crimes of that era when thousands of government opponents were killed, tortured or disappeared.

Just ahead of the March 30 engagement announcement, Kok sent former Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel to meet with the elder Zorreguieta and explain "that his presence at the wedding would be impossible," recounts a source close to the royal family who declined to be identified.

The would-be bride's father has consented to stay away from the royal wedding, expected early next year, and her mother--also linked to right-wing politics in Argentina--has signaled that she too will skip the state affair to spare the couple any risk of being barred from the throne.

Kok is expected to call for a parliamentary debate and vote on the marriage later this spring, probably after the May 17 wedding of the queen's youngest son, Constantijn, to the daughter of the Dutch agriculture minister. As with most royal marriages, Constantijn's won swift and overwhelming support from parliament earlier this month.

Under the constitution, the prime minister must maintain a delicate balancing act with a monarch who is defined as "inviolable" and is more closely involved in government affairs than other European royalty. Having to mediate in a marriage is an added complication, one that a government spokesman acknowledges is "unique."

"He's not uncomfortable with it," J.C. Tonnon of the government information service says of Kok's position. "He sees it as part of his job."

Willem-Alexander has at times irked Kok with ill-informed defenses of the elder Zorreguieta, particularly his comments at a New York news conference last month in which he questioned the credibility of authors of a recent Videla biography who concluded that Zorreguieta was culpable for regime excesses.

"It would have been wiser if the prince had not said anything," Kok told national television after the source of the aspersions turned out to be Videla. "I have asked him to keep quiet about the matter."

The Zorreguietas' agreement to be excluded from their daughter's wedding has at least temporarily stifled concerns about suspect political influence on the 33-year-old crown prince. But with a year to go before the wedding, some speculate that new controversies are likely to surface before the couple get the parliamentary go-ahead.

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