May 3, 2023 -Relatives of fallen soldiers have accused Dutch farmers’ groups of disrespect after some of them refused to fly their flags the right way up on May 4, the day the Netherlands commemorates its war dead. Since 2019 inverted tricolour flags, with the blue band at the top, have become a symbol of the farmers’ opposition to government’s plans for compulsory buyouts to reduce nitrogen pollution.
Hundreds of upside-down flags have flown beside main roads and been draped across tractors or held aloft at mass protests in The Hague and provincial capitals, in what demonstrators say is a distress signal. But veterans’ relatives have called for the flags to be turned the right way up or removed on Thursday, when flags traditionally hang at half mast before being raised to full mast for Liberation Day on May 5.
‘My son came home with a flag on his coffin,’ Greetje Groenebeek, from Winschoten, told RTL Nieuws. ‘When I see an inverted flag now it affects me.’ Groenebeek’s son, Henry Hoving, was killed in July 2016 aged 29 during a training exercise in Mali. Her appeal was supported by Caroline van der Plas, the leader of the farmers’ party BBB, which took the biggest share of votes in last month’s provincial elections after vowing to fight the plans for compulsory farm purchases. ‘This hurts people so badly,’ she told Hart van Nederland.
‘I want to do my bit by asking people either to hang the flag the right way up or, if you think that’s going too far, at least take it down.’ But Farmers Defence Force, one of the largest prominent farmers’ lobby groups, said hanging the flag the wrong way up was a ‘constitutional right’. ‘We want to show that we farmers are in an emergency,’ said Seita van Keimpema, a member of FDF’s management board. ‘The farmers are in distress and that’s why they hang the flags upside-down. It’s not possible to ask them to turn them around for one day. That means you’re not acknowledging their problems.’
‘Too much work’ FDF chairman Mark van den Oever said the idea was unrealistic for practical reasons. ‘It’s just too much work,’ he said. ‘Some of our farmers have 300 flags hanging up, others have as many as 5,000. It’s far too much effort to turn them around for one day.’ But Van der Plas said she believed farmers were resourceful and hard-working enough to find a solution.
‘I realise it takes a long time to hang the flags up a different way, but I know farmers can act very efficiently and get things sorted out very quickly,’ she said. ‘I have every confidence that there are groups of farmers out there, and maybe private citizens as well, who understand this call and will act on it.’