Starting again in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ the Emperor and Empress of Japan met with victims of the earthquake and tsunami for the first time on Wednesday. Visiting a shelter set up for victims in Tokyo the imperial couple met with refugees mostly from Fukushima prefecture. The Imperial Household Agency, the oft-maligned guardians of imperial tradition and the sacred nature of the monarchy in Japan, opened up a formerly exclusively imperial bathhouse in Tochigi prefecture for use by victims of the natural disaster. The place will be open for a month and it will be the first time any commoners have ever set foot in the establishment. Protocol was also relaxed by the IHA for the Emperor and Empress to meet more informally with these people who have been through so much. Needless to say, the situation in Japan remains critical.
In Europe, Prince William has confessed to pre-wedding jitters while his father has been put in the middle of another little spat with one of England’s most favorite enemies. While the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were on a visit to the Kingdom of Spain, HRH Prince Felipe of the Asturias made a mention of the ‘unresolved dispute’ between the UK and Spain, an obvious reference to the status of the British territory of Gibraltar. The Spanish cheered the prince for bringing the subject up when their government would not, the Gibraltarians fumed in anger and the British political class rolled their eyes in disgust at the whole thing. Considering that the Suez, Cyprus and Malta are no longer British and the empire is long gone it would be hard to argue that Gibraltar is vital to British interests or that, considering that both Spain and the UK take their orders from Brussels, a change in sovereignty would mean very much. However, the fly in the buttermilk is the fact that the British did colonialism and empire pretty darn well and the people on Gibraltar want to keep things the way they are, regardless of how much the political elites in London would like to get rid of that rocky reminder of the imperial past. In 2002 a proposal for “shared sovereignty” was rejected by 99% of the population and, as much as I adore ‘mother Spain’ they have no more real “need” for Gibraltar than Britain does and at this point the place has belonged to Britain longer than it had belonged to Spain.
And, speaking of colonial memories, HRH Prince Laurent of Belgium, easily the most controversial member of the Belgian Royal Family, has caused another political spat over a visit to the former Belgian colony of the Congo. I have heard a couple versions of what the Prince went to the Congo for but it seems to have involved something along the environmentalist-save the earth line; deforestation or something of the like. The caretaker prime minister (Belgium still not having a government) Yves Leterme (the man who didn’t know his own national anthem) told Prince Laurent not to go, relations between Belgium and the Congo being rather sensitive as usual, but the Prince refused to take orders from this non-PM and went anyway. This caused outrage in the non-government and talk of cutting off the allowance Prince Laurent receives if he is not going to submit to government “advice”. What can you say about Prince Laurent? Every family has one. Some of his actions do make your eyes roll but, for the most part, his antics seem like small potatoes to me and I think are blown out of proportion to damage the image of the monarchy. Of course, he should take care not to provide them with extra ammunition but we have seen how, when it comes to the Belgian press, they will go after anything, scandalous or not. Crown Prince Philippe asks the same question twice and they make him out to be a blundering incompetent, Princess Astrid gets involved with Opus Dei and suddenly she’s a religious nut. It is absolutely shameless.
The Prince and Princess of Orange arrived Monday for a four-day visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Business and economic officials accompanied the royal pair on this visit intended to strengthen ties between the Netherlands and Vietnam where the Dutch are already heavily invested. The Vietnamese Deputy PM and Foreign Affairs Minister met the Crown Prince and Princess in Hanoi where they will spend two days before traveling south to spend two more days in Saigon. The Prince of Orange will also be looking into water management while in the country and the Princess will do some work for the UN while there.
In Scandinavia it has been business as usual for the most part. Crown Prince Haakon of Norway opened a new university. In Sweden Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel toured Småland, inspecting local industry and visiting with the populace.