By Judy H. Fitzpatrick
PHILIPSBURG--The Netherlands Antilles flag was lowered in front of the Courthouse at the stroke of midnight Saturday (10th October 2010) and the St. Maarten flag was hoisted to mark symbolically the end of one era and the birth of new Country St. Maarten, rounding off a decade of lobbying, negotiations and agreements.
The folded Netherlands Antilles flag was presented to the St. Maarten Museum to preserve as a symbol of the dismantled Netherlands Antilles.
With the St. Maarten song playing in the background, roars of applause rang out from the crowd that gathered to witness the ceremony when the St. Maarten flag, designed by Roselle “Rosie” Richardson in 1985, was hoisted. This was followed by fireworks and a celebratory mood as officials embraced and congratulated each other on St. Maarten’s increased autonomy.
The national anthem of the Netherlands, the Wilhelmus, the anthem of the Netherlands Antilles, and the St. Maarten song had been played earlier in the ceremony.
Calling the occasion “momentous” and “historical,” former Acting Lt. Governor Reynold Groeneveldt, who was appointed Acting Governor on Sunday, lauded the “dignified manner” in which country status had been achieved without violence – a point echoed by Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin during the first Parliament meeting on Sunday.
“This process was always conducted in a dignified and businesslike manner. The negotiations were not easy, but never at any time was there any need for revolt, violence or war, like in some other countries, when it came to the exercise of the right to self-determination by the people of the Caribbean part of the Kingdom,” Groeneveldt told the gathering.
In attendance were local dignitaries, representatives of the United People’s Party/Democratic Party coalition government and the National Alliance, and overseas guests including Hirsch Ballin, Caribbean Community Caricom Deputy Secretary General Lolita Applewhaite, Anguilla’s Chief Minister Hubert Hughes and Minister Walcott Richardson and spouse, and Collectivité of French St. Martin President Frantz Gumbs and St. Martin Préfet Jacques Simmonet.
“Our country has become a beacon of hope for persons from many parts of the world and we must all be very proud of the Netherlands Antilles and what it has meant for us as a people. Nevertheless, the time has come for us to make new arrangements that will go into effect shortly.
“As we embark on another stage in the pursuit of full internal self-government within the Kingdom, we hope that we can continue to count on the support of all the partners in the Kingdom and we look forward to closer ties and more cooperation in mutual benefit of our respective peoples,” Groeneveldt said.
“In 1942, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina announced in her speech from London that at the end of World War II the Kingdom would embark on creating a new constitutional order within the Kingdom. After several years of negotiations the Statuut was adopted creating a Kingdom consisting of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Suriname.
“Today we are 50 years later, and after much deliberation and negotiation the Kingdom again is being re-formed. During the last 50 years we can be proud of the achievements. As a Country the Netherlands Antilles, we have experienced years of mainly prosperity and growth for our people and also some years in which austerity measures had to taken.” He asked Minister Hirsch Ballin to convey St. Maarten’s “sincere appreciation” to Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and the Dutch government “for the excellent cooperation.”
He also thanked the people of St. Maarten and all those who had served the country the Netherlands Antilles, as well as members of the previous governments, who he said “have worked diligently in the preparation of the new constitutional order, and all those persons who attended the countless meetings and sat for hours and days at the negotiating tables.
“Your efforts and valuable contributions are very much appreciated. As the last [Acting] Lt. Governor performing my final official duties, permit me to say farewell to the Netherlands Antilles and entrust the care and responsibility for the people of this great island nation to the Governor and the government of Country St. Maarten.
“I pray that the people of the new island nation will experience prosperity beyond measure and that our difficult days may be but few, that this country will continue to be the most favourite place on earth for many, and that the people of this country will continue to find special favour with God and be protected from all disasters.”
The ceremony was preceded by a cocktail reception for dignitaries and invited guests at Holland House Beach Hotel. Reporters and photographers were barred from covering the reception.
About an hour before midnight, dignitaries walked from Holland House to the Courthouse, where a large tent had been set up. The Courthouse was decorated in the colours of the St. Maarten flag for the occasion.
St. Maarten Flag
The St. Maarten flag was adopted in June 1985 and was officially hoisted for the first time in front of the Government Administration Building in the same year. The colour red in the flag represents solidarity and courage; while white stands for peace and friendliness and blue represents the environment, such as the skies, beaches and seas.
The coat of arms in the flag depicts the Court House in Philipsburg; the island’s national flower the yellow sage and St. Maarten’s national bird the Brown Pelican in flight with the sun as its backdrop. It also has a silhouette of the border monument and the words "Semper pro grediens” (latin for ‘ever moving forward’) towards the bottom.