THE HAGUE: “This is how you honour the dead,” Dutch daily NRC headlined Thursday, contrasting the solemn return to the Netherlands of the first MH17 bodies with the traumatic chaos of the plane’s crash site in rebel-held Ukraine.
The NRC and several other papers printed front page photographs of flowers being dropped from a motorway bridge as the cortege of 40 hearses drove from Eindhoven airport.
Many contrasted the traumatic images of pro-Russian separatists handling bodies and personal belongings following the July 17 crash with the solemnity of the first plane’s arrival and welcome by Dutch armed forces.
“Soldiers wore hats instead of balaclavas,” wrote Thomas de Veen in the NRC daily after Dutch troops unloaded the 40 coffins from two planes.
“At last, a respectful homage,” headlined the AD, with 193 of the 298 people killed aboard the Malaysia Airways flight Dutch.
Ahead of the first national day of mourning since the death of queen Wilhelmina in 1962, many wondered what they were supposed to do.
“The day had no instruction book, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary,” wrote Maaike van Houten in Protestant daily Trouw.
“Throughout the country colleagues, managers, volunteers, Facebook users, festivalgoers decided to be silent for this, such an exceptional occurrence for the Netherlands,” she wrote.
“Finally in good hands,” wrote conservative tabloid De Telegraaf, with a front-page photo of the cortege and police outriders arriving down a crowd-lined road at a military base where the bodies are to be identified.
“That must be what bereaved relatives felt who had to wait so unbearably long for their loved ones’ bodies.”
“It remains an unimaginable scandal that perhaps still a third of the victims have been left behind in the ‘killing fields’ of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s bandits,” the paper wrote.
Pro-Russian separatists have been widely accused of accidentally shooting down the plane, and Putin accused of not doing enough to help get the bodies out.
“This must be resolved as quickly as possible... If an international police or military force must intervene then there should be no hesitation. We owe it to the victims and the bereaved to be steadfast,” De Telegraaf wrote.
With even non-believers congregating in churches for remembrance services, the left-leaning Volkskrant daily quoted pastor Jannie Nijewing.
“The Netherlands has churches because we know we’re fragile, we know that some things are too big for us. Too big to be carried alone,” said Nijewing.
Those Dutch who did not lose someone in the crash “wanted to do something but didn’t know what,” wrote Sander van Walsum in the Volkskrant.
“Not through indifference, but through embarrassment... but everything changed when the two planes landed in Eindhoven. Then, relatives could finally start to grieve... Then the image of chaos in a far corner of Europe was replaced with that of a country at peace.”
Other newspapers asked what the next steps should be, now that grieving can properly begin.
“This disaster makes clear that the dangers of conflicts are underestimated, that Russia is not understood and that Cold War lessons have wrongly been dismissed as irrelevant,” Rob de Wijk wrote in a column in Trouw.
“What the next steps are depends on what lessons we learn from this crisis,” he wrote.
An editorial in financial daily FD, published alongside an op-ed by former NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calling for Netherlands to beef up its military, noted that “revenge and fear are bad counsellors.”
“From the shadow of the overwhelming national confrontation with the victims of the attack on MH17 and the desperation of the bereaved, yesterday in Eindhoven, emerges the increasingly important question of how the danger that threatens European order can be countered,” the FD wrote.
“But in answering, vindictiveness is a bad counsellor, equally so fear.”