It is meant to be a somber event, an opportunity to celebrate incredible bravery in the face of evil.
But this time around, it has sparked a debate on fat-shaming.
Each year, people gather at Waalsdorpervlakte near The Hague to honor 250 Dutch resistance fighters murdered by the Nazis during World War II. Those caught collecting intelligence for the Allies or helping Jews escape were imprisoned and then executed by the Germans at Waalsdorpervlakte.
In the years after the war, the “Remembrance of the Dead” was organized to commemorate all Dutch people killed in military conflicts and on peacekeeping missions.
It is one of the most sacred events in the Netherlands. Each May 4, an honor guard made up of relatives of the dead and volunteers gather to march and observe a two-minute silence at 4 p.m. Traffic and public transportation grind to a halt; television stations air only broadcasts of the ceremony. Flags initially lowered to half-staff are hoisted afterward to the sound of the national anthem.
Thousands of people participate each year. And organizers aren’t sure that is a good thing.
This year, they decided that overweight volunteers should not participate in the televised “guard of honor.” Notes leaked from a meeting and translated by the British newspaper the Guardian read, in part: “A number of members of the guard of honor are starting to get a substantial stature, at least for this function. ... There are regularly comments and complaints about it. In order to prevent this, we will have to give people with too strong a stature a different task.”
Organizers blamed the decision on optics, saying participants’ uniforms “did not look good” on heavier volunteers because of “bursting buttons,” according to the Guardian.
One longtime participant, Bas Jongeneel (who described himself as someone with a “strong build"), told local reporters that he had been assigned to the catering team this year, after several years as a marcher. His wife, Francisca Roeten, complained about the decision. “You cannot discriminate in the Netherlands, but an association that commemorates our war heroes hides away people with a bigger belly, in their eyes,” she told local broadcasters.
Others also complained of discrimination.
The blowback has gotten so bad that Vincent van Gaal, chairman of the Erepeloton Waalsdorp organization, which runs the event, has promised to repeal the decision.
“We are the last to exclude people, and traditionally we want our guard of honor to be a reflection of society,” he said, according to the Guardian.